Post occupancy evaluations (POE) are a valuable tool in understanding how the environment and operations of a community actually work once the design and construction process has ended and residents move in.

SAGE (Society for the Advancement of Gerontological Environments) has been conducting these evaluations for more than 15 years and decided to include the process as part of this year’s Environments for Aging Expo & Conference, held April 9-12 in Austin, Texas.

Prior to the conference kick-off, SAGE staff and members spent an entire day at Buckner Villas in Austin, Texas, touring the memory care community and speaking to administrative and direct care staff, residents, and family members. Buckner’s memory care unit was added to the 25-acre retirement campus about six years ago and features two 20-unit households with a center core for services and a hallway connecting the two buildings.

Amy Carpenter, an associate with SFCS, and Migette Kaup, a professor at Kansas State University, Center on Aging, were part of the POE team and quickly turned their observations and feedback into a presentation for EFA attendees that aimed to identify some of the successful outcomes that were achieved as part of the SAGE Design Principles and the owner’s goals and objectives; suggest opportunities for improvement; and share some lessons learned.

“Your environment can be a liability to your organization or an asset,” Kaup said. “We found many assets here.”

Here’s a recap of some of their ideas:

  • Resident rooms: Buckner’s memory care wing includes all private rooms with a direct line of sight from the bed headwalls to the toilet room while still allowing space for different bed arrangements. The POE team commented how at some point the doors to the bathroom had been removed. On the plus side, the community took time to trim out the doorways and some patients and their families had hung a curtain in place for some privacy. However, most feedback expressed a desire for a bathroom door to restore privacy and a sense of dignity.
  • Garden/outdoor space: Residents have access to a secure garden between the two households and Kaup said they committee observed a nice mix of shade and sun within that space for residents to enjoy, a walking path, and a transparent fence for security while still allowing residents’ to see activity on the campus. Another design hit was the inclusion of ceiling fans and music speakers on the shaded porch. “They really paid attention to the small details,” Carpenter said.

On their POE wish list, however, was the desire for walking path in a figure eight or two loops for variety, as well as improving the design of the center green space with such items as a water feature, tall grasses, and herbs to provide sensory stimulation.

  • Activity spaces: Each memory care neighborhood houses its own kitchen space where food is brought from the main kitchen and served in chafing dishes, allowing residents to see and smell the food. Families and residents shared the desire for a place where families could cook meals together. Some ideas for improvements, the SAGE committee noted, included doing more meal prep in the memory care unit to allow residents to get involved and the addition of a county kitchen space to improve that interaction and offer more opportunity to engage residents in the natural rhythm of life.

The community offers a variety of on-site activities, such as Gospel on the Green which is open to the residents across the campus. However, family and SAGE staff suggested the need for more independent activities as well as the need for more vignettes or areas around the household where residents can engage with books, games, and other activities on their own.

Overall, SAGE members applauded the great use of a challenging site and the many amenities and thoughtful design elements in place. For example, residents are encouraged to personalize their rooms, bathrooms, doorways, and memory boxes—an effort SAGE also felt could be extended to the common areas to allow residents to further make the community their home.