Senior Living & Biophilic Design: Visual Connection to Nature May Help Memory

If you find yourself reading this article, we probably don’t need to review the concept of biophilic design or the 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design set forth by the brilliant minds at Terrapin Bright Green.  This article stems from years of research, first-hand monitoring of senior living environments, and careful notations regarding the challenges architects, developers, staff and residents face in balancing a multitude of needs, including memory care.

Photo of a lush, green, textured pillow moss design. This design addresses five of the 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design as put forth by Terrapin Bright Green.

Pillow moss frame by The Fat Plant Society

Those needs range from sustainable building materials (for cost savings as well as green building) to wipable and hygienic surfaces to effectively managing the workload of staff and caregivers.  Last, but certainly not least is the well-being of senior living residents.  Architecture, building design and interior design play a significant role not only in overall perceptions of wellness but also in mitigating memory issues, anxiety, and improving mood and perceptions of well-being (both physical and psychological).

We have a solution that ticks all of the boxes and goes a step further in stimulating minds and enhancing well-being and aesthetics in any senior living environment.  Our inspiration for this “deep dive” into the benefits of biophilic design in senior living communities stems from an Environments for Aging article titled, “Digging Deeper” by Catie Ryan, Lara Slavkin, and Jay Weingarten of RDG Planning and Design.  It’s an article we have returned to as the authors posit:

“Holistic biophilic design–that is, design that looks at the whole user experience rather than only one or two elements–targets specific health outcomes initiated by intrinsic responses to nature that are deeply embedded within human biological cycles and systems (circadian rhythms, heart rate, blood pressure, stress hormone levels and immune system)” (Ryan, Slavkin, Weingarten, 2021).

Senior living communities play a crucial role in ensuring the well-being and comfort of older adults. As the population ages, there’s a growing emphasis on creating environments that promote physical, mental, and emotional health.

Photo of a gray haired man and woman sitting amidst green plants and drinking coffee.

Biophilic design, which integrates nature into built environments, has emerged as a powerful tool for achieving these objectives. In this article, we delve into the benefits of biophilic design in senior living facilities, focusing on visual connection with nature through maintenance-free moss design.

  1. Understanding Biophilic Design in Senior Living Settings:
    • Biophilic design seeks to reconnect people with nature by incorporating natural elements, patterns, and materials into the built environment.
    • In senior living facilities, biophilic design aims to improve residents’ quality of life by fostering connections with nature, reducing stress, and enhancing overall well-being.
    • Elements of biophilic design include natural light, indoor plants, views of nature, natural materials, and living green walls.
  2. Challenges of Traditional Greenery in Senior Living Settings:
    • While traditional greenery like potted plants and gardens offer benefits, they also pose challenges in maintenance, especially in senior living environments.
    • Seniors may have limited mobility, making it difficult for them to navigate around plants and care for them.
    • Maintenance of traditional greenery requires resources such as water, labor, and expertise, which may be scarce or costly in senior living settings.

Photo of two women walking on a tree-lined

  1. The Rise of Maintenance-Free Moss Design:
    • Maintenance-free moss design offers a sustainable and hassle-free alternative to traditional plants.
    • Moss walls and installations require minimal upkeep, making them ideal for senior living facilities where staff resources may be limited.
    • Unlike live plants, moss doesn’t require watering, pruning, or fertilizing, reducing maintenance costs and labor.
  2. Benefits of Maintenance-Free Moss Design in Senior Living Settings:
    • Improved Air Quality: Moss naturally absorbs pollutants, contributing to better indoor air quality, which is crucial for seniors with respiratory issues.
    • Stress Reduction: Studies have shown that exposure to nature, even in the form of moss, can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression among seniors.
    • Noise Reduction: Moss acts as a natural sound absorber, helping to minimize noise levels in shared spaces, promoting tranquility and relaxation.
    • Biophilic Engagement: Moss designs provide visual and tactile stimulation, engaging residents with nature and enhancing their connection to the environment.
    • Aesthetics: Moss walls and installations add natural beauty and tranquility to interior spaces, creating a calming ambiance for seniors to enjoy.
    • Potentially, mitigation or slowing of memory issues as recent studies indicate that a visual connection to nature, year-round, may slow the progression of memory issues and greatly enhance memory care in long-term care and residential settings.
Photo of an 8 foot long lush, green, textured pillow moss frame that encompasses a full wall. This design addresses five of the 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design as put forth by Terrapin Bright Green.

Pillow moss wall by The Fat Plant Society

  1. Environmental Sustainability:
    • Moss is a sustainable material that can be harvested without harming natural ecosystems, making it an eco-friendly choice for senior living facilities committed to environmental stewardship.
    • Unlike live plants, moss doesn’t require soil or significant water resources, further reducing its environmental footprint.
    • By choosing maintenance-free moss design, senior living facilities can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, responsible resource management, and the health and wellness of residents and staff alike.
  2. Opportunity for Case Studies on Memory Care with a Visual Connection to Nature:
    • The Journal for Aging and Environment published a paper titled, “Biophilic Design Strategies in Long-Term Residential Care Environments for Persons with Dementia” by Terri Peters and Stephen Verderber that examines memory issues in light of recently built state-of-the-art Long Term Care (LTC) settings for persons with dementia and related cognitive disorders. Residents’ engagement with and proximity to nature and landscape, and transactions with biophilia-inspired artifacts was the principal focus.
    • “This has been the first published literature review specifically on biophilia in the context of long-term care environments for persons with dementia and related cognitive disorders. Published studies relevant to LTC environmental design span numerous disciplines including psychology, education, sociology, philosophy, toxicology/public health, urban design, landscape architecture, and architecture. That said, there is a growing interest in biophilic design principles on the part of designers, LTC administrators, and direct caregivers.” (Peters and Verderber, 2020)
    • Peters and Verderber conclude (as we have concluded in our initial examination of senior living environments and long-term care facilities and corresponding research) that additional studies and case studies will enable architects, developers, and designers to better understand the benefits of visual connection with nature and other biophilic design strategies.  “The need is pronounced for evidence-based research on the potential therapeutic benefits of biophilia, together with resident safety and infection control (Anderson et al., 2020).
    • An additional study, presented by Indonesian scholars at the IOP Conference Series Earth and Environmental Science, concluded the “increase of biophilic design value can affect the decrease of dementia level in elders with the age range of 60-85 years old who lived in STW Ria Pembangunan, Cibubur. Therefore, the application of biophilic design in housing, or, [the] other buildings are highly recommended as a preventive method to reduce the dementia level in Indonesia.”  Scholars R Felly and D Susanto make this important note: “research on the appropriate quantity of nature presented into a building has never been conducted. Moreover, further research is required to determine which is the best among all 14 biophilic design patterns that are highly impactful on the elder’s memory
      factor.” (Felly and Susanto, 2020).


Incorporating biophilic design principles, particularly a visual connection to nature through maintenance-free moss design, into senior living facilities offers a multitude of benefits. From improving air quality and reducing stress to promoting environmental sustainability to potentially enhancing memory care, moss installations contribute to creating healthy, vibrant, and sustainable environments for older adults. As the demand for senior living communities continues to grow, embracing biophilic design becomes not just a luxury but a necessity in ensuring the wellness and happiness of residents.

We are currently seeking a case study project on biophilic, moss design in a senior living environment.  If such a project appeals to you and you wish to collaborate and complete a case study, please contact us directly.
For more information and specs on The Fat Plant Society moss, use our contact form, send a direct message, or call us at 816 933 9509 or 816b 933 9510.

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