Nursing Homes Are Ugly! Tips for Personalizing Your Loved One's Living Space

Decorating a nursing home room tree decal

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When your elderly loved one lived at home, they had a bedroom that was decorated to their own personal tastes, and filled with what they needed. If they lived with you, perhaps you gave them a fabulous bedroom makeover to welcome them. They've been spoiled for years on great bedrooms.


 They move to the nursing home, where they may be faced with decor that is, well...


Some facilities try to jump up the decor by decorating the rooms much like hotels, which is a big improvement over white walls and generic mini-blinds. BUT...a hotel room, no matter how well-decorated, doesn't seem like home, either.

So why not push the limits of imagination (and policy) by decorating your elderly loved one's nursing home room?

  You don't have to go overboard here. In fact, it is better if you don't. Most nursing home rooms are modestly-sized, and bringing in too many personal items can make the room cluttered and dangerous.

What you can do, is take advantage of spaces that already exist, such as the bed, walls, furniture and windows. You can totally customize the decor to suit your loved one's personality, just by adding a few special touches.

Get Permission First

Before you begin planning, speak to the nursing home administration about what is allowed. You will also want to discuss what is practical. 

A facility may allow you to use picture hanging hardware, but  may advise against replacing the hospital style bed for a regular bed if your loved one has special medical needs.

Things to Consider Before You Decorate a Nursing Home Room

If your elderly parent is in a skilled-nursing facility, then they probably need a certain degree of medical attention that other places couldn't provide. There will be a certain amount of medical equipment in place, if so.

When you plan to decorate, you can't simply take that stuff out because it is ugly. You also shouldn't attempt to hide it behind other objects, because staff may need to access it quickly in an emergency.

You may not be able to move furniture either. It is placed so that there is access to the appropriate outlets.

If your parent shares a room with another nursing home resident, then you must respect their privacy and territory too. Your loved one's possessions shouldn't trickle over into the other side of the room, their lamps shouldn't be pointed at the other person's bed or reading chair. You should make sure that any items  that might be offensive or disturbing to the roommate are placed so that they are not easily visible from their side.

Shared rooms mean less space on either side of the divider too, so you will want to limit items that take up floor space, as well as things that are in "elbow space" (table tops) your loved one may need for other purposes, such as eating, writing, or working puzzles.

Before you get started, take a few photos of the room and jot down some approximate measurements. That way when you are shopping or moving items from home, you won't be a victim of proportion blindness!

12 Items to Add That Don't Take Up Floor Space

You will have some floor space to work with, but you want to save that for items that are more functional than fun and decorative. 

Since a standard  nursing home room usually has only two doors and one window, you will have a healthy bit of blank wall to use for personalizing your loved one's new space. 

Here are a dozen ideas to get you started: 

  • Favorite framed artwork or photos 
  • A stellar bedding set 
  • Throw pillows (not too many, or they will end up in the closet)
  • Nice reading lamp
  • Name plaque
  • Attractive clock with large numbers
  • Table cloths or runners for the nightstand (a few that can be changed out makes laundering easier, and lets your loved one decorate for their moods.)
  • Decorative wall shelf (corner shelves are great!)
  • Centerpiece or flower arrangement
  • Figurines of your loved one's choice
  • Bulletin board for collecting cards, photos and other interesting tidbits

A Few Furnishings

If you have a private room, or just a little extra space, you can risk a few pieces of furniture to make the room more comfortable. Just aim for sleek designs that will fit well into any space and are easy to clean. 

Here are some things you might add to a room, depending on the size: 

  • Extra chest of drawers for clothes storage or craft supplies
  • A small bookshelf (tall and skinny furniture is your friend)
  • A small table for puzzles or games (square tables will fit better than round tables, and it only needs to be big enough to sit one or two people) 
  • A hamper. (if you will be washing their laundry. Otherwise staff will not leave dirty clothes in the room)
  • A small trunk, tote, or storage ottoman. Great for storing knitting supplies, magazines, a spare blanket, and other odds and ends of clutter than make the room feel too claustrophobic. 

I am also a big fan of those plastic storage carts on wheels. They hold a lot of items, and can be rolled around the room much easier than heavy dressers and cabinets. 

Tips Before You Decorate a Nursing Home Room 

Things to consider: 

Mobility: If your loved one uses a wheelchair or a walker, they need more floor space. Don't clutter this area with big items that make navigation difficult or dangerous. 

Safety: DON'T try bringing in carpets or rugs. They can be a safety issue, and probably won't be allowed. 

Health: If your loved one has any type of contagious illness or infection, such as C. Diff, then you want to make sure all surfaces are something that can we wiped with a sanitizing agent. This is not the best time to decorate with ornate scrollwork that takes too much time to clean. Nooks, crannies, porous surfaces and linens that can't be washed in hot water may harbor dangerous bacteria and re-infect your loved one or cause illness to others. 

Dementia: You may wish to avoid overloading the room, since this can add to confusion. Busy prints are not always a good idea, as they can appear to "crawl". Choose furniture and storage containers that can be labelled, since photo labels can sometimes help those dementia find items they need or want. 

Other tips: 

  • Use command hooks for hanging items, as they won't damage walls. 
  • Don't bring in any very valuable personal items, as there is always a risk that these could be damaged or stolen.
  • Don't burden staff with the items that need specialized care.
  • Watch for items that can cause trips, such as table legs and bed skirts. 
  • Add a live plant, but only if your loved one can water it themselves. (Or if you label it very well with care instructions.) 

Rather than putting all the favorite photos and knick-knacks in a room at once, use very few at a time, then switch them out every so often to help the room look fresh and new. This is an especially good way to celebrate the changes of seasons. 

Make it Home

Decorating an elder's nursing home room can  help keep them happy and focused . It can also serve as a reminder to them, as well as to visitors, that they are more than just another resident. They are individuals with their own ideas and likes.