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The Gerontologist 46:42-51 (2006)
© 2006 The Gerontological Society of America

Assessing and Comparing Physical Environments for Nursing Home Residents: Using New Tools for Greater Research Specificity

Lois J. Cutler, PhD1, Rosalie A. Kane, PhD1, Howard B. Degenholtz, PhD2, Michael J. Miller, DrPh3 and Leslie Grant, PhD1

Correspondence: Address correspondence to L. Cutler, Division of Health Services Research, Policy, and Administration, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455. E-mail: cutle001{at}

Purpose: We developed and tested theoretically derived procedures to observe physical environments experienced by nursing home residents at three nested levels: their rooms, the nursing unit, and the overall facility. Illustrating with selected descriptive results, in this article we discuss the development of the approach. Design and Methods: On the basis of published literature, existing instruments, and expert opinion about environmental elements that might affect quality of life, we developed separate observational checklists for the room and bath environment, unit environment, and facility environment. We trained 40 interviewers without specialized design experience to high interrater reliability with the room-level assessment. We used the three checklists to assess 1,988 resident room and bath environments, 131 nursing units, and 40 facilities in five states. From the data elements, we developed quantitative indices to describe the facilities according to environmentally relevant constructs such as function-enhancing features, life-enriching features, resident environmental controls, and personalization. Results: We reliably gathered data on a large number of environmental items at three environmental levels. Environments varied within and across facilities, and we noted many environmental deficits potentially relevant to resident quality of life. Implications: This research permits resident-specific data collection on physical environments and resident-level research using hierarchical analysis to examine the effects of specific environmental constellations. We describe practice and research implications for this approach.

Key Words: Rooms • Nursing units • Functionality • Privacy • Personalization

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Copyright © 2006 by The Gerontological Society of America.