Guidelines for Senior Living Artwork


When selecting pictures for senior living facilities, it’s important to keep in mind several things about the resident population.  One is of course their age; but also remember that this is not a place of business but their home, their residence, and the artwork needs to make them feel comfortable, safe, and blend with other décor items to create a positive, uplifting environment.

Likewise, this population has unique challenges in wayfinding, mobility, and eyesight which need to be considered when selecting artwork.  And there are additional types of wall décor that can legitimately make the space look more home-like, including tapestries, mirrors, clocks, shadowboxes, and so on.


1. Eyesight issues

Keep in mind that as we age, our vision is less flexible and we begin to have more difficulty discerning pastels and lighter colors.  So although it often runs counter to a soothing, muted color palette that may be used in fabrics and carpet, it’s best to select pictures that tend more toward brighter colors, like oranges, reds, yellows, than to softer colors, like tranquil blues and greens.  In fact, if the colors in the artwork are too washed out, the resident may wonder why you hung up black/white/gray pictures because that’s what it will look like to them!

Likewise, when selecting artwork, it’s best to try for cleaner, crisper imagery, rather than the popular “impressionistic” look of the old masters.  Again, more distinct edges and lines will be more easily registered by aging eyes than the sometimes blurry effects of Monet, Manet, and Van Gogh.

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The reds will be more easily seen


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This may look too washed out to be effective


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Clean, crisp lines

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More blurry and indistinct

Glare is another thing to consider in senior living facilities.  As we age, we become more sensitive to reflections and light bouncing off reflective surfaces.  This is why you rarely see linoleum or other shiny floor surfaces used in these settings.  When framing pictures under glass, it’s best to specify non-glare glass or non-glare acrylic in areas with lots of either direct sunlight or fluorescent over-head lights.  Or you can instead use stretched canvases or tapestries in place of glassed artwork.



2. Wayfinding Considerations

One of the great uses for artwork in senior living facilities, besides the obvious aesthetic purpose, is in wayfinding.  Some residents may have difficulty navigating hallways which all basically look alike.  By using themes in similar hallways, you help them recognize which way to go back to their space without engaging busy personnel.  Likewise, artwork becomes a kind of cohesive whole, rather than individual items, lending stability and reassurance to someone who may become easily distracted or disoriented.  Without using more institutional “signage”, the astute designer can still provide wayfinding elements by the creative use of artwork.


A themed hallway of ‘50’s television



Shadowboxes are another product that can be used in wayfinding.  Generally available as back-loaded, 3-dimensional frames with colored mat board, these come in sizes like 14 x 18 or 11 x 14 and can be hung outside each resident’s rooms and filled with their own memorabilia, photos, favorite poems, and so on, both to help orientate them and also to provide openings for residents to get to know each other through being conservation starters.


3. Mobility

Because this population is often walking with canes or walkers, or using wheelchairs, we recommend that security locks be used rather than hanging items with only wire, particularly in busy areas such as hallways.  These may not be necessary behind reception desks, in staff offices, in chapels, etc. but consider the traffic patterns when deciding whether to install with security locks or not.

Security hardware is available on all items we sell;
our experienced installers can hang around 6 per hour in standard drywall.


4. Specialty areas

Unlike health care facilities where the population is generally temporary, senior living facilities have residents who make this their home.  There are therefore often specialty areas that resemble areas in their former houses, like libraries, game rooms, media rooms, as well as special function areas like beauty salons, exercise rooms, and chapels.  See our next section for examples of art that can be used for these areas.

Using our art search form, key words you might look for would be:  cinema, movies, radio, nostalgia, vintage, crafts, books, games, beauty, women, wellness, spa, spiritual.


5.Alzheimer’s Units

Generally, it is advisable in these units to keep artwork very simple and precise.  The best choice is often pictures that portray a single recognizable object, like a flower, a wagon, a teddy bear.  Avoid pictures of people, confusing imagery, distortions of any kind.  Do not use mirrors in these areas. 

While some art vendors sell “touchable” art without glass, using items that can be manipulated by the resident, like a clothesline with baby clothes and clothes- pins, we don’t recommend this type of artwork for 2 reasons:  (1) sanitary considerations as residents touch items and pass on possible germs to others, and (2) the possibility of the resident taking the movable objects off the wall and either swallowing them or using them as a weapon.  Always use security locks and plexiglass in these areas for the same reasons.


6. Demographics of Residents

Consider where most of your residents come from.  While your facility may be based in Florida, most of your population may have moved from New York, or the midwest.  Likewise, you probably have a higher percentage of women, so you might select items that mainly appeal to them, but don’t forget to include some masculine-themed items as well.  your population may be of a particular ethnic or may be composed of several different heritages.  All this needs to be taken into account when selecting imagery.

Always keep in mind that people like to feel comfortable and at home in these facilities.  Artwork can remind them of happy memories as they were growing up, and should reflect their life experiences, not be jarring and unfamiliar.


7. People?

By all means include figures in your artwork subject matter.  Particularly appealing are pictures of young children – we all know that grandparents hold the younger ones dear and often spend most of their time talking about their grandkids.  In fact, if you can find them, it’s great to include art that depicts older and younger generations interacting together.

Avoid “lonely” pictures that may evoke sad memories of loved ones lost. These would include empty chairs on porches, solitary figures walking a beach, or empty houses.  Better to show vibrant human activities, such as play, sports, or walking.


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