Flooring materials can be divided into three broad categories: resilient flooring, hard-surface flooring, and carpet. The first two have traditionally been used in healthcare facilities in the past, but technical advances in the infection-control and stain-resistance properties of carpet have made it a viable option.

Resilient flooring comprises sheet vinyl, vinyl tile, sheet rubber, and rubber tiles. Unfortunately, resilient flooring is often polished and produces a lot of glare which is very uncomfortable for elderly eyes. When used, a matte finish is an absolute must. This type of flooring often has a cushion-back option which provides a softer feel than hard surface flooring.

Hard surface flooring consists of stone, tile or concrete. Like resilient flooring, it’s also often polished which isn’t recommended. It also doesn’t provide the cushion that resilient flooring or carpet can provide to mitigate the effect of a fall. Carpet adds visual warmth to a setting and can somewhat improve the acoustics in a space. It also eliminates glare from a shiny floor, provides better traction, and a softer surface in case of a fall. Carpet is subjected to the more soiling, staining, and indenting, however, so it’s important to select a very high-quality carpet, and clean it properly and often.

All flooring should be flush and even to prevent falls, and should be easy for wheelchairs and walkers to travel over. A high-pile carpet, for example, is not recommended. To accommodate wheelchairs, shuffling feet, and walking aids, flooring transitions should be no greater than half an inch in height, and even if possible. Thresholds should be avoided whenever possible, and when unavoidable, their edges should be beveled. Area rugs should not be used because they’re a trip hazard.

Strong contrast should be evident between the walls and floors. The wall base should match the wall color to give a clear, distinct contrast where the floor plane meets the vertical wall. Elderly people often have impaired depth perception and a sharp contrast in color or pattern on the floor can be interpreted as a change in depth, or a step. For this population, it’s best not to use patterns on the floor.