As we emerge from the recession and Baby Boomers begin to retire, American attitudes toward senior living are shifting. New seniors envision their retirement years quite differently than their predecessors. This active and vibrant generation seeks communities where they can thrive and engage in a social but homelike environment. We can help make this lifestyle transition easier and more desirable by building an authentic sense of community.
Since we aren’t getting any younger ourselves, we have a personal stake in designing a bright future in senior living for all of us to enjoy. We have identified four guidelines currently influencing our senior living environment designs for the new aging generations.
1. Make it a home
Work with governing agencies to make design and layout decisions that contribute to a homelike environment. It’s important that you don’t just make it feel like home—but you make it home.
In skilled nursing settings, the small house model allows a smaller number of resident rooms to open directly onto common areas and a family dining room just like they would in a single-family home. This increases social involvement while minimizing the institutional feeling.
For more independent seniors, a greater sense of privacy is a key element of a homelike setting. For the most appeal, the minimum apartment size should be one bedroom with a den for office space or guest room. It’s important for people transitioning into senior living to have enough space to welcome visitors who enrich their everyday lives.
2. Create a community
Age segregation is less desirable than ever before. That’s why the aging community is moving closer to towns and downtowns in recent years. Filling this need is possible even in suburban areas.
Regardless of its location, every community needs a third place to gather. In urban planning traditions, home is the first place, work is the second, and your favorite café, library, or sports bar is the third place where you choose to spend most of your time. The new senior generation primarily seeks wellness activities and social leisure. Providing wellness centers, fitness clubs, music and cocktail lounges, and similar uses creates the synergy for a highly connected and active life.
3. Adopt new technology trends
New seniors are just as in-tune with their iProducts as you are. In fact, the top four internet sites accessed at skilled nursing facilities are Facebook, Netflix, WebMD, and YouTube. Integrating technology into senior living design promotes communication with family and community, while also aiding the operations staff and the healthcare they provide.
User-friendly technologies such as wireless internet access, docking stations, and information channels are becoming common practice in senior living facilities. For instance, a technology nook or command center gathers all necessary information into one place. A residential info station can show community events, dining menus, maid delivery times, shuttle times, and even medicine reminders.
Overall, the possibilities for incorporating new and emerging technologies into senior living designs are limited only by our imagination.
4. Plan for multigenerational use
New legislation combined with aging Baby Boomers will create demand for mixed-use facilities that are intended for seniors, but that also offer multigenerational uses. We think this trend has great potential for a better living environment for old and young alike. Think how we all would benefit from this day-to-day interaction.
Because new federal healthcare legislation requires hospitals to reduce readmission rates, they have begun to partner with skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) to house short-term rehabilitation clients. These rehab clients may be younger and more affluent than the average full-time resident. From better cuisine to improved social spaces, the changes they inspire may introduce multigenerational and mixed-use typologies as the way of the future.
Designing environments that respond to these trends—home, community, technology, and multigenerational design—will create engaging and enriching lifestyles for new aging generations.