From common areas to amenities, shifts are happening in the design of senior housing spaces to meet the evolving needs of both residents and staff. For owners and investors in senior-living housing, it’s important to work with an operator who is at the forefront of these new trends and knows how to execute them.
A paradigm shift from hospitality to healthcare
Senior living has always been a blend of hospitality and healthcare, and now the paradigm is shifting toward healthcare, which Senior Housing News has identified as one of the top senior housing trends for 2021. [i] The traditional senior-housing community attracts seniors with a luxury building that features amenities like a resort-style grand lobby, five-star dining experiences, pool, sauna and salon services. Yet the past year has meant a renewed focus on care and safety. “From 55+ active adult all the way up to skilled nursing, the servicing and management of older adults needs to balance both hospitality and healthcare,” said Tod Petty, executive vice president of Lloyd Jones Senior Living, which provides professional management services to senior-housing owners and developers. “When you work with an experienced operator, you can have both exceptional design and care in the same model. And you can have really great design at any budget.”
All baby boomers are not created equal
Within the 57- to 75-year-old baby boomer-bracket, seniors need different levels of care and require different programming, planning and design. It’s essential to have an understanding of the specific needs of the target demographic before design even begins. “Across the continuum of care, you have to have an understanding on the front end about who your target demographic is and who you are designing those buildings for,” said Melissa Banko, founder and principal of Banko Design, an interior design firm that specializes in the senior-living market.
Creating places where residents feel at home
One of the paramount concerns when designing for senior living is that the communities should feel like home. Balancing the residential allure with commercial needs while supporting the care component requires an interior design firm that understands this unique combination of deliverables. For example, successful lighting design for seniors means understanding how vision changes as one ages. As we age, our pupils become smaller and less responsive to changes in ambient lighting. Because of these changes, people in their 60s need three times more ambient light for comfortable reading than those in their 20s.[ii] “When we talk about light levels for seniors, it’s about balancing natural light and ambient light so they can successfully navigate their living spaces,” said Banko. “This includes outdoor pathway lighting, reducing glare, and appropriate task lighting.” Beyond lighting, there’s also ensuring there are slip-resistant finishes on flooring, and that materials are easily wipeable and cleanable and will hold up to constant cleaning and sanitizing.
Design strategies for senior-living staff
Designing successful senior housing includes creating layouts that support staff. Planning for day-to-day activities and ensuring that staff have the spaces they need are essential parts of the design work.
“Space planning that takes operations into consideration is going to be more efficient and can also boost employee satisfaction,” said Petty. “Asking the right questions will help create the right spaces. Such as, ‘What is the most effective travel path for delivering food from the kitchen to multiple dining rooms? Where are your care stations for distribution of medication? Are they in the right location for the staff?’”
Renovation and retrofitting
According to Environments in Aging, the pandemic has fueled more interest in modest, but impactful, renovations to existing facilities to protect residents and staff, as well as create a safe and secure environment that can mitigate the risk of infection.[iii] “It might be breaking down a large room to create a more flexible space,” said Petty. “It’s important to still create spaces for socializing, but to be strategic about it.” Technology advances to enhance environments will also be key, noted Petty. “Upgraded HVAC systems to provide more outside air circulation, the addition of UV light disinfection, and installation of touchless faucets are just a few of the tailored renovations that can promote safety.”
A new era in senior housing
Moving forward, design will play an integral role in how senior housing evolves. Collaboration between investors/owners, operators and interior design and planning firms is key to reexamining growth strategies and solutions to meet the non-traditional demands that have emerged out of the pandemic.
For more information about designing for the future of senior living, listen to a recent episode of the Senior Housing Unfiltered podcast, where Tod Petty and Melissa Banko speak further about this topic.