Interior design may not be a top priority for owners of senior living communities, but perhaps it should be. Good design can do more than boost marketing appeal to prospective residents and their families; it can also enhance satisfaction for existing residents. Higher resident satisfaction increases their average length of stay which, in turn, promotes higher occupancy levels and ultimately increases the community’s value.
Senior living communities need to make a first and lasting impression. Altough prospective residents and their families cannot always evaluate the quality of care when they first visit a community, they are certainly able to form a quick opinion about the community's physical condition.
While style is important, there are several other design factors that operators should not ignore. One common mistake operators make is overlooking the importance of blending décor with operations. It is a balancing act operators must perform to please prospective and current residents and their families, in addition to staff, while keeping the facility operationally friendly.
Market research will help management determine how best to maintain that balance, looking at design through the eyes of all target audiences and staff to create a workable interior design plan that satisfies all groups. Staff input is extremely important, as incorporating their ideas will give them a sense of ownership. This, in turn, will result in a much happier work environment, generating quality resident care and service, and increasing the likelihood employees will share their positive outlook with others in the community.
Another critical design element is technology, which can include safety features important to operations such as emergency alert call systems. It also includes technology that residents can use for their enjoyment, like senior-friendly touch-screen computers and game consoles to help them stay active through cognitive stimulation and physical activity.
It's important to incorporate technological features in a strategic way to prevent the community from seeming overly high tech or institutional. The focus should be on comfort, while positioning the technology as another component of a homelike environment. For example, rather than setting up a game system in an activity room, operators can place the console in the community living room to promote comfort and encourage group use.
ENHANCED LIVING STANDARDS
Senior-friendly features can do a lot to differentiate a community, while enhancing residents’ standard of living. These features may range from upgraded television systems for easier listening and viewing to planning more attractive outdoor living spaces with gazebos, shaded walking areas and raised planters that can accommodate resident gardening activities. Bathrooms should have senior-friendly counter heights, hand-held showerheads, grab bars and walk-in showers. Hallways should have plenty of comfortable seating areas for residents to rest as they walk through the community, lean rails instead of old-fashioned hand rails and ample lighting to ensure a bright and cheerful atmosphere.
Cafés and ice cream parlors are another attractive amenity, offering a convenient way to provide daily snacks and refreshments. Rather than having carts and trays to serve snacks at scheduled times, a community’s café or ice cream parlor is accessible to residents all day, providing them the option of enjoying snacks at a time of their choice, and encouraging them to leave their apartment to walk the community and socialize.
Another way to promote independence and socialization through design is to ensure that amenities are user friendly and common areas have enough seating to allow residents to share the space and socialize. Providing plenty of common space for informal social gatherings will encourage residents to form their own clubs or groups. Shared spaces may include television lounges, rooms for games, billiards, arts and crafts and a private dining room for residents to use when family and friends visit.
Many communities that are attuned to building long-term value are choosing to take a more upscale hospitality approach to their design, modeling features after what would be seen in a hotel. Technology is also more prevalent, as are amenities that offer a wide range of interesting activities that create a homelike atmosphere.
In the long run, investing in a community through design can significantly increase its value and marketing potential while creating a comfortable home for seniors with the amenities and features they need. Each renovation allows operators to update a community with the newest design features, thereby improving the residents’ standard of living and enhancing the visual appeal that is so important to their family members and caregivers.
Steven Piazza is President of Senior Management Advisors (SMA), operator of independent living, assisted living and Alzheimer’s care residential communities in Florida and Georgia. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.