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Top lifestyle and design influences in senior living

May 1, 2012
by Patricia Sheehan, Editor-in-Chief
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An ongoing theme at this year’s Environments for Aging conference, being held this week at Disney’s Contemporary Resort in Orlando, is designing, operating and managing environments for aging with one key group in mind: the baby boomers, barreling into the senior ranks at the rate of 10,000 a day.

From the most luxurious CCRCs to the most financially challenged SNFs, boomers are making an impact on the way senior housing is built and run. Just about every educational session I’ve attended at EFA spoke to this influence. Even a targeted fall prevention session touched on the boomer influence: the presenter proposed that this more exercise-inclined generation could—on one hand, be less likely to fall—but wait, boomers are less docile and more demanding, so in their impatience to get what they want when they want it, they’ll take more risks—therefore risk falling more often.

It’s really an “ageless market,” suggested Kim Nobbs Evans, principal, Prajna Partners LLC, in a session that addressed the challenge of offering choice to seniors. “It’s about the individual person we’re seeing—not the market we’re serving,” she said.

“The people we’re serving are changing. We’re seeing retirement communities of the unretired. They want intergenerational interaction,” Evans said, with spaces to engage with family and friends.

Here are a few other trending takeaways from the session, courtesy of John Swanson, president/partner, Willow Valley Retirement Management and Mary Cook, president and founder, Mary Cook & Associates:

  • Look to trends in industries outside of the senior housing industry, such as hospitality. For example, outdoor fire pits are very popular for hotels and restaurants and seniors love them, too. They encourage congregation and invigorate outdoor spaces.
  • The days of the grand lobby have gone the way of ’80s-era large formal dining rooms (and mullets and shoulder pads, for that matter). They’re not conducive to congregating and frankly, can be intimidating to guests and residents. Consider downsizing these spaces to create more of a boutique hotel feel, with intimate nooks and cozy coffee/wine bars.
  • Dining: Steam tables and buffet lines are giving way to fresh ingredients cooked to order. Think staff-run grill or sauté stations and wood-fired pizza ovens.
  • Opportunities for intergenerational connectivity such as summer childrens’ camps or outdoor pools that encourage visitation and shared activities.
  • Customization and personalization. From colors and finishes to technology and space configuration, residents are demanding a say in the design decision-making process.
  • New American minimalism in furnishings and design. Say good-bye to country kitsch and colonial clutter. Today’s seniors are embracing clean lines, exposed construction features, lighter color palettes and natural materials. Contemporary, universal design is where it’s at.
  • Multi-functional spaces. Flexibility is key. Spaces for him and for her that foster enrichment and growth—physical, spiritual and intellectual.

Finally, keep this in mind: The best design will be a bust without two critical components: proper programming and dedicated staff.

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