Senior Living Design Trends
This article describes the history, current, and future architecture and interior design trends within the senior living real estate industry
Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to have toured and invested in hundreds of seniors housing communities in markets across the United States. Like many others, I can usually estimate the year the property was built when I first drive around the community. Seniors housing is a young industry, but there are some definite design traits and characteristics that have delineated each period and progressed through the years. In this article, I’ll examine the history of seniors housing design, as well as address some of the current and future design trends within the industry.
Seniors housing was really born in the 1980’s, but didn’t start to become a distinct and acknowledged industry class until the 1990’s. Still today, when I mention seniors housing, many people think of traditional skilled nursing facilities, or ‘nursing homes,’ with long corridors and semi-private units on either side. And, that’s exactly what you’ll find in the earliest seniors housing design. Communities built in the 1970’s to late 1980’s typically resemble skilled nursing facilities with long hallways, primarily semi-private or studio units, and limited common area and community space. As the assisted living product become more acknowledged, new development started to surge reaching a pinnacle in the late 1990’s. Most of these communities have a fairly similar design (think of traditional Brookdale or Holiday), but began to add more amenities like libraries and dedicated activity rooms, along with more options in unit types (although, still more skewed towards studio units). The prominent technology included pull-cords in the resident bedrooms and bathrooms.
The 2000’s refined the industry as it began to expand and become more sophisticated. Dedicated and secured memory care became a new product type, and additional amenities like movie theaters, fitness centers, larger lobbies and resident lounges began to emerge. The resident units also became larger with a greater selection of one-bedroom and two-bedroom unit types (with less studio units). The design still typically consisted of one-to-three story buildings with longer hallways on either side of a central dining room, but more resident lounges and courtyards emerged to add additional interactive space for the residents. New technology like building wi-fi and resident pendant call systems became standard.
So, what are the current trends in seniors housing? The main concept in today’s seniors housing design is to get the resident’s out of the units and engaged within the community. Instead of having the standard amenity rooms scattered throughout the community (library, computer room, game room, etc.) that are rarely used other than marketing tours, newer design trends incorporate a large, central community space that can be converted throughout the day (yoga, dance classes, cooking classes, movies, etc.). This creates a central, interactive hub within the community and helps provide interaction for the residents. Longer hallways are being replaced with connected ‘square’ designs to foster socialization and avoid isolation. Libraries are being replaced with ‘digital libraries’ that can be accessed through provided smart devices. Bistro’s and casual cafes are being added to the community to provide more dining options, as well as more social interaction meeting space for residents and families.
And, the future is limitless and exciting for the industry. The focus will be on ‘lifestyle,’ so that residents want to move into a community for an upgraded quality of life. Technology will continue to be a main driver, which will include smart locks, digital records, new call systems, and interactive smart devices – all with the ability to be remotely accessed by the families. Virtual Reality is being introduced in memory care to help maintain and improve cognitive function. Also, modular design may help reduce the construction costs to cater towards a more affordable product. Overall, the industry has come a long way in a short time, and with constant innovation and improvement, the industry will continue to make a positive impact on the quality of life of residents and families well into the future.
Scott McCorvie leverages 20 years of senior living real estate investment, development, and operations experience to improve the rapidly growing and changing senior living industry.
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