August 13, 2013
UNIQUE DESIGNS LURE SENIORS
In an effort to overcome not so favorable perceptions of assisted living facilities, many owners and operators of said facilities have found that sensory stimulation tends to dismiss some of these preconceptions. It has long been believed that assisted living homes are on par with nursing homes. This is untrue. Nursing homes are for people who require constant medical assistance where assisted living is for people who require occasional medical assistance. Assisted living is more like a development or community that promotes an active lifestyle with a focus on senior interaction. Builders are learning that the best way to get this point across is through architectural design that elicits such a response.
The stigma associated with traditional nursing homes, with their clinically stark semi-private rooms and shared bathrooms, continues to loom over the senior housing sector, particularly for assisted living. “Older people’s greatest fear is having to share the most vulnerable time of their lives with a stranger,” says L. Bradford Perkins, FAIA, Chairman and CEO of Perkins Eastman. “There are a couple of million skilled nursing units out there, and 80-90% of the existing stock is obsolete.”
Like traditional nursing homes, today’s assisted living facilities provide senior residents so-called activities for daily living (ADLs), such as bathing, dressing, and preparing meals. Unlike nursing homes, however, they offer more privacy, comfort, and home-like aesthetics.
Design can help erase some negative preconceptions. Conveying a non-institutional look through the building’s design vernacular and finishes is a must. Designers also have to tailor spaces to meet the demands of seniors who want to keep fit—in body and mind. For example, Michael Tague, Design Director in A/E firm Nelson’s Boston office, suggests creating a public space on a floor close to living units that can be used for yoga or exercise classes. Says Hebrew SeniorLife’s Stark, “There’s a profound interest among seniors in staying physically and mentally healthy. That’s why our programming philosophy is ‘Try something new.”
In general, today’s seniors want to stay in their own homes or apartments for as long as possible. It used to be that people retired at 65, and you would live independently as long as possible, and then go to a nursing home. With people living longer, there is a gray period that could last decades when seniors can live semi-independently. This factor has altered the makeup of 55+ developments in recent years. There is a decline in the percentage of units dedicated to assisted living, since assistance is provided with ADLs in independent living units. To support the goal of aging in place, units are being built with larger bathrooms to give attendants plenty of room to aid residents with their ADLs. Windows need to be easy for arthritis sufferers to open. Factors like these can determine whether existing buildings, such as an old hospital, can be converted to senior housing. If the existing bathrooms are too small and can’t be opened up, that white elephant building may not be suitable for modern senior housing, no matter how cheap the asking price.