Retired Living: State-of-the-Art Senior Design

There may still be a lot of jokes about "the old folks' home," but many senior living facilities these days are getting with the times. These residences are installing services and changing their designs to better fit the new generations of senior citizens, and in the process making them a more appealing option for a person's twilight years.
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There may still be a lot of jokes about "the old folks' home," but many senior living facilities these days are getting with the times. These residences are installing services and changing their designs to better fit the new generations of senior citizens, and in the process making them a more appealing option for a person's twilight years. Designers are beginning to think more about the comfort of everyone involved - from the residents to their visiting families - as well as how to modernize senior living with state-of-the-art technology for both health and recreational purposes. As the baby boomers age into senior care, their families may begin to seek more upscale amenities, which is why it's a good move for facilities to anticipate these requests ahead of time.

One size doesn't fit all when it comes to senior citizens - and the current residents of these facilities might have different needs than previous ones. Here are just a few of the biggest design trends we're seeing when it comes to senior living:

More Technological Enhancements

As technology becomes more convenient and accepted as a part of our everyday lives, both senior tenants and their families will be looking for residences that have proper internet connectivity. It's common now to see Grandma or Grandpa tapping away on tablets and smartphones, and so senior facilities ought to be making strides to ensure that their designs include Wi-Fi capability. An article at McKnight's Senior Living goes one step further and suggests that digital tech will go even further to provide keyless room entry. Bringing a senior living facility online can go a long way in spreading connectivity and community across the entire building, not just in the traditional "business center" room.

Another tech-focused area of note for these residences is health monitoring, particularly in locations with tenants who have preexisting health problems. This means that modern facility design should be incorporating places for technology installation that are kept discreet and out of the way. According to the Interface blog, enabling life-saving devices to be hidden helps to maintain the "residential feel" of the facility. Keeping in-room technology non-invasive can assist residents with health problems and also allow them to feel as though they're at home, rather than a health care clinic.

And though it may not sound like a revolutionary change, the move towards a different type of carpeting in senior facilities is big in terms of both style and function. Slips and falls can be hazardous to an elderly person, and residences need to plan for carpeting that can adhere in place. Yet technology is taking things further by creating material that can actually track people who walk on it. The Interface blog explains that it's "a carpet tile with integrated RFID technology using a glueless tactile adhesive that enables the staff to monitor the specific location of a resident within a building." This could be a huge breakthrough when it comes to keeping an eye on residents who are prone to wandering or falling.

Open Spaces for Easier Mobility and Comfort

Creating senior living spaces that aren't cramped and claustrophobic has always been a goal, but with the newer facilities, we're seeing more of a focus on building with open spaces in mind. Not only do they help senior citizens maintain their mobility, but having more space means more options for activity. When a facility can shift around larger main rooms to fit various events - such as installing partitions to divide a big room up, or ensuring there's enough space for extra furniture - then residents can have more of a sense of community, rather than being split off into smaller rooms for separate activities.

Another big focus for senior living design is on making the facilities feel like, well, less like a facility. Instead, many modern senior residences are looking to create more of a laid-back hotel type of feel, in order to keep tenants comfortable while providing a backdrop that's anything but drab. The Interface blog quotes architect David Dillard as saying, "We're seeing more common areas presented with progressive décor, like a 4-star boutique hotel. Seniors deserve something fresh and wonderful, just like they find in new venues when they go out on the town."

Amenities for Community

It's long been a struggle to keep senior citizens from becoming isolated from their community. Even if they don't have family members visiting very often, there are still numerous benefits to being social and feeling like a part of a group, and that's something that can be difficult in a large care facility. Yet recently, there's been a huge move towards integrating senior living facilities into the larger outer community, and closer to other people.

There are two upsides to this, for one, designing senior facilities to be located close to community centers or schools means that the seniors will also have access to the amenities that are usually attracted to these social hubs (such as grocery stores or movie theaters). This means more places to go on outings, and more contact with the world outside of the senior home. And two, modern living facilities are branching out to include wellness and fitness programs, which can in turn bring the community inside. The McKnight's Senior Living article adds that some facilities are even renting out their living and dining spaces as event venues, which can both offset property costs and bring a sense of vibrancy to the facility. This makes it even more important that senior living facilities are designed with a sense of community space in mind.

Ergonomic Furniture

Perhaps more than any of us, elderly individuals need extra support on their bodies as they sit. Fortunately, there's already a wide range of ergonomic chairs and furniture available that are specially made to ease any discomfort that an aging person may feel as they sit down. Choosing ergonomic recliners or lounge chairs for a facility's common room - or even massage chairs for recreational areas - can help relieve a lot of the pressure on a tenant's back.

In a whitepaper written about ergonomics in houses for elderly people, there's the additional emphasis placed on the need to plan for wall-mounted support bars and furniture that can help improve circulation. Planning ahead of time to prevent accidents ought to be the number-one priority on an architect's mind as they create a senior living facility. As the whitepaper sagely puts it, "Architects and decorators have social concern and responsibility to plan and are capable of adapting and changing these places in order to make them more comfortable, safe and easy to use for the elderly."

The Design Evolution

When a designer is scoping out plans for a modern senior living facility, the physical and mental comfort of a resident should be the most important factor. What an older person and their family are expecting out of a facility is much different now that it was even a decade ago, and there's a definite need to go above and beyond the standard offerings. Fortunately, technology is helping design evolve, and the results show a brighter and healthier future for our aging population.