Get ready for “Senior Boomers” who are forcing major changes in planning and design strategies for residential, commercial and health care development.
As the Baby Boomer generation turns 65 , approximately 75 million Americans were born between 1946 and 1964 , the impact will be huge, in part because of the numbers and in part because of lifestyle.
Today, two-income families are a financial necessity. As a result, aging parents are sent to institutional nursing homes due to the lack of alternatives. Baby boomers in the caregiver role don’t have time, but also don’t like the quality of care, and either the facility design or selection of institutions.
As boomers age, they will demand alternatives to institutional nursing home care. The concept of shipping the elderly, whether parents or themselves, out of the neighborhood and into an institution isn’t acceptable.
What do they want instead? Quality of life, as measured by a number of factors.
Consumers want choices , and affordable solutions , with the ability to choose their own destiny without the system limiting the options.
They also look for places that focus on their health and safety, while still allowing and promoting independence, privacy and dignity. And they consider residential qualities, preferring traditional homelike qualities over institutional stereotypes with “age-in-place” settings.
& #711; Real Estate
The aging boom will force drastic changes in the planning, design and construction of residential, commercial and health care facilities. Networks of senior care services will be developed and integrated into the everyday community. These networks will not be separate elderly enclaves like Sun City in Arizona and Leisure World in Orange County. Instead, they will transform existing residential communities, putting family caregiver and support agencies closer together to be convenient for the working family and aging senior. Here are just a few of the changes to anticipate.
Mega-malls will decline in popularity. Because of seniors’ limited mobility, neighborhood commercial centers, boutiques and “mom and pop” stores will rise in popularity.
Assisted living facilities will be built closer to communities. When support can no longer be provided at home, aging parents will move into nearby facilities as their permanent residence.
New home designs with optional “granny flats” will be popular again. These provide a nearby living unit, yet maintain both parent and caregiver independence.
There will be more neighborhood senior nutrition programs, places that provide meals and social interaction at reasonable prices.
Neighborhood complexes will have Adult Day Care centers for conveniently dropping off older parents.
& #711; Architects Will
Need Many Skills
Architects and design teams will need a cross-section of skills from what are today thought of as separate areas. Designers in the near future will need to be cross-trained in:
& #711; Healthcare facilities. Here, the emphasis is on handicap accessibility issues, bathing design for the elderly, drug/medication delivery and staffing patterns, as well as the effects that color, lighting and spatial organization have on seniors with dementia.
& #711; Commercial applications. It will be essential to have knowledge of what attracts people to certain indoor and outdoor gathering areas for social interaction, such as small neighborhood stores.
& #711; Hospitality/hotel operations. Tomorrow’s designer will need to create buildings that have function, such as buildings with activity rooms, and are able to accommodate specialized food service requirements.
& #711; Residential design. This means understanding what makes something homelike and friendly without sacrificing safety and accessibility. A variety of buildings will need to reflect a scale, massing and interior design that says “home.”
& #711; Landscape architecture. This includes understanding and developing themes and settings that enhance buildings, such as sun/shade, planting, paving materials and water features.
& #711; Many architects today treat building types as distinct, but that will change. The senior service developer or operator needs architects to bring to the table a mix of design expertise, as well as the flexibility to organize services focused on seniors.
& #711; Assisted Living
Facilities Set Trends
The building type that is already revolutionizing senior care is the assisted living facility. Assisted living combines housing, healthcare and support services to respond to seniors who need help with daily living, including bathing, dressing and taking medications. Staff members are available 24 hours a day to provide that support and assistance.
Assisted living campuses are springing up throughout the nation, and Southern California is no exception. Successful campuses carefully balance residential and medical models. Architects already need to understand the logistics of providing care and how to design them into a residential setting that works for both staff and residents. Food service, gathering places and outdoor settings are all critical design components of a successful facility.
Assisted living is also a viable model for residential Alzheimer’s units that require a secure, supportive environment with 24-hour assistance and supervision. This allows residents to function at their highest ability.
Important design elements in this case include memory boxes outside each living unit, special “wayfinding” signs, walking paths and meaningful life skills rooms, such as offices and kitchens, that allow residents to continue to participate in once important, everyday experiences.
Assisted living is only one element that will continue to evolve and change. Senior boomers will significantly affect the development of whole communities. Those who start developing services specifically for the aging senior boomer population will find themselves in a very successful business position in the next century. After all, how many emerging markets have 75 million potential customers?
Scanlon, AIA, is a principal in Schmidt Scanlon Gordon, a San Diego-based architecture and design firm with an exceptional level of health care experience. She is currently working on several senior-related projects, including assisted living facilities.