By George T. Wilson, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB and Shannon Remaley, NCIDQ, LEED GA

1. A Provider’s Perspective on the Future of Senior Housing

In the face of market evolution, nonprofit senior living provider Presbyterian Retirement Communities Northwest (PRCN) underwent a master planning exercise in 2015 covering its four current properties, a process described in the 2016 EFA Expo & Conference session titled “A Provider’s Perspective on the Future of Senior Housing and Services Development.”

As DeAnne Clune, PRCN vice president of marketing, told attendees, it was a necessary response to the market shift from “package”-based communities to more choice-driven options with flexible opportunities that allow residents to tailor their own living environment.

Clune and Paul Aigner, Vice President of Development, described PRCN’s portfolio of 4 communities and the process they went through with each one to determine proper next steps. Their community Parkshore had 119 independent living units which were studios, alcoves, or small one-bedrooms. Residents had kitchenettes only and were bound to a three-meal-per-day contract; there were no washers and dryers within units and no pets allowed. After the master planning process, PRCN began to allow pets and offered a one-meal-per-day option. As units became available, they were remodeled to include full kitchens and washers and dryers and to offer customizable options and finishes. Studios were eliminated, combined into larger units as they became available, and there are now only a limited number of alcoves.

Just one year later, Parkshore is fully occupied, with high demand for its 1100- to 1200-square-foot two-bedroom units. The master planning process was applied to PRCN’s three other properties as well.

This community is an example of how the new generation of seniors is demanding a different type of senior living experience where they have more control of their environment and daily lives.

2. University Based Retirement Communities

A University Based Retirement Community (UBRC) is a new concept that is gaining momentum in the senior living world. The development of senior projects is tied into universities providing shuttle services, student interns, college courses for seniors, and access to campus events.

3. Urban Locations for Senior Living

Many operators have a focus on urban locations, transit-oriented development sites, and unique site amenities (walkability, etc.). They hope to develop a wide range of housing options from affordable and mid-market to luxury senior living. Mid-market residents have the greatest need right now.

Speakers advised senior living providers to remember that their projects should be looked at as “places for people to live, not necessary places for ‘old people.’” It’s not all about healthcare, and by all means, consider ideas from other sectors, such as hospitality and research, when designing spaces for future residents.

4. The Impact of Art on People with Dementia

A study conducted from Canada had some interesting conclusions on an art program that was rolled out to the memory care community. “Color does not serve as wayfinding. The use of images could spark something in the “memory bank” of residents that may help them remember a certain place or function within the facility.” The quality of life is enhanced with variety and choice in the selection of paintings. Paintings help orient residents by prompting memories and acting as landmarks and waystations. Paintings have energy and presence that supports resident engagement.

5. Branding as a Wayfinding Tool

We have noticed the strong use of color and cool branding and way finding in a number of projects.

6. Technology Tidal Wave

The Internet of Things (IoT) gives “things” the ability to communicate data over a network and make decisions based on that data without human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.

The ability to introduce sophisticated technology into buildings has created its own airwave.  Eventually, residents will be able to control lighting, appliances, and other electronic systems with one mobile device. This will provide continuous monitoring for health providers and family members of seniors. With a “cloud” of systems working together, the future of our technology is on the rise and working their way into our assisted living communities.

7. Evidence Based Design

The Center for Health Design advances best practices and empowers healthcare leaders with quality research that demonstrates the value of design to improve health outcomes, patient experience of care, and provider/staff satisfaction and performance.

8. Government Initiatives and Effects of Policy

Cities are finding better ways to prepare for the growing senior population. Cities, such as Boston and DC, are reacting to government initiatives directed towards the demand for affordable housing.

World Health Organization: Towards an Age-friendly World
The Age-friendly Mission
Age-friendly DC

9. Making the Connection between Residents and Visitors

There’s been a recent and rapidly rising demand for the creation of spaces in senior living environments that encourage loved ones to spend more time connecting with the residents they’re visiting.

Offering amenities that foster opportunities for more and extended social interaction should be especially important to operators. For example, studies have shown that isolation in seniors is tied to diminished health, depression, and cognitive decline. Reports have also indicated that family visits are a key part of residents’ level of happiness and sense of well-being.

An awareness of these needs has led to recent moves toward attracting and accommodating multi-generational family members by providing gathering places that engender frequent and lengthier visits. In a sense, it’s an effort to capture the same feeling of being on a family vacation by creating a place where visitors can relax, get away, and connect with their loved ones.

10. Interesting Statements We Heard at EFA

“It is not just millennials that are shifting from materialism to experience, but also society, including seniors and adult children.”

“Design spaces that impact health, thought, and especially spirit.”