This is the time of year when conferences are the norm. Every month there is another advertisement in a design journal for a conference that has a unique take on a specific market.

Do you remember the first design conference you ever attended? I started thinking about that when I decided to attend a new one for the first time: the Environments for Aging Conference held Feb. 26 to March 1 in Las Vegas.

I should tell you that I didn't go to this event cold — I have been working in senior living for more than a decade, but this is the first time I had the opportunity to attend this conference.

The EFA conference is unique because it isn't just for design professionals. Operators and healthcare providers as well as people who are interested in the well-being of seniors are also in attendance. Like the Healthcare Design conference, this conference focuses more on education than products although there were plenty of great new things to see from manufacturers who attended the event.

People who choose to work in senior living have a different take on the aging process. Even as designers, we look at aging as something that is just part of living. Designing spaces for a segment of the population we will be a part of can be challenging, especially when the idea of aging and what it means is changing at such a rapid pace.

Senior living is and has been a big market segment for much of the past decade and will continue to be one because of our increasing aging population. As seniors become the largest population segment using the built environment, the design of all buildings becomes critical for creating a better quality of life as we age.

Aging can be big business as we have seen in other areas of the marketplace. The old ideas of aging are just that old. No one wants to be thought of as old, so our environments shouldn't be either. That is the basis for this conference.

As a new attendee, my hope was that by spending time with like-minded people I would share new ideas and come away with a fresh approach to creating better places for seniors.

As I made my way to the first event of the conference, the keynote speaker made some interesting points. We need to think about how we live so we can continue to do so and not give up what we enjoy just because we are considered old. Our environment and lifestyle have a big impact on how well we age.

As I sat in the audience listening to this speech, I began to think about my own lifestyle choices. I also started thinking about how my design choices were affecting the people I have never met who are using these spaces. As designers, we are charged with the task of designing for a variety of situations including change. Senior living is all about change.

I'm intrigued by the idea that there is no right design or building type to accommodate the ever-changing idea of what old is. Taking all that I have learned from the design professionals in attendance and from leading gerontologists who are looking at aging from a scientific perspective is part of the reason why attending this conference was so important.

I found that although I have been to conferences before, nothing quite compared to this one. I think the reason comes down to the individuals who are in attendance — we all share the same passion. I am looking forward to attending the EFA conference again next year to learn more and to see how the new environments being built are helping to create a better quality of life.

It is has made me think of what I want in a living environment when I am a senior, and it isn't necessarily here. The change in building environments for seniors is just getting started; new ideas are becoming reality every day. We have a lot to look forward to for living and aging well now and in the future.