Is it time to put ‘senior living’ out to pasture?
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
Back in the day, when you reached a certain age and had no one to care for you, you’d be sent to the “old folks’ home” to live out your remaining years. Then, “retirement villages” came along, replacing the stigma of the old folks’ home with a vision of spending one’s “golden years” relaxing, soaking up the sun, and playing a friendly game of tennis or round of golf with your new neighbors.
Over time, these age-restricted communities have evolved into today’s “senior living” model, offering a wide range of activities, support services, and a continuum of elder care, often in a residential-like setting. Several reports released this year suggest, however, that the concept of “senior living” may have run its course, too.
In recent years, owners and administrators have reinvented the senior living model, transforming their properties from institutional, impersonal facilities into guest-friendly residences, adding a host of amenities and services while incorporating hospitality design elements from resorts and spas. Along with improving the quality of care and living environments for residents, the hope was that these changes would make senior living more attractive to younger retirees in their 60s and 70s.
But that has not happened. Many of today’s seniors are choosing other lifestyles and living arrangements, while senior living is primarily serving the oldest retirees (those in their 80s and 90s), who have a greater need of personal and medical care.
According to a report prepared earlier this year for the 2019 Senior Living Innovation Forum, Senior Living: The Next Decade, a few years ago the average age of people moving into senior was 80.5 Now it is closer to 84.
Currently, reports Senior Housing News, the industry is facing a supply-demand crux. In what Brenda Bacon, president and CEO of Brandywine Living, calls a “sea change,” oversupply is eroding occupancy, and the industry cannot count on future demand to be there, states the article.
One consequence of this sea change, relates McKnight’s Senior Living, a report prepared by PwC and the Urban Land Institute of emerging trends in real estate for 2020 finds investor preference for acquisition and development in senior housing has “fallen off a bit” for the coming year.
Two white papers released this year by Perkins Eastman provide highlights of research that finds a number of factors — financial, technological, societal and environmental — have provided today’s independence-oriented seniors with more options for living arrangements and lifestyles.
The firm’s “Clean Slate” project presents a series of future scenarios of how those options may likely proliferate in the next decades. Almost all are alternatives to current senior living models.
For personal and financial reasons, many aging baby boomers are choosing to modify and upgrade their current homes rather than move to senior housing of some sort.
Many of those who do move are relocating to intergenerational mixed communities, age-friendly urban centers, or co-housing and shared (including intergenerational) housing arrangements that are more affordable and flexible than traditional senior living facilities. Either way, the preference for most younger retirees is to remain in the community and remain independent for as long as possible.
What are the implications of these trends for interior design? Traditional senior living facilities will continue to operate, primarily as providers of a continuum of care.
Some may fold, and demand for new ones is likely to fall, at least in the coming decade. The ones that do remain will need to innovate and will be looking to design solutions that will make their properties more attractive to younger retirees as they seek to compete for a dwindling clientele.
More broadly, however, the concept of senior living will be less relevant in a society where more seniors are living alongside other generations. Any type of housing potentially could be senior housing and is thus in need of design solutions that will support independence and some level of in-home care.
Among other trends, future design for senior residents will involve optimizing smaller living spaces (be they condos, co-housing or accessory housing); integrating technologies that support autonomy and health monitoring; incorporating inclusive design principles and biophilia; and enhancing sense of place for those who relocate. Spaces will need to be flexible, adaptable and suitable for mixed use, including in-home health care.
Aging baby boomers have made it clear they do not want to be isolated from the rest of society. As seniors of various levels of age and ability remain an integral part of our communities, design for aging will naturally transition from a niche specialty into the way all designers practice.
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