The Environments for Aging Expo & Conference hosted in Austin, Texas last month brought together more than 1,000 of the brightest minds to discuss strategies and ideas for designing environments that meet the needs of our aging population. Peter Baer, President, and Briana Manfrass, Interior Designer, spoke about the transformation of an aging elementary school in Richland, Oregon into senior living and the processes of adaptive reuse. They also attended educational sessions throughout the conference on best practices, trends, and innovative products. They share a few trends gleaned from the conference:

1. Not Your Stereotypical Nursing Home

Baby boomers expect more than their predecessors. They want the ability to plan their future and age in place with more conveniences. Continuing care retirement communities (CCRC’s), a continuum of care with options for independent living, assisted living, and nursing level of care on the same campus, is a trend anticipated to continue but the discussion at the conference was around the idea of continuing care buildings. A community where you can stay in the same room as you move through the continuum of care further bridging the gap between in-home care and senior living communities. Although many questions about the operation and financial implications need to be answered the idea of flexibility in design got us thinking. One building certified for all levels of care may give smaller communities more opportunities. You’d easily be able to accommodate different levels of care based on the fluctuation of need without having to construction a new building. This idea can also provide increased resident interactions for all levels of aging enhancing health and well-being.

2. Gone are the Days of Large Institutional Retirement Complexes

As part of the aging in place movement, seniors are looking for facilities that are more like a traditional home. Not just from an interior design perspective but smaller buildings that are easy to navigate and feel like a large house. An example is the GREEN HOUSE® / small house model. The Green House movement is a new model for long-term senior living—transitioning away from an institutional, one-size-fits-all philosophy towards “person-directed care” that emphasizes a meaningful life, empowers staff, and replicates the feeling of home. This new approach manifests in both operations and design. Lakeview Gardens, a new retirement community in Lakeview, Oregon, includes three individual 7,700-square-foot cottages that house up to 12 seniors each. Two homes are skilled nursing and the third is assisted living. Instead of a traditional group home, the clusters of smaller homes – designed to complement the surrounding Lakeview residential homes – provide intimacy and a comfortable setting. Each person has a private bedroom and bathroom that opens to a central Hearth Room (aka living room) with open kitchen and dining room. With no predetermined daily routines, the individual living spaces are designed to provide privacy and flexibility.

3. More Research on Memory Care Will Drive Architecture

More research into neurocognitive disorders (i.e. Dementia and Alzheimer) is showing the positive influence of site, sound, and smell in the built environment. The layout of the building including, site lines and flow, is one of the most important aspects to reduce agitation in a resident suffering from a neurocognitive disorder. Limiting decision making by providing two directional options (and no more) for a resident exiting their room and eliminating all dead-end corridors helps with navigation.

Smaller changes like integrating areas outside residents’ doors to be personalized with mementos and photos helps with identification of their room and retrieving long-term memories. Incorporating a therapeutic outdoor butterfly garden, a low cost improvement, for site and smell helps residents make connections to time, place, memories, and life experiences. Research shows that therapeutic gardens can reduce the need for medication and in turn reduce fall rates and injuries overall since their abilities aren’t impaired by the medication.

The traditional senior care setting hadn’t changed dramatically until the late 90s when more research and thought was put into how people lived and worked within a space. Senior living architecture began to evolve resulting in layout and interior design options that provide community space and healthy environments. Today we’re finding different ways to design senior living facilities that are more comfortable and allow individuals to age in place. Stay tuned as we continue to share more insights into senior living design on our blog.