Senior living has changed – and for the better
Yes, there are still nursing homes whose long hallways are marked by light wood handrails, white walls and pale green industrial tiles. Yes, there are still assisted living communities whose wide passageways are lined with patterned carpet, ornate wallpaper and gold light sconces. These common characteristics in and of themselves are not bad: the hospital-like environment of some nursing homes is not problematic if the home is clean, functional, and boasts a caring staff and family-like atmosphere. Well-appointed assisted living communities that are also well-run can be wonderful places for seniors to spend their later years.
Yet there is no place like home. Though for many older adults, home is found in senior living communities.
Those communities, like today’s seniors, have evolved. They’ve adapted to the needs of family members who want to continue their active role in a loved one’s life, even after a transition to senior living. They’ve tailored their service delivery to better equip their staff to care for residents with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia. They’re striving to draw the active baby boomers (who are currently redefining retirement as we know it), finding ways to make senior living appealing to a whole new generation of consumers.
With so many population changes, the industry had to change. Here, we’ll explore four of the major emerging trends in the senior living world:
Intentional Living: Creating Spaces That Thrive on Community
A 2011 Long-Term Living magazine article refers to the exciting development of “age-integrated” or “intentional, elder-friendly” communities. What does this mean? Writer Margaret P. Calkins, PhD, CAPS, EDAC, describes it this way: “Elder-friendly communities are designed to optimize physical and mental health and well-being, compensate for frailties and disabilities, and promote social and civic engagement.” From the creation of new to renovation of existing communities like these, look to such leaders as the Village to Village Network or the Generations of Hope Communities to learn more about senior living places and spaces that are designed with elders in mind, designed to support aging in place, and designed to foster the interaction of seniors with people of all ages.
The Green House Project (GHP) is another great example of the move towards “intentional living” for seniors. Developed 15 years ago by founders from the Pioneer Network, these small, freestanding homes provide the level of care found in nursing homes in a completely home-like setting. Despite skepticism from many mainstream senior living providers, Calkins says, “The Green House Project has demonstrated that not only is it possible to live in a home and receive skilled nursing services, the model can be financially viable.”
Person-centered care (PCC) is an important aspect of intentional living that can also be found in many of today’s senior living communities. While The Green House Project’s small house model lends itself well to person-centered care (typically, only about 15 residents occupy a GHP building), other communities are implementing a PCC model over the typical “medical model” that relied more on schedules and staffing standards and less on the desires and preferences of residents (i.e. when to wake or go to sleep, when to bathe, when to eat, etc.).
Cottage Living: Smaller Is Better
The Green House Project model isn’t the only one built on a “smaller is better” policy. A number of Alzheimer’s care communities have deliberately downsized to better serve their residents. More assisted living communities are making these smaller spaces look more like home and less like a medical facility by eliminating the tell-tale signs of such: i.e. the nursing station and the med cart. While both of these are still very much needed given the increased medical needs of many seniors today, the cottage living or “household model” relies more on mobile technology and a “decentralized” work space distributed throughout a community’s common areas.
Taking the place of the on-wheels med cart are “alternatives such as medication storage systems are designed to look like furniture,” says Calkins. “There are also other alternatives such as storing medications in locked cabinets in resident rooms, which puts medications in close proximity to the residents.”
Small is here to stay in a big way. According to Calkins, “…fewer care communities are building 60-bed units, which were once considered the best size from a management/staffing perspective.” Instead, you may now find some communities being built for as few as eight or nine residents.
Creative Living: Fostering a More Fulfilling Third Act
Music. Theatre. Painting. Sculpting. What better time than your retirement years to chase down the creative pursuits that the time consumed by work and family obligations did not allow?
More and more retirement communities are “putting art at the heart” of their model, says Beth Baker in an Artful Aging Special Report for Next Avenue, which was released in the fall of 2015. Says Baker, “A growing body of research suggests that creativity and artistic expression contribute to healthy aging.”
These creative communities run the gamut from co-housing models being organically established by a group of like-minded seniors to the integration of more arts programming – both internally run and those offered in tandem with organizations outside the community walls. One group in Colorado (referenced in the Next Avenue article) is seeking space to build 24 homes for art-lovers primarily over 50. Reports Baker, “The group hopes to find property that is zoned residential and commercial, in order to build an additional 6,000-square-feet of studio space where outside artists could hold exhibitions and teach classes.” And though being an official artist would not be required for membership, Baker’s interview with one of the group’s founders, Emilie Parker, says “they should be art-loving.”
Universal Living: Building Communities to Fit and Adapt to All Abilities
Recovering after injuries sustained from a fall – this is a common denominator for many senior living residents. Many older adults would prefer to stay home and live independently for as long as possible, but a fall and resulting fracture – leading to impaired mobility – can change that. Thus, more of today’s senior living communities are being built (or renovated) to include such age-friendly features as illuminated grab bars, both for prevention’s sake and the sake of those who require that level of assistance and accessibility after a fall.
Falls are not the only event that may impair mobility. Dementia, Parkinson’s, arthritis and other illnesses or injuries (a botched knee surgery, for example, or a severe car accident) can limit a person’s ability to walk independently, to garden or perform other hands-on hobbies, to open cans of food, to groom themselves, to bathe. Some enter their senior years with a disability they’ve had since childhood.
Regardless of the reason, the need for communities created on principles of universal design (UD) is ever growing, and universally designed tools and modifications should be found in the bedrooms, hallways, bathrooms, dining areas and common spaces of all current and future senior living homes.