Our team had the great opportunity to learn from some of the best in the senior living industry at the 2021 August EFA Expo & Conference in Chattanooga, TN. We received a wealth of information and ideas on ways to continue improving the quality of life in senior living while creating beautiful environments with a purpose through the power of design. However, we realize that passing down all that information in one blog would be nearly impossible. So here is a summary of a few topics that seemed to be trending among various speakers.
Intergenerational Community Concepts
This topic came up several times during various presentations. Intergenerational living is thought as a way to combat social isolation and loneliness among seniors, as this has been linked to health problems such as cognitive decline, depression, and heart disease. Our connection to others enables us to survive and thrive. Intergenerational community concepts strategically place senior living communities near daycares and grade schools to ensure seniors continue to participate in our communities. Programming is also a key in promoting activities among the different generations for socialization, learning opportunities, or play. Another intergenerational concept discussed was building seniors communities in the center of multi-family buildings where family members or caregivers who work in the senior units could potentially live in the multi-family apartments. The point is to avoid casting aside our elderly citizens and instead design communities where it facilitates socialization so they can continue to feel part of a larger community around them.
Smaller and More Defined Spaces
In a world where Covid is still very real, there were many discussions on how design can make it easier for residents to gather in smaller groups. Although open concepts help make a room feel much larger, the need for more defined and intimate spaces where a handful of residents can gather for tea or a game of cards seemed to be a trending topic of discussion. Open concepts spaces have proven to be less multi-functional because only one or two activities can occur simultaneously. Opposed to segmented spaces or smaller niches throughout the community that provide more privacy and allow for various activities without disturbing others.
Design That Promotes Efficiency and Wellness Among Staff
As operators continue to face staffing challenges, various presentations talked about how design can promote wellness among staff and possibly make their jobs less demanding to avoid burnout. Considering the day-to-day responsibilities and tasks is vital to designing spaces that logistically make sense for the staff members. A simple but thoughtful design is to strategically position storage rooms through the community that helps cut back on the amount of walking throughout the day—or perhaps ensuring that there is always enough clearance in wet areas such as a bathroom where a wheelchair, a resident, and a staff member often need to be in the same space at the same time. These simple decisions can not only avoid potential injuries, but it increases the caregiver’s efficiency. As for promoting wellness, incorporating a well-designed staff lounge with dining tables and couches to relax during their break can also help avoid burnout and increase morale among the staff.
Design That Promotes Movement & Participation
Although this is not a new concept, it’s always worth mentioning. As we age, we begin to lose muscles and mobility, and our environment can make an enormous difference in whether we continue to move. Giving residents an easy way and a reason to get out of their room can make a difference in that resident’s health. An example given was designing shorter corridors and presenting a more enticing view straight from the resident door. It provides that resident with an apparent reason to get out and socialize or take part in an activity. Another way of promoting movement is by including design elements that allow residents to participate in their daily care. For instance, by having armrests on shower seats, the resident can participate and help the caregiver in these daily tasks. Or having handrails by the sink where they might pull themselves up to perform daily hygiene tasks. Design that promotes movement and participation gives residents a sense of dignity and ensures that they continue moving their bodies.
At the Thoma-Holed Design firm, we consider ongoing education a vital source in designing innovative solutions for our clients, residents, and staff of the senior living communities. If you have any questions about the topics above or would like to discuss any other challenges you might be facing in a current community or new construction, we would love the opportunity to share our research base design solutions with you.
Recently we conducted a series of interviews with four of our clients Cadence, MorningStar, Liv Generations, and HarborChase. We wanted to know what protocols worked and which didn’t. Were there any major restructuring of living spaces and programming among their communities? What did they learn, and how will they continue to move forward in a post-pandemic world. As a design firm that focuses on senior living, obtaining this information was imperative to ensure we continue developing communities that enrich residents’ lives and promote a safe and healthy lifestyle.
Vaccine Policies, Sick Time and Pay
In the first round of questions, we focused on the communities vaccine policies, sick time, and pay. All clients took similar approaches concerning the vaccines; not many communities mandated the vaccine among their staff or residents. However, some clients stated that they provided incentives such as increased pay, gift cards, and raffles for their staff. The residents were very compliant in regard to taking the vaccine, so no mandates were necessary. However, some communities did require new residents or new hires to be already vaccinated.
Food Service and Social Distancing
As we continued our questions into foodservice and social distancing, our clients shared that due to the significant differences within the local government guidelines from county to cities, they had to adapt quickly and make rapid changes, but making unified operation decisions among all communities was very difficult. Many communities offered room service and meal delivery via carts during the initial lockdown. Other communities opened their dining rooms to residents during the lockdown, with strict social distancing procedures and staggered mealtimes, but it varied by local restrictions. The communities did not allow anybody that was not staff or resident inside, so they felt comfortable allowing their residents to have safe and socially distant interactions with one another. An enforced two-week quarantine was in place only if someone in the community contracted covid.
Functionality of Amenities & Spaces
Learning about the functionality of amenities and spaces throughout the communities was very important for us. We wanted to know what held up and what didn’t, whether it be furniture, fabrics, individual rooms, or space layouts. We were pleasantly surprised to hear that most furniture and materials did great at withstanding the daily use of harsh chemicals used to disinfect. They also expressed that spaces such as hallways and expanded intersections of each floor became a way for residents to gather around and interact while still socially distancing. These spaces proved to be more flexible than the closed-off game or activity rooms. Other areas that became essential were the outdoor patios, pools, and gardens. It permitted staff to hold more interactive activities for the residents while minimizing the risks.
However, there were challenges when it came to areas such as mailrooms and marketing rooms. People who were not residents or staff needed access to these rooms, but due to its location within the community and having no direct access from the outside, it created a risk factor and presented the staff with challenges when receiving mail. Various clients expressed that they would like to rethink the location and the outside accessibility to these rooms for current and new construction communities. They also mentioned that they would be revisiting the size and layout of resident’s rooms to allow for an eating area and more outdoor space such as private balconies.
The Future of Senior Living Design
We asked our clients if they consider moving away from a residential or hospitality design to facilitate their medical needs. They unanimously said no. They believe new architectural builds are still effective and can attend to all needs of the residents. However, there will be some changes, such as moving into more touchless controls in common areas and incorporating more indoor-outdoor experience to create better airflow. Selecting cleanable non-porous materials will also be a big push among communities. However, dining areas will likely remain the same as the design often includes dividers and booth seating that give the residents privacy and plenty of room for social distance.
In conclusion, although there will be some changes in senior living communities in the years to come, whether from new materials, finishes or technology. These changes will only further improve the safety and well-being of the residents. Of course, you can still expect to see vibrant designs and amenity-rich senior living communities that help create beautiful living experiences for the residents.
If you followed us on social media, receive our monthly newsletter, or have seen our presentations, you are probably familiar with my headshot. In this particular photo, my hair is colored as I’ve done for years to conceal the gray in my hair. However, during the stay-at-home pandemic orders, the natural color of my hair began to peek through as I’d imagine it did for many other women. And if I’m being honest… this has been my natural hair color since my late 20’s early 30’s. But, due to social norms, I felt pressured to maintain it colored for decades.
That’s when I began asking myself, why? Why do I feel the need to hide my natural hair? And why are men not as strongly affected by the societal pressure to conceal their natural hair color?… But we won’t go there in this article. Instead, I’d like to focus on the topic of Ageism.
Since going natural, I’ve realized people treat you much differently. For one, no one comments on your hair. Typically, with any new haircut or color change, it usually elicits a comment, even if only an acknowledgment, but it’s as if they are afraid to make the slightest remark. And when you do get comments, they are more like this “You look great for your age,” or “Well, you still have great hair.” Then, of course, the biggest question that is now tossed at me is, “When are you going to retire? Excuse me!? Why the sudden consideration or a concern? Did going natural suddenly made me lose my senior housing expertise, gerontology degree, or my capability to run a multi-million-dollar company?
During this transformation, I have learned that my experience is only one among thousands. I learned that Ageism, unfortunately, is very prevalent, especially among professional women. A recent WerkLabs survey of more than 700 working professionals over the age of 40 from diverse backgrounds were asked to rate their experiences with Ageism. Overall, 60% of survey respondents indicate that they have encountered Ageism in their professional lives. Of the survey participants choosing to disclose their gender, nearly 62% of women and 52% of men indicate having experienced Ageism. (read WerkLabs full survey)
Although, I am very aware of the needs and capabilities of our residents in our communities and often preach that every person has a purpose until their last breath. It then occurred to me that I’m also guilty of Ageism. Whether it be addressing a senior inappropriately or assuming that they can’t remember, make decisions, or think as clearly as I might be able to. So next time you assume or presume that someone’s capabilities are not up to par with yours, do yourself a favor and Don’t!
This experience has indeed opened my eyes to how susceptible we all are to Ageism and how culpable our society is in promoting Ageism; luckily, there is a solution, treat everyone with respect and dignity regardless of age, gender, or sex and embrace that natural beautiful silver hair!