The senior living industry is experiencing a seismic shift as the next generation of retirees—the baby boomers—become their target demographic. These seniors who came of age during the 1960s often aren’t looking to ride off quietly into the sunset during their retirement years. Many of them aren’t interested in playing bridge or shuffleboard and they don’t want to have to wear a sports coat to eat in a formal dining room. Weekly trips to the grocery store and their house of worship are far from their only desired destinations. Laminate countertops and vinyl flooring or carpet just aren’t their style.
Today’s newest retirees want yoga classes and salsa dancing lessons. They prefer a variety of dining options including casual meals comprised of organic foods. They enjoy sporting events, the arts, and seeing new parts of the world. They want granite countertops and hardwood and ceramic tile floors.
The senior living industry, including continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs or life plan communities), must rethink the way they have been doing things in order to appeal to this baby boomer generation. In the coming years, the most successful CCRCs will be those that find new and innovative ways to foster this new generation’s lifestyle preferences—from activities, to dining, to decor.
The future of CCRC design
In the coming weeks and months, I will take a deeper dive into some of the CCRC trends I see on the horizon to explore what updates CCRCs might consider in order to attract the next generation of residents. But let’s start by taking a look at some of the innovations I’m anticipating in the physical design of CCRCs.
Mingling with the neighborhood
Today’s seniors are increasingly drawn to CCRCs with more urban and suburban settings so they can take advantage of the city’s restaurants, shopping, entertainment, and healthcare. Of course, from a development standpoint the challenge with this is the higher cost of land and real-estate within the city, but the industry is already finding creative ways to offset this.
As an added benefit to these more metropolitan locations, there’s a growing emphasis on attracting people from the surrounding neighborhoods to visit the CCRC’s campus. Whether it’s opening the on-site hair salon to the public, allowing rooms to be rented out for functions, or welcoming the public to use the community’s walking trails, the forward-looking CCRC will find new ways to encourage commingling between residents and their neighbors in nearby communities.
A wellness-focused design
Senior living architect Elisabeth Borden discussed some of the senior living industry’s trends in a Senior Housing News article entitled, “Why Trendier Senior Living Amenities Might Not be the Answer.” While all CCRCs seek to nurture the health of their residents, she notes that the CCRC of the future should put an even greater emphasis on wellness, and they can do that in a number of forward-thinking ways.
In the article, Borden says CCRC developers must make more conscientious choices about the location of new communities. They should be sure to select highly walkable plots of land that encourage residents to connect not only with nature but with one another. She also mentions CCRC wellness trends like “active stairwells,” which are creatively decorated in order to encourage residents to take the stairs instead of taking the elevator. And she emphasizes the importance of designing buildings using natural light, which is not only aesthetically pleasing but also offers health benefits.
Outdoor activity spaces
Communities are finding new ways to draw residents outside, encouraging them to not only socialize with one another, but also get out in the fresh air. Outdoor movie theaters and firepits, greenhouses with gardening clubs, communal outdoor kitchens and dining spaces that can be reserved for parties, even dog parks all are increasingly popular amenities.
Based on my experience in visiting many CCRCs, I do question how much the outdoor kitchens and firepits will regularly be used by residents. But there is no question that more outdoor spaces—like walking trails and communal gardens—will be important to the next generation.
In the coming years, CCRCs and other retirement communities will become less standardized and a new diversity of design will emerge. For example, today, we typically see CCRCs with a large campus-like design, but going forward, I believe we will see more boutique-style communities that feel more like home, but with many of the same services and amenities offered by other retirement communities.
Taking a cue from the co-housing trend, some communities may offer group residences or houses, each one equipped with common rooms, a kitchen, and laundry. Even within larger campuses we will likely see more “pocket-style” designs, which include multiple smaller living sections or neighborhoods within a larger community, and which share a common area.
I expect to see this trend not only in independent living, but also in assisted living and skilled nursing care, including stand-alone providers, as well as those that are part of a CCRC. Known in the industry as the “small-house” or “neighborhood” model, the goal will be to do away with the sterile and institutional atmosphere that is often associated with traditional nursing homes. Instead, the industry will move towards a nurturing, neighborly, and healthier environment that feels more like home.
It used to be that each activity in a retirement community had its own separate room, which, as a result, sat empty most of the time. No more. Retirement communities like CCRCs will increasingly take advantage of an “open floor plan” model.
In the future, a CCRC will be designed with rooms that can be used for numerous events and activities. A multipurpose room can show movies, host lectures, function as a chapel, and more. The formal library may be replaced with a coffeehouse stocked with the latest magazines and bestsellers.
Advancements like I’ve listed above are already taking place at some forward-thinking communities. With these design trends, retirement community developers and designers are finding innovative new ways to make their communities more appealing to the next generation of retirees.
If you are considering a CCRC or other retirement community, take note of what they are doing to keep up with design trends like these. A CCRC that already is implementing such improvements is indicative of a community will stay abreast of their residents’ needs both today and into the future.
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