by The Construction Institute Editorial Committee
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise from 16% to 23%. Along with an increase in the average U.S. life expectancy from 68 years in 1950 to 78.6 years in 2017, in large part due to the reduction in mortality at older ages, the demand for space in assisted living facilities for the elderly is as high as it has ever been.
As new facilities are built and older ones are renovated to accommodate this growing need, design and construction approaches for these facilities are being constantly revisited, studied and improved by members of the AEC industry participating in these types of projects. Recent trends have included a shift away from a clinical, institutional design approach that resulted in facilities that sometimes looked more like hospitals than residences, to a more home-like and less clinical model where atmosphere matters and amenities are given more attention. The question – the opportunity – in response to the challenges we face today is, why stop there?
The recent coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting preventative quarantines imposed on these facilities has brought another consideration to the forefront: How can the design and layout of assisted living facilities themselves help residents maintain a feeling of connection to their friends and families outside of the facilities during times where in-person visits are restricted? Of course, the spread of video-enabled communications technology is one method, but the last few months has also seen an increase in “window visits” by friends and family to help residents maintain a feeling of connection to the greater community. What if these window visits further shifted the paradigm of senior and assisted living facilities? Incorporating wellness into the built environment doesn’t just say that atmosphere matters – it says that people matter. And now, that is more important than ever.
With these concepts in mind, in addition to the traditional (and still extremely important) design concepts of safety, security and the incorporation of medicinal and other clinical technologies into assisted living facility layouts, here are some “food for thought” concepts that we think should be considered in this ongoing conversation:
- Location matters!
- Being intentional by aligning this decision to the facility mission can strengthen urban resource sharing, celebrate rural settings, or place residents within a short distance of suburban family homes.
- Using floorplans to increase opportunities for movement and feelings of community
- The design of interior, and in the case of window visits, the exterior “rooms” of a facility can positively influence dignity and care.
- Borrowing ideas from the hospitality industry
- Creating a welcoming environment may have to adapt further moving forward. Inclusivity and connection in times of distancing will challenge interior finishes, resident room design, common spaces, and exterior landscaping, to name a few.
- Focusing on amenities and communications technology
- Being present is an evolving concept recently, with technology enabling many gatherings to happen virtually. As these devices inevitably continue to shape our interactions in the future, we have an opportunity now to design them inclusively.