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Senior Living Design Trends for 2021

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

When COVID-19 became a part of our daily lives, it altered much of how we live and work. For us at Community Living Solutions and our clients, it means our approach to senior living community design takes into account more factors around senior health and wellness. The senior living design trends emerging are in response to this new landscape. Building codes and operational protocols are being implemented with the pandemic and future outbreaks in mind, forcing developers, architects and facility leaders to adapt quickly.   

Beyond the pandemic, another challenge impacting senior housing design trends is economics. As the nation’s population ages, a coming wave of seniors looking for senior living options is nearly here. Demographers estimate that 70% of Americans aged 65 or more will require long-term care.

As your trusted advisors and industry experts, we are monitoring these trends. By partnering with us, we’ll help you understand how best to design, innovate and remain competitive in light of these changes as we help ensure your senior living facility meets these trending needs.

Trend 1: Design for safety

The pandemic is forcing us to rethink how spaces can be used to fight infection. Today we need to think about easy-to-disinfect surfaces, strategically placed sanitation stations and compartmentalization layouts as key components in future facilities. We also must consider planning anterooms and other special areas within buildings where health workers can put on and take off protective clothing.

We also recognize the need for better ventilation and HVAC systems. We can recall the beginning of the pandemic when airlines scrambled to find ways to filter air particles or introduce fresh air into cabins. Likewise, senior living facilities will need to implement advanced air filtering systems.

At the same time, facility updates need to be balanced with efforts to combat social isolation caused by the pandemic. We are already experimenting with ways to create safe, indoor communal areas that are also flexible for multiple uses. Movable partitions, for example, can be employed to re-arrange layouts quickly depending on the need.

For those seniors who can live independently, pocket neighbors are taking hold across the United States. These neighborhoods, now being built as part of larger senior living communities, feature small, single-family homes located in close proximity to needed services and activities. In this way, residents can be socially active while being shielded from larger communal areas where risk of infection is much higher. It’s a good compromise between strict isolation and complete exposure.

Finally, industry leaders recognize that multi-purpose outdoor areas such as gardens, walkways and patios will be central to senior living planning going forward. They are investing in customizable features for these areas like pavilions, visitation tents and roofed porches. Social distancing measures can be maintained through the use of fixed benches positioned at safe distances from one another. Layouts that provide for multiple direct exits to the outside cut down on traffic through the main facility’s corridors.    

Trend 2: Offer more options for the middle market

The middle-market for senior living is vast. The coming influx of baby boomers into senior communities is expected to significantly raise the cost of care. This leaves middle-income seniors wondering how they will provide for their own care—they have too many assets for Medicaid assistance but not enough assets to pay for care in the long term. In addition, the long-term care insurance market is contracting. Since the industry went from 100 private insurers to 12, it’s estimated, insurance covers less than 10% of people who need it.  

With fewer options to ease this financial crunch, middle-income seniors will need more efficient and fiscally responsible solutions. That challenges all of us to find innovative ways to bring construction costs down while also helping middle-income consumers to change their expectations. They may not be able to afford facilities with high-end amenities like spacious rooms, fitness centers and beauty salons. Reassessing priorities to guide more efficient construction and design may help solve the middle-market squeeze while still maintaining a high degree of comfort for residents.

In addition to affordable construction, another option may be bringing services to the middle class. Even before the pandemic, home healthcare was on the rise, increasing 30% in the last five years. While home health may seem a competitor of senior care facilities, the boom may present an opportunity. We ask: What can be done from a design perspective to enhance partnerships with a home health agency that could, in turn, drive business to your facility? It’s an opportunity worth considering.                                                                   

Trend 3: Focus on staff

It’s no secret that staff members at senior living facilities had a stressful and challenging 2020. Well before the pandemic, facilities were challenged to find and retain staff. By some estimates, the senior care profession will need to add 2.3 million new workers by 2030 to remain viable.

In response, design can no longer be just resident-centered. We must consider staff efficiency and well-being through design and technology. Buildings that incorporate natural light, spaces for staff collaboration, nourishment opportunities like cafes and snack bars, fitness areas specifically for staff and acoustic separation to cut down on noise will go far in attracting potential employees. 

Senior living communities will need to plan for these changes while remaining sustainable and fiscally efficient. 

Trend 4: Adopt virtual technology

Lastly, tech. The pandemic quickly taught us how to live and work virtually. One piece of tech we’ve looked at personally, Matterport®, could also help facility leaders as they recruit residents. First intended to help real estate buyers visualize properties, this 3D digital mapping technology can also be used to offer seniors and their families a virtual walkthrough of a facility. In this way, they can tour the building without having to go there physically, making it convenient and safer as they choose their next home.

Depend on our senior living construction expertise

At CLS, we strive to stay at the forefront of senior living design trends. In doing so, we provide architectural design and building recommendations to enhance your marketability, helping you stay ahead of the competition.

If you would like to discuss how to modernize a current facility or build new in light of today’s challenges, contact us or call 920-969-9344.