Design of Senior Living Environments – Part I

I have heard many architects, designers, and providers associate the design of Senior Living communities with Hospitality Design.  Although the goal is to appeal to both residents, families, and staff from a marketing. as well as aesthetic perspective, I have found many lack the necessary knowledge and understanding of designing for an aging population. Here’s some sobering statistics:

  1. There are more than 5.4 million people in the United States currently affected by Alzheimers/Dementia (AD). That number is expected to increase fourfold by the year 2050.
  2. AD is currently the 6th leading cause of death among those age 50-65, and that number rises to the 5th  leading cause for those over 65.
  3. 10-20% of people age 65 and older have Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). It’s estimated that as many as 15% of those individuals progress from MCI dementia each year.

If you take into consideration that the average age in Assisted Living is now 86.9 years, and of the approximate 1.5 million residents in Skilled Nursing Homes approximately 1,144,000 are 75 years and older, then statistically a great proportion of seniors in both Assisted and Skilled communities are affected by either MCI or AD.

Designing communities for our elders that provide an environment of safety, empowerment, and dignity is paramount. The built environment has tremendous impact on the population in general, but becomes even more critical when those who reside within are experiencing physical, cognitive, and psycho-social challenges. Yes, we want communities to be attractive, but conveying a sense of home and security is more important. Some of the most common design errors or misconceptions have to do with not understanding how vision changes as we age, as well as hearing.  Vaulted or high ceilings may look beautiful, but can wreak havoc with noise levels if not properly designed.

Subsequent postings in this section of the blog will provide information, thoughts, and ideas for designing for an aging population.  I invite ongoing dialog through comments, questions, ideas, etc. that will help contribute to the advancement of Design for our aging population.