The Next Generation of Senior Living

Why some senior communities are taking hints from residential and hospitality design to stay ahead of the curve

by Margie Monin Dombrowski

There’s really no other way to say it: We, as a society, are getting older.

According to the data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry (NIC), as of 2010, approximately 6 percent of the U.S. population—approximately 19 million people—were aged 75 years or older. What’s more, most estimates expect that number to grow steadily over the next decade, and then accelerate as the baby boom generation progresses in retirement.

That translates to an increased demand for senior housing, which (in theory) points to improved business prospects for the design industry. The NIC says that there are currently about 2.9 million beds in nearly 22,100 senior housing and care properties (and more than 519,000 beds in 6,921 assisted living properties), bringing the market capitalization to an estimated $250-$270 billion.

But these demographic shifts also mean that we must re-envision the idea of senior living itself. As more and more of our family members enter these facilities, how can we create safer, more welcoming spaces?

“Much of [senior housing] now is leaning more toward hospitality,” says Victor Regnier FAIA, professor of architecture and gerontology at the University of Southern California. “It’s a little more contemporary and hip. It doesn’t look back, it looks very ‘now’ and forward.”

Although baby boomers aren’t quite at the stage in life where they need senior housing, they’re the force driving this trend. “The buyer making the decision is a boomer,” says Regnier. “Eighty percent of the time it’s the older daughter. They’re in the 40 to 50 age range, so they have a contemporary taste. They want it to be different, a little more hotel-like and less a traditional senior residential environment.”

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