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Envisioning the Future of Senior Living Communities: Design and Accessibility

An Interview with Architect Martin Siefering
The Future of Senior Living Design

Earlier this year Hebrew SeniorLife Communities sponsored the “Senior Living Communities of the Future Forum” at NewBridge on the Charles as an opportunity for our residents’ adult children to hear from experts in their fields on the future of senior living communities.

We sought insights to some of their most significant concerns as they relate to aging as well as important questions about their vision of the life they want to lead in later years. Concerns such as:

  • What type of senior living community would be right for me as I age?
  • Will I choose to age at home with services? How do I stay physically fit and healthy?
  • Do I want to live with others who share my background, or do I want a more diverse and inclusive community?
  • What role will technology play as I age?
  • What would I change to meet my generation’s needs and wants?

Our “Senior Living Communities of the Future Forum” panel included Martin Siefering, AIA, Principal Architect Perkins Eastman Architecture; Dr. Lisa D'Ambrosio, Social Research Scientist, MIT AgeLab; and Dr. Robert Schreiber, Medical Director Evidenced based Programs at Hebrew SeniorLife, instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and internist.

This is the first Q&A blog in a series with these three professionals revealing insights from their own professional experience about what the future of senior living communities is likely to hold.  

Martin Siefering, AIA, is a Principal Architect with Perkins Eastman Architecture where he specializes in complex, large scale senior living environments in the U.S. and internationally. He worked on several supportive housing and continuing care retirement community projects including NewBridge on the Charles buildings and master campus plan

Q:  What are the trends you’re seeing in the physical design of senior living communities? 

Martin: I think more often the next generation of seniors wants to retire in a walkable community which is accessible to a variety of community resources, people and amenities. Urban planners are making cities and towns more walkable and this is also reflected more in the location and design of senior living communities. People want a connection to nature in their communities, even in urban settings. 

Communities also need spaces that help foster human connection and social interaction between residents, which has so many physical, emotional and cognitive benefits for them. I think there’s also recognition that not all residents are extroverts, some are introverts, and providing spaces for all to co-exist is an important factor in architectural design.  

Q:  What are the trends you’re seeing in the design of independent living homes in senior living communities? 

Martin: There is more diversity in the style of homes being built today because older adults are living more diverse lifestyles. More people want to customize their home to better reflect their identity and interests, so we’re often working closely with buyers to complete the floor plan and interior to suit them individually. This includes for example, art or hobby studios, special entertaining features in the kitchen and dining room, and spacious master bathrooms with universal design.

Q:  What will attract new residents to future senior living communities? 

Martin: Senior living communities are moving towards supporting residents in a purposeful life supported by goal-oriented wellness. It goes well beyond the equipment in the exercise fitness room; it’s providing intellectually stimulating programming, community involvement, and being emotionally, spiritually and physically active altogether. I think having a fresh aesthetic brings delight, one that has a connection to the natural environment and to art in all its forms.

Communities have to bring elements of delight into the residents’ lives in a number of ways throughout the day. Food is a very important example as our quality expectations have increased dramatically to expect more diverse, fresh, locally grown food. Residents also want more variety in their dining venues and menus as part of a community, but also a neighborhood with even more accessible dining options.

I think that children bring delight to a senior living community so having an environment where kids are welcome and multigenerational programs are offered is becoming increasingly popular.

Q:  How will future senior living communities provide the support I need as I age? 

Martin: I think that seniors in the future are going to look for support to be provided to them in the most flexible way, measured and metered, just exactly what they need, no more, and no less. Technology will be involved in how that’s delivered, but we’ll want it to be delivered to us in our homes to the greatest extent possible. Communities in the future will have special environments for resident’s special health and medical needs, such as short-term rehabilitation, specialized memory care and more long-term care needs as well.

Q:  What will be the cost range of future senior living communities? 

Martin: I think there’s a need for a broader price range to allow for a greater mix of income levels within the same community in the future. An entry fee model takes a large capital investment, which can be prohibitive for many seniors. For that reason primarily, a rental model is more appealing and gaining in popularity. Some communities are offering a wide range of programs from rental to entry fee so you can pick and choose across a broad spectrum, based on your own financial planning. The industry as a whole is looking at finding ways to accommodate more middle-income people in senior living communities.

Read part II of III: An Interview with Dr. Rob Schreiber, Medical Director of Evidence-Based Programming at Hebrew SeniorLife and a board certified internist with a specialty in Geriatrics. Dr. Schreiber, who discusses his special interest in wellness models of care and transitions of care specifically in the environments of future senior living communities.

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