The Newest Trends in Senior Care Facility Design

Christine Cook

Christine Cook, NCARB, principal, three

The senior care industry has undergone tremendous change recently, and while senior care operations may be reshaped and reimagined, the same is occurring to the physical buildings and layouts of senior care communities. New trends are emerging, many of which will likely have a lasting impact on the industry.

New Senior Care Facility Design Trends to Note

Christine Cook, NCARB, principal with the Dallas-based design boutique three, explains that she’s seeing several new trends that are shaping the industry. “For starters, the market is now tending away from the use of the term ‘facilities’ in most branding and communications.

“Owners and operators are working to connect through lifestyle choices, in combination with a healthcare amenity, to reach the target pool of prospective residents. ‘Active aging’ and ‘purposeful lifestyles’ resonate favorably with both residents and their families. This shifts the perception away from residency as need-based or compelled to a feeling of joining the community by choice,” she notes.

Community design trends include more tailored residential apartments and cottages. There’s also increased demand for amenities both on-site and within walking distance. “Also, it is foundational to ensure consistency of the design aesthetic and quality of materials across the continuum-of-care, from independent living to assisted living and memory care,” says Cook.

Cook also notes that many existing communities are scaling down their skilled nursing offerings. They’re customizing assisted living and memory care environments, tailoring them to the residents’ needs. “Most new communities are not incorporating skilled nursing at all.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also prompted an increased focus on cleanliness and practical material selection. “Escalating cleaning protocols are demanding increased attention to the selection of finishes,” says Cook.

“Materials must be durable and resilient, otherwise replacing them when they wear out will have to be cost-effective — think modular cabinetry or tile flooring. We have also had to address plans for processional arrival sequences at entryways, modifying and limiting them to ensure there will be no security breaches with respect to disease migration.”

Cook has also seen an increase in requests for no-touch access controls for resident and staff-only areas. Many clients are also interested in HVAC technology, including for both improved efficiency and for the use of ultraviolet light technology sanitization.

Cook notes that there’s also a market preference for larger balconies and full-height windows to allow for more natural daylight. Designs that reinforce healthy connections to nature, like balconies doubling as outdoor great rooms, can prompt residents to be more inspired and engaged.

Current Design Challenges in Senior Care

Cook notes that owner-operators frequently describe two common challenges: Keeping occupancy rates high and attracting and retaining high-quality, mission-focused staff.

As an architect, Cook plays a role in helping to address both of these challenges. She focuses on creating an environment that appeals to the business’ target resident pool. That space also needs to serve those residents well once they move in. “Senior living is a high-referral market sector,” she explains. “If the architecture is appropriate, attractive, and tailored to the community it serves, it will contribute to a higher referral rate.”

“As for attracting and retaining a great staff to provide stellar services and care, this is a huge lift for any operator,” she says. Cook notes that architects can help to ensure the staff have the tools and environments they need to effectively do their jobs.

“This goes a long way towards ensuring successful outcomes, and also enhances morale by supporting productivity and positive relationships with residents. [E]xceptional staff amenities and break areas further differentiate and support the mission of serving and caring for people.”

Many Design Trends are Here to Stay

Cook predicts that several trends will continue to define the senior care market for years to come, such as increased demand for pocket-park communities. These communities usually consist of 10 to 12 cottages that are organized around or near an activity center. These pocket-park communities are often developed in association with a larger senior care community or health provider.

The senior care industry continues to change, and its evolution is evident in its architecture and design, too. These new design trends are evidence of the industry’s evolution, and they also hint at what’s to come.

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