People rang in 2018 with a boom. For better or worse, formerly muffled voices were raised in many sectors, and the old mantra from the 70s of, “We’re not gonna take it anymore,” resounded through every social demographic — and seniors were among the most strident in making their needs heard.
The days of being confined to a “nice quiet room” with a chest of drawers and a lackluster screen print of a flower on the wall are long gone for seniors. These maturing baby boomers will not go gentle into that good night. They know what they want and need, and it isn’t a card table and a cup of tea.
A Box Is Not A Home
Like all other people, seniors want housing options. Apartments, condos, and shared quarters appeal to different personality types. It’s no longer acceptable to only offer tiny rooms in retirement homes. Seniors are more physically, mentally, and socially active now than they have been at any other point in history, and they refuse to be “put away” in a cubicle based solely on their age. They want a place they can personalize to meet their individual needs. Many new senior apartments and condos let their residents choose their own cabinet and countertop finishes, flooring materials, floor plans, etc. A significant number of seniors even prefer shared quarters, with two spacious bedrooms and private baths separated by a large communal space consisting of a kitchen, dining room, and living room.
Aside from wanting larger, less sterile, and homier living spaces, seniors also want easy-to-navigate facilities that have common areas dedicated to preventive health practices. Workout rooms, yoga programs, and wellness centers located adjacent to or in the same building as living quarters are must-have amenities for many seniors. Buildings with two to four stories with only four to six residential units per floor, short corridors, and easy elevator access are also preferred. When they go outdoors, seniors want community gardens, rooftop spaces, lawns amenable to picnicking and lounging, and trails and paths through natural gardens and woodsy areas.
In the inimitable words of Julia Child, “People who love to eat are always the best people.” Seniors take this statement very seriously and increasingly demand access to a multitude of food options (what else do expect from the generation that put sushi, tapas, and kale on the culinary map of America?). No more applesauce and mystery ground meat for this group — they want good food, fresh fare, and all the other options that the rest of the country has at their fingertips. New senior housing projects lure upscale, ethnic, and new-age restaurants to their neighborhoods based on their residents’ preferences, and most of them end up thriving.
Feed Your Head
In the 21st century, the term “wellness” has expanded beyond belief. The concept now encompasses much more than things like physical fitness, blood pressure, and cholesterol maintenance. It now refers to good health in six different respects: social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, vocational, and physical. To cultivate their residents’ minds, bodies, and souls, senior apartments need to offer things like ongoing classes at high school and college levels, opportunities to give back to the community via volunteer programs, outreach programs that explore art and culture, and spiritual enrichment activities. The most popular senior living options give their residents access to conventional gyms, meditation and tai chi classes, arts and crafts workshops, formal classroom environments, and communal areas conducive to cooking and entertaining.
The Staff of Life
To smoothly integrate all of these improvements and changes into senior living environments, efficient, caring, and well-respected caregivers and staff members are essential. Many innovators in the industry have already made understanding staff needs a top priority in order to best serve them and keep turnover at a minimum. As it turns out, they cite ample storage and housekeeping spaces in smart locations as the most important features a senior housing facility can have. Comfortable rooms for breaks and relaxation are also important, as well as secure and private workstations with ergonomically correct tools and flooring. Staff members also noted that private kitchenettes and restrooms were important to them and that natural light and access to the outdoors during breaks enhanced their work experiences and improved their outlooks on their positions.
Since senior living facilities were first conceived of, the general rule of thumb has been to concentrate on two kinds of residents: those who are active and those in need of 24-hour care (this is often called the “best for most” strategy). Now, that way of thinking is undergoing a phase-out and being replaced with a more personalized approach. Instead of making demographics the focal point, focusing on seniors as individuals is the new plan. By developing personal relationships with their residents, providers can plan daily activities based on individual interests. Instead of serving everyone whatever’s in the kitchen for meals at pre-selected times, residents can now choose the food they want, the ingredients they want to use in it, and the time they want to eat it at. These connections also allow seniors and caregivers to forge friendships and strengthen the sense of community in their homes.