Five Trends in Senior Living Facilities


The following article was published in the Utah Construction & Design Magazine October 2016 Issue.

Utah’s unique position on housing for an aging population.

Housing for seniors has moved beyond the sterile environments of yesteryear. Utah’s newest senior living promises accessibility AND appeal.

What to do when mom and dad can no longer safely live on their own is a universal question. Utah’s unique position – larger family sizes, close-knit communities, dedicated hospice market, and parents who want to stay in their homes as long as possible – means housing solutions must be targeted to meet these special needs.

As Baby Boomers age, the market demand continues to increase, and facilities are being built to meet that demand. All the old design models are being challenged, new design research is being done, and a wide range of options is being planned and built in Utah based on this research.

Barriers to entry are tougher than you might think. It’s not just knowing about universal design and aging in place. Operators must ensure the facilities can be profitable, and developers and operators must know how to market the facilities. This means the design and construction team must know what amenities are needed, how the market is changing, and the ever-important hot buttons of finance.

Following are five design trends that are paving the way for the next generation of senior living in Utah.

1. A culture of community

Today’s senior housing has moved beyond the nursing home model, comprising a dining hall and bedrooms. While residents may still want their private spaces, they don’t want to feel isolated, and neither do their visitors. Senior Living communities are designed exactly for that purpose, featuring many amenities: community centers, spas and salons, fitness and wellness centers, and outdoor recreation areas, along with ample space and privacy.

Jay Taggart, Principal with Curtis Miner Architecture in Pleasant Grove, Utah, says new senior housing has more welcoming design features, such as increased natural light and natural wood highlights. Must-have features include flexible spaces that can be transformed into from large into small gathering spaces with multiple uses, living room areas with fireplaces, a café or bistro area, a salon, theater, and outdoor area with fireplaces.

Abbington Activity Area

Abbington Senior Living in Mapleton common area and business center boasts beautiful views to the outside world.

Abbington Dining

Abbington Senior Living in Mapleton is highlighted with rich colors.

Don’t forget the kitchen and dining areas.  These must have nice ambience, where residents feel they’re having their own dining experience. Russ Watts, Project Development Manager at Abbington Senior Living, sees a high-quality dining experience as the most important trend in senior living – being able to “order what you want like a restaurant, a selective rather than a set menu.”

This community experience is important for visitors as well as residents. The newest housing projects include vibrant interior courtyards that create a “town square” where people can grab an ice cream cone, a drink and a seat to read a good book or meet with friends. Open activity areas, fireplace lounges, and libraries are commonly found in new senior developments.

Creekside Senior Living, in Bountiful, Utah, has outdoor spaces including a firepit area, bbq area, walking paths, and a back plaza with a fishing pond and ducks. Aaron Benton, Vice President of Stellar Living, tells us that these areas are planned for everyday use: “The female residents love to feed the ducks, the men love to throw a hook in and see if they can catch a fish.”

Creekside Assisted Living Back Plaza Rendering

Rendering of the backside of Creekside Senior Living in Bountiful shows off spacious outdoor areas with plenty of amenities.

2.  An environment of home

A related trend is the movement toward the utilization of large, open spaces in some areas of the community and smaller, more homelike, environments in others, allowing residents to be as social as they choose. These spaces are welcoming and comfortable through lighting materials and the style of finishes.

In the residence, comfort and safety are key. The residence must be sized appropriately and use space efficiently. In apartments, residents can expect all the comforts of home – a kitchen, dishwasher, washer and dryer, accessible closet and storage space. Mechanical and electrical fixtures must be simple to use and easily accessible.

At Abbington Assisted Living in Mapleton, Curtis Miner Architecture incorporated several safety- and comfort-related design techniques. Transitions between materials were designed to minimize tripping hazards; wood construction with a crawl space creates more bounce than traditional slab on grade, minimizing bone breakage; LED lighting creates evenly distributed illumination, helping with eye sight, way finding, and maneuverability. With a high level of motorized scooter usage, corridors and doorways were built at 42” rather than the traditional 36”.

3. Living options

The newest senior living complexes cover all three types of assistance: Independent Living, Assisted Living, and Memory Care. This allows residents to move seamlessly from independent living to assisted living, and finally to memory care, if needed.

For Independent and Assisted Living, facility design must include studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments.

The need for two-bedroom units is on the rise, says Watts. “Couples move in because one of them has ambulatory issues – one is on full assistance and one is independent.”

Independent Living residents are also on the rise. Watts is seeing more “persons who want to move in because of the amenities.”

Memory Care, for residents with various forms of memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, must be secure and monitored, ensuring maximum safety for residents. These spaces are designed to encourage an enriched life, supported with love and dignity. “Memory Care residents don’t spend a lot of time in their apartments,” says Taggart. “They are mostly out socializing and walking around, so spaces must be designed for socialization.” At Abbington Mapleton, displays of familiar objects –  dresses and makeup or construction tools – and memory boxes of photos and memorabilia about each resident were incorporated in these areas, helping jog their memory.

Abbington One Bedroom Apartment

One Bedroom Apartment at Abbington Senior Living in Mapleton.

4. Technology

It’s no surprise that Wifi is being used throughout the facilities. Residents are using tablets and computers in their apartments as well as in the common areas, libraries, and business centers. This makes for easier construction, with no computer or phone lines to be installed.

Gone are the nurse call buttons and cords to pull on in case of a fall. Today, communication between nurses and residents is automated through the pendant residents wear around their neck, in their pocket, or clipped to clothing.

Technology trends will take this concept even further, according to Brigham Latimer, Director of Business Development at Sahara Construction. The pendant will track how often a resident gets out of bed, if they’re moving around the room, if they have frequent restroom visits, if they are having issues with sleeping, even where they go in the community and spend most of their time. This data will help inform the caregiver as well as the design team: If residents spend most of their time in the theater, tv room, or bistro, designers will be able to streamline the next facility.

5. The Operator is an owner

The people who run the facilities – known as the Operators – are taking ownership of the projects, quite literally. “The first question the funding person will ask is who is your operator, because it’s their job to make the community profitable,” says Brigham Latimer, Director of Business Development at Sahara Construction. “Operators are putting equity in and becoming part owner, helping the developers with financing.”

This model is quite different from the design/bid/build models of old. “It’s good to have Operators on board at the start,” says Taggart. “They are in the day to day, working with the individuals and treating them just like family. It’s heartwarming to see the interaction between the Operators and residents.”

“In the end, this is a people business,” says Benton. After all, Senior Living is all about people – parents and grandparents who are the residents, adult children who are often the decision makers, and the families, friends and grandkids who come to visit. Families need to know the people who are taking care of their loved one, and that the facility and community is designed specifically around their quality of living and care. These new Senior Living Communities do just that, built on the premise that “aging is all about living.”