Not Your Grandma’s Senior Living

by Laura Kreher | Assoc. IIDA, LEED GREEN | Art Associate, Designer

As a Gen-Z designer, I sometimes wonder, “What do I know about designing for seniors?” Then I take a step back and realize it’s quite simple; I need to design for myself.

What a Senior Wants

Before you think I’m wildly selfish in that thought, let me explain. I don’t mean design for myself in the way that I favor wood floors over carpet, or any other finish type for that matter. Instead, design in the abstract sense of how a space can not only meet but encourage my desired lifestyle.

I recently watched a webinar called “Accelerating Evolution – The Next Generation of Environments for Aging” that sparked this thought. During this webinar, the statement was made “Senior design is universal design…they are not the other. What they want is close to what YOU want.” 1 That comment made me consider what I want from my current and future living environments.

Here are my expectations:

  • comfort
  • care
  • socialization/interaction with people different than myself
  • safety
  • creativity and the means to explore it
  • to learn and try new things
  • beauty
  • convenience
  • diversity
  • independence

I know I’m not alone in these desires. I know that because these are not deeply personal aspirations – they are basic human needs. Because “at our core, we need to be with people to be healthy.”My current wants are no different from what my silent generation grandmother wants or even my baby boomer parents.

If you ask a senior why they are hesitant on moving to a senior living community, most of them have a similar answer; they are concerned they are sacrificing any of the above expectations of living. Unfortunately, many do when they make this pivotal move, and feel as though they are unable to do anything about it. But there is an entirely new generation entering the senior living age. Unlike their parent’s generation, they won’t remain silent.

Tick, Tick…Baby Boom

While the tail end of baby boomers are on the horizon of packing up their offices, the generational leaders are prepping to pack up their homes. This takeover of a new generation in the senior living environment will surely invoke change. We know these new members have high expectations and will not settle for less (rightfully so, might I add). “They will define senior living design and advocate for their wants.” 1 With 50% of people born today having a life expectancy of 100, 1 having enough space is another concern.

Great Expectations

Meeting the great expectations of incoming boomers can be achieved through many factors such as staff interaction, community programs, or design of space to name a few. Integration and utilization of nearby resources is key. Neighboring communities can share large amenities like pools and libraries. Nearby colleges can offer course credits for students to host classes for seniors – or flip the switch and let a senior share their expertise. For a more controlled environment, it is easy enough to draw the public in. Storefronts in a senior living community can be rented out and managed by outside companies, whether it be a coffee shop or a yoga studio. There can be a front door for the public and a back door for residents, allowing a full multi-generational and multi-use space.Similar to many hotels, a community’s lobby can house a bar or dining venue, with full access to the public. This gives residents socialization in a controlled location. While this concept works best in an urban setting, rural areas can implement this concept as well. Senior communities can partner with local golf courses and community colleges. Churches, youth groups, and community garden clubs can interact with senior living communities. I know any town, no matter the size, will always welcome a new dining venue.

In addition to the quality of life, these concepts help address the concern of ever-growing cost and ever-declining space. As sprawling floor plans become more of a luxury, multi-use reduces space, reduces costs, increases sustainable design practices, and increases benefits. Another model to assist with the upcoming population boom is to have commuters, just like college. Allow seniors to have day passes to a community; they partake in activities and socialization but are still able to live at home. Allowing them to slowly ease into the transition of living environments.

It’s time to reshape our perception of senior living. It’s not about designing for the senior living industry but the industry of creating environments for older adults. 1 We must empower this population to continue to grow and thrive; to live meaningful lives. It’s time to redefine the living of senior living.


  1. The Center for Health Design Webinar: Accelerating Evolution- The Next Generation of Environments for Aging

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