COVID-19 hasn’t just changed the way we socialize and work. It’s also influencing living spaces.
The pandemic has forced architects and planners of retirement communities, long-term care facilities, assisted living and nursing homes to rethink their designs, especially now that residents and their families are expecting safer, more flexible spaces.
As the population ages, those expectations are only going to intensify. By 2030, all baby boomers — that’s about 73 million people — will be older than age 65, according to the United States Census Bureau.
“Unfortunately, the [senior living] industry is really, really good at taking care of people and not as focused on taking care of their buildings,” says Dana Wollschlager, partner and practice leader with Plante Moran Living Forward, a senior living development adviser in Chicago. “COVID has really forced [communities] to prioritize their investments.”
That’s particularly critical given that 42 percent of communities for older adults are more than 25 years old, according to Wollschlager. “They’re saying, ‘Oh my God, we have to do better,’” she says.
Here are five top trends in senior living design brought on or sped up by the pandemic:
1. New investments in technology
The COVID-19 crisis exposed deficiencies in technology infrastructure and connectivity, which left some residents of senior living communities or nursing homes isolated from the outside world during the height of the pandemic. Many were unable to see friends and family — even on screens — which exacerbated feelings of loneliness and isolation for long-term care residents. Those feelings have lingered even as some facilities allowed more interaction.
Studies have found that isolation and loneliness are associated with an increased risk of developing dementia, of stroke, and of death among heart failure patients.
“Technology and infrastructure is key,” says Wollschlager. “Our industry has kicked that can down the road for a long time because it’s expensive, it’s not easy, and technology is constantly changing.”
To make sure residents have quick and uninterrupted access to Zoom calls, telehealth visits and other online services, communities are increasing bandwidth and eliminating dead spots.
This improved technological infrastructure has helped communities keep residents active and engaged, even during quarantine.