The Evolution of Senior Living
Global architecture firm Perkins Eastman has many specialties, including senior living. Since 2015, they have been surveying experts in the senior living industry to gauge what the future might hold for those who help seniors age gracefully. Their 2019 report, “The State of Senior Living: An Industry Grappling With Autonomy,” highlighted a shift in boomers’ preferences regarding housing and healthcare post-retirement.
So, how are senior service providers, as well as the architecture and design industry, responding to the changing needs and expectations of the boomer generation? We spoke with Martin Siefering, a Principal with Perkins Eastman’s senior living practice and the Co-chair of the American Institute of Architects’ Design For Aging Advisory Group, to find out. Siefering has over 29 years of experience designing senior living spaces.
An Aging World
Siefering is based in Pittsburgh, but has traveled the globe to design senior living spaces.
“One thing I’ve learned is that human beings age the same way regardless of their location or culture, although culture plays a big role in terms of caregiving and how people approach aging in the first place,” says Siefering. “But mostly, ‘aging in community,’ which just means remaining connected to others in some way, is what everyone really strives for.”
Siefering also notes the way senior living properties have been designed in America — they are mostly removed from the greater community. “Is that what seniors really wanted 30 or 40 years ago, or did we just push them into that?” he wonders.
Looking toward the future, however, Siefering and the team at Perkins Eastman believe that the next generation of seniors will want living options that are more connected and more integrated into the greater community, especially in urban areas.
A New Kind of Senior Living Community
One of the properties that Siefering is most proud of is the Center for Healthy Living in Naples, Florida. Siefering and his team had to think differently about senior living when it came to designing this property. With top-tier dining options, comprehensive physician services and state-of-the-art fitness centers, the Center for Healthy Living actually offers memberships to people living outside of the community. The membership options allow nonresidents to use the fitness club, salon and spa, and restaurants, even receive healthcare from on-site physicians. The goal is to ease the transition for people who aren’t yet ready to make the move.
“We had to think about how communities can build relationships with people who don’t want to move to senior living yet,” says Siefering. “The members are usually a bit younger than the residents, so it brings in more age diversity, especially with certain types of events. Everything is just much more … integrated.”
The State of Senior Living
Although there is much potential for making change within the industry, one of the biggest challenges for senior living — identified by both Siefering and “The State of Senior Living” report — is that many people have woefully under-saved for retirement. When combined with rising healthcare costs and potentially losing Social Security payments, the threat of inadequate retirement savings deepens. This is and will continue to affect decisions about where to live in retirement.
“The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that by 2024, baby boomers will have reached ages 60-78,” says Siefering. “And some of them are expected to continue working even after they qualify for Social Security benefits.”
This same sentiment is reflected in the report, which notes, “there is an increasing recognition that there are limited choices available to those in the middle income segment of the population” with “nearly 90% of respondents highlight[ing] anticipated financial strains on their consumers as their primary concern … pointing us to how the limited assets of the boomers will influence the importance of a full array of options to meet the price point and unique needs of each individual.”
Although no one knows exactly what the future has in store, Siefering believes that senior living will start to evolve more seamlessly into urban life in particular. “This next generation of seniors is going to want something more connected, more integrated and urban,” says Siefering. “Something more along the lines of how they live their current lives — like a multi-unit building built on top of a grocery store. It’s convenient, provides access to public transportation, and it keeps them within the greater community, which is really the ultimate goal. People tend to age better in environments that are not so separate from everyone else.”
Photo courtesy of Perkins Eastman.