With only a few days into 2022, headlines reporting increasing COVID-19 cases and new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines have dominated the recent news cycle. In 2020, these very same conditions changed the senior living industry and influenced the way spaces are designed and how residents interact within them.

Fortunately, the difference between now and then is availability of vaccines and boosters to reduce the spread of the virus. This development, paired with modern technology and design techniques, will support a future-forward and resilient vision for senior living communities. In 2022, the senior housing industry will be dominated by the following key features.

Outdoor spaces

Vaccine requirements for senior living and care staff offer protection from new COVID variants. In 2021, many workplaces and senior living communities mandated the COVID-19 vaccine. Some senior living providers even are mandating the booster shot. According to researchers at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard, “An additional ‘booster’ dose of Moderna or Pfizer mRNA-based vaccine is needed to provide immunity against the omicron variant.”

Through operational procedures and vaccine protocols, many senior living communities have been able to prevent the spread of the virus among residents and staff members. Still, the industry is now looking at how it can support its residents’ social lifestyle. One of those ways has been through outdoor spaces.

Design-wise, courtyards, fountains, gazebos and gardens all are spaces that enhance the quality of life for seniors. Even before the pandemic, the demand for outdoor spaces existed, but it was only accelerated when the virus came into question. Historically, COVID is less transmissible outdoors, and the health benefits of sunlight, exercise and fresh air are long known. Residents use courtyards and outdoor spaces to meet with their families while maintaining appropriate distancing. If communities employ strict vaccine requirements and harness outdoor spaces, then seniors will benefit from a safe and invigorating environment.

Technology-infused design

Today’s senior living communities are prioritizing technology-enabled devices and services. Older adults are becoming increasingly motivated by the independence that is available when user-friendly technology is accessible to them. According to CareMerge and others, this shift is part of a senior living trend called “smart aging,” which refers to artificial intelligence-powered tech that assists older adults in everyday activities. Whether through devices such as Amazon’s Alexa, tablets or Google Home, technology is becoming the norm, and Wi-Fi access is becoming a must wherever you go. Today’s aging population is more familiar with their mobile devices, knowing how to connect with their loved ones through video calls.

One-on-one tech support for seniors is becoming an important service offered at residential living facilities. A new position that was born during the pandemic is the tech concierge. Many older individuals own a smartphone or laptop but require troubleshooting to make calls, play entertainment or conduct research. Recently, architects are prioritizing business centers and remote working spaces in new developments. By adding designated spaces and hiring tech concierges, senior housing communities are meeting the needs of the burgeoning market.

Cross-market influences

For years, senior living and care communities were synonymous with dull spaces that mirrored the design of a hospital or medical facilities rather than a place to wind down. In 2022, we expect senior living environments to take inspiration from other market sectors, including hospitality and retail. With high-level attention to detail, these market sectors are known for creating curated experiences and putting the guest first.

Similarly, residents and their families are expecting the same. At Inspīr Carnegie Hill, serene artworks and color palettes are crucial to the center’s design language. “Erica Samuels, art adviser and principal at Samuels Creative & Co., helped the team bring to fruition the concept of Visual Poetry through a collection of abstract works,” according to the Maplewood Senior Living. The upscale building for seniors aims to create an aesthetic environment that eases “visual strain” through careful color and textile selections.

In addition to communal spaces, technology-infused design and outdoor areas, senior living communities will prioritize their residents differently — a method that evaluates the physical space and everything that surrounds it. Whether that includes furniture choices, color, food and beverage choices, amenities and activities, the industry is translating those very same successful elements of hospitality and retail to improve senior lifestyles.

Walter Marin, NCARB, is senior principal of Marin Architects.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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