6 Key trends in the design and delivery of seniors living developments.

Updated: Mar 10

There’s no doubt that change is in the wind in Australian Seniors Living design and there are number of factors driving this change. This article takes a look at some of the recent trends in independent retirement living and aged care and examines some of the drivers of that change.

A significant factor is the changing demographics of ageing in Australia. As the Boomer generation reach the stage where they are downsizing into a retirement village, expectations are changing too. As a generalisation, the Boomer generation have high level expectations around their transition into the next phase of life, and village owners and aged care managers are responding in creative ways to meet these expectations, given that this generation are the primary drivers of purchase decisions in both situations.

The findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety have

made an important contribution towards shaping change within the regulatory framework to ensure a move towards positive change. The commissioners said of design: “Where older people live affects their sense of security and their quality of life. Accommodation that is well designed to meet people’s needs can improve their lives and their wellbeing.” So what are some of these new directions in design that are improving the standard of aged and seniors care - and providing more desirable and delightful places and spaces for our elderly?

Design for intergenerational care: Separation of age groups is a feature of modern society, but it hasn’t always been that way. Historically, older age groups stayed within their own or extended family home and were able to maintain friendships and communities. Intergenerational living has long been practiced in Europe and the USA, and attention to design approaches to intergenerational living within the aged care sector is increasingly incorporated in new Australian projects. Research has shown that sharing of knowledge and experience has benefited both young children and the elderly involved in the programs - helping to increase understanding between age groups (Cortellesi & Kernan, 2016) which in turn removes the concept of ‘us and them’, and the othering of Australia’s elderly population. Other approaches have looked at intergenerational play as a way of bringing age groups together and design trends are increasingly embracing the whole family with, for example, playgrounds adjacent to living and dining areas as a way of encouraging interaction between people of all age groups.

Homely environments: The Royal Commission into Aged Care observed that the Australian aged care sector had seen a large growth in facilities accommodating over 60 persons. Commissioners commented that “…good design in residential aged care, particularly for people living with dementia, usually involves smaller, lower-density congregate living arrangements rather than larger, more institutional settings. Smaller, lower-density congregate living arrangements generally promote better quality of life for everyone. Large, noisy institutional environments can worsen the adverse consequences of dementia.”

Within larger facilities there are still many ways that a homely environment can be provided. Rooms should be light, bright, well designed, and well ventilated. Where possible residents’ rooms should be able to access outdoor areas – either with views to the outdoors or through doors that open onto small gardens or courtyards. Corridors should look domestic with appealing colours and ornaments that can assist memory and wayfinding. Ensuites, while needing to meet relevant Australian Standards should also be familiar looking but well-designed spaces. Scale is important and reducing the scale of the environment experienced by residents can be achieved by clustering bedrooms and living spaces to form ‘households’ consisting of smaller groups. This can also support cost efficient operational models where sharing of back of house spaces with adjacent households can occur.

Boutique hotel aesthetics and ‘resort living’ amenity: Baby Boomers are setting a whole new agenda for seniors living and aged care facilities. Many have money to spend after a lifetime of working and are interested in spending their later years in more sophisticated, high-quality hotel and resort style environments. Retirement Village Managers and Aged Care providers are responding with 5-star quality interior schemes and luxurious, residential feeling environments. Design consideration prioritizes aesthetics, durability and quality of finishings, fittings and furniture in order to bring a hotel resort feel to fruition. Cafes, hair salons, cinemas and hotel-like reception areas are also an important part of the design story for modern seniors and aged care living.

Mental Health and Loneliness: Post pandemic, we’re all more conscious of the challenges faced by those experiencing isolation. Unfortunately for many elderly people living in institutionalized environments this experience is the norm. Good design can help address lack of social interaction in aged care facilities and designers should be ensuring communal spaces are warm and welcoming and encourage social interaction.

Co-Design: National Seniors Australia reported in ‘Co- Designing Aged Care: Views of 4,562 Older Australians’ that Australian seniors overwhelmingly support the prospect of older people being involved in co-designing the aged care system” The ‘seat at the table’ aspect of designing for aged care is often overlooked by both designers and aged care providers but needs to be factored into both the physical space designs and systems of care going forward.

Ageing in Place: This can mean, for providers, the provision of seniors living spaces on the same site as aged care facilities. The benefits of this concept are considerable as seniors can create and maintain friendships and relationships over the latter part of their lives within the one specially designed ‘community’. It is important for designers to have the knowledge and expertise required to design accessible, comfortable, and safe spaces where seniors can live independently and with dignity.

Designing retirement and aged care has evolved significantly and will continue to do so. The older style ‘nursing home’ facilities are a thing of the past. Retirement living is now focused on developing thriving communities where people can ‘age in place’ in engaging but safe environments. At AkiiStudio we look forward to assisting you through the process of designing inclusive spaces that incorporate new technological advances, and new ways of living. Vertical Villages, Integrated Developments and Hybrid Care models are undoubtedly just some of the exciting trends of the future. Get in touch with us today and start moving forward with your plans.

Reference: Orthia L., McCallum J., Hosking D., Maccora J. and Krasovitsky M. (2021) Co- Designing Aged Care: Views of 4,562 Older Australians. Australia: National Seniors Australia and EveryAGE Counts

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