Have you ever heard the term “walkable urbanism?” If you’re like me then the answer is No. The concept stems from the changing paradigm in senior generations. Seniors from the “silent” generation (born during the World War I era) sought to spend their senior years in communities that provided them with a sense of security. That generation placed a premium on living in a community that provided a sense of belonging. They believed that there is strength in numbers, and thought that they would have a peace of mind in living out their senior years in traditional long term care facilities.
Unlike the silent generation, the baby boomer generation (born between 1946 and 1964) values very different communities and lifestyles. This generation demands access to so much more-hence the emergence of the walkable urbanism communities – communities that provide its residents with choices; that recognize the need for flexibility and therefore provide a variety of experiences for its residents. Some may feel like a hotel, while others embrace a very integrated multi-generational setting. Gone are the days when seniors settled for living out their years in a Long-Term Care facility environment. This generation wants variety and freedom in dining, shopping, entertainment and housing.
Boomers would much prefer to dine in a food court that offers variety in dining experiences, than in the same formal dining room every day. In a Huff Post article I read recently, Jared Green wrote, “Imagine an apartment complex in a highly walkable environment, open to the surrounding neighborhood, with ground floor shops, cafes, and restaurants, and close to multi-modal transit opportunities, parks, plazas, self-storage facilities, and co-working spaces.” New Senior Living Model Needed to Satisfy Aging Boomers | HuffPost. This is the environment in which boomers would rather spend their later years.
So how are we, as senior care providers, meeting the needs of boomers, who demand individualized living experiences? Well we’ve seen a marked increase in home-care providers in the last decade, we have also seen innovative changes in what used to be “facility” care. One such innovation is The Green House Project. These are freestanding buildings where 10 people live and receive skilled nursing level care, in a financially viable home setting, that meets the social and healthcare needs of boomers at the same time.
In this setting the nursing station, medicine carts and dining rooms, are icons of a past era. In its place are storage closets designed to look like furniture, nursing areas that are small alcoves inserted into the design of the home. Medicine is stored in individual room closets, which are locked for safety, but close enough in proximity for the resident.
A model that is my personal favorite, that truly allows the senior to age in their home, is the intentionally elder-friendly community. This is the creation or renovation of whole communities that are intentionally designed to support seniors. These communities are designed to meet the social, physical and mental needs of seniors in close proximity to their homes. These integrated communities adjust their surroundings to include seniors; compensating for their frailties and disabilities and promoting social and civic engagement.
Design principles critical to an elder-friendly community, is integrated throughout the renovation or creation of these communities.
There is a variety of easily accessible transportation systems; business and housing is in walk-able distance; bathroom, kitchens and bedrooms are on the main level, and of course the doorways are wide enough for a wheelchair to access. Community centers and businesses are built with the needs of the young and old in mind. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of such communities located in the US. So while 82% of Americans would prefer to age in their own homes, senior care providers are behind on accommodating their wishes.
Having communities that are designed with all of its population in mind would transform how we live out our senior years, and as I often tell my children, if we live long enough, we’ll all be a senior person one day; so wouldn’t it be great to have choices when that day is now?