Will the real Senior please step forward…….

Designers, Architects, Operators and Owners are all challenged with this question. Who we are designing for has never been this daunting. The data is not only complex but also confusing in the 21st century of senior living.

Some key factors that muddies the waters are:

  • Seniors are living longer than ever
  • Society is no longer split between agricultural and industrial
  • Generational shifts from “WE” to “ME” Expectations Vary Greatly and the Age of Entitlement
  • The Onset of cheap Travel and Air-conditioning
  • The Six Million Dollar Man & Healthcare improvements
  • The American Demographic Shift
  • Global Communication, Living and the Information Age 

Seniors are living longer than ever.

Seniors ages range now from 55-120 years of age. This is the largest span of approximately 65 years to be considered seniors since Noah and the flood. With this age range we are dealing with major generational differences, interior tastes, entertainment tastes and health issues. A recent cover of AARP featuring Bruce Springsteen points this out all too clearly.

Society is no longer split between agricultural and industrial
Are you a farmer, factory worker, home-maker, merchant, academic or white collar worker? These all fit nicely into what was portrayed on the Archie Griffin Show. With the Information age taking hold we now have Betty White with her new show “Off their rockers” which pits seniors playing practical jokes on the younger population. Some seniors are tied into Facebook and others still read the newspaper.

Generational shifts from “WE” to “ME” Expectations Vary Greatly and the Age of Entitlement
A recent book Pendulum: How Past Generations Shape Our Present and Predict Our Future by Michael Drew, tracks the We and Me generations and how important it is that you understand which you are marketing too. Guess what? You’re marketing to both! The main point defines 20 year cycles. “We” Avoid Hype and pretense. To understand this better think about James Bond and how he has changed through these cycles.

The Onset of Cheap Travel and Air-conditioning
What could this possibly have to do with seniors and better yet Retirement and Senior Living? Air-conditioning opened up the west. Places like Vegas, Phoenix, Florida would not have been retirement havens without the invention and affordability of Air Conditioning. How many seniors do you hear about retiring to a “colder” climate?

Cheap Travel shored up these moves by allowing seniors to reduce their guilt when moving to the Sunshine states by being able to affordably travel back or have others travel to them with cost effective flights and car travel. The impact on this is tremendous as Designers and Operators no longer have a pulse on how their clients grew up, what they did for a living and what it comforting to them and important. When designing in Detroit for instance it is a much better bet that I can understand the culture of residents than the seniors in Naples, FL. Colors, Style, mannerisms and scale of space are all impacted by where we grew up and raised our kids. As designers we are trying to achieve that feeling of driving back into your home town that is both familiar and comforting.

The Six Million Dollar Man & Healthcare improvements
We are not only living longer but with the advent of 3-D tissue and kidney printing, Joint Replacements and Neuroplasticity the game is changing almost as fast as the doubling capacity of the mircochip. Changes will get faster and faster with researchers being able to connect and collaborate worldwide via the internet. Most of your residents are already some type of cyborg with hearing aides, knee and hip replacements, lens replacements and dentures. Add in Pacemakers and insulin ports automated by a computer system a state away and we have truly surpassed Steven Austin.

The American Demographic Shift
Private Pay Senior living 20 years ago was primarily white Christian. We are starting to see a massive shift depending on where you live in North American and this will change the interiors requirements and aesthetics of a home. Healthcare experienced this several years ago when waiting rooms had to be greatly increased when Hispanic patients were admitted as their family unit was much larger from a standpoint of how many came to support a loved one during a procedure or visit. Religious spaces will also become more definitive as a “Christian” type chapel will no longer work for the majority in some cases.

Global Communication, Living and the Information Age
The largest impact to how we market and design comes from living in the information age and the global connection we have to news, research, wars, technology and advice. This is apparent when you see that Wii Bowling, Luminosity, I pads, Hulu, Skype and Senior Products purchased online. Show a senior how to access and use these tools and entertainment and if they see value they adopt almost as quickly as a teenager. The future will see growing senior communities with online brain games, dating services and second opinions for health concerns.

With all of this information which is sometimes conflicting it’s no wonder that there is never a shortage of opinions regarding what seniors want today. The key is too look deeper and build in flexibility. The changes are happening faster and faster to what is possible and who we are designing for and yet a chair is still a chair. It may be able to aide you in getting out of it but for now but it still is a place for you to sit. So who is the real senior? They are everyone in a different time and place. We need to think past designing for ADA and think into universal design. A peek into the future reveals that Robotics will change forever how seniors are cared for in the next ten years but that is a discussion for another day.