Design Trends in Senior Living Facilities That Lead to Safer, Longer Stays

Aging in place isn’t just for seniors who live in private residences—it’s for individuals in senior living communities, as well. From architects to contractors to providers, there’s consensus that there are many features to include that can keep a senior feeling safe and confident in their current environment.

“With the continuum of care—from independent living to assisted living, or even assisted living to skilled nursing—in each case where you’re in a particular environment, you still want to age in place,” says Jeff Packard, vice president of Preconstruction Services at York, Pa.-based Poole-Construction.

It’s important to have a good understanding of a resident’s needs when designing a community, says Andrew Wong, vice president of Strategic Marketing at Pulte Group, which includes the Del Webb active adult community brand.

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“When doing market research, some of the things that we’ve found is that individuals don’t talk about what they want in a community in terms of aging in place,” he says. “A lot of the things we’re considering—we haven’t labeled them aging in place, they’re just sensible designs, regardless of age.”

Instead, there’s a focus on “easy and effortless” living. Del Webb caters to the “active adult” crowd, which means that many of those who are entering these communities are relatively young.

But, as Wong says, “We’d love to have them stay as long as they can stay.”

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Packard, a general contractor who designs senior care buildings, recently got the opportunity to try on a Third Age Suit and found it to be helpful when considering useful senior living community designs. The “empathy suit” alters the wearer’s vision, balance, mobility, and ability to bend to help determine whether designs actually work in practice for the people who may be living in them.

“As a construction or design professional, you have to look at your product in terms of, Would I be able to use this without asking for help?” says Packard. “Have we created an environment where it’s necessary to get help because we haven’t designed it in tune with their capabilities?”

Senior Housing News has already written about aging in place designs for kitchens and for bathrooms, but this is a brief look into what should be considered in the rest of a senior living community, including individual apartments.

Adaptability designs

Senior care community environments, says Packard, should be safe, accessible, barrier-free, and inviting.

After wearing the Third Age Suit, the contractor says he saw much more of a need for ramps and grab bars in strategic locations throughout both communities and in specific locations, such as bathrooms.

“Inherent to adaptability design is the need to address not only individual differences or needs people may have, but also changes to those capabilities over time,” he says.

Other things to consider are automated thermostats and light switches and placement of electrical outlets or appliances.

Thresholds and Doorways

Having low- or no-threshold doorways may not be too noticeable to a younger individual, but it could make a difference to an older adult who has impaired mobility.

Wider doorways are also important for various types of wheelchairs or mobility devices.

Most communities also feature levers, rather than knobs on doorways, which offer greater ease for opening and closing doors for those who might have arthritis.


Flooring is an important consideration in all types of senior housing.

For facilities, flooring shouldn’t be so soft that residents can’t move their wheelchairs, says Packard.

Additionally, it shouldn’t be patterned in a way that could be confusing or even feel threatening to residents.

“The perception of flooring needs to be considered,” he says. “How does it appear to the eye, particularly eyes that have had difficulties with vision that may make floors appear to be unsafe?”


“There’s always this intrinsic balance for facilities—balancing function with cost, aesthetics with cost,” says Packard. Some companies, like Lutron, he says, have a number of means and methods for automatic control of power consumption that allows for a greater ability to look at the lighting scenarios of a particular space. “Where you can save, you do, and it allows you to do so in a greater capacity,” he says.

Lighting at a floor level should be considered, such as having enough foot candles in common spaces such as eating areas or lounging areas, or wall lighting to make sure that individuals can easily read. It’s also good to think about where lighting is placed to cut down on glare and address tasks.

“It can be very distracting to have a huge glaring overhead light, but maybe with some individual, well-placed sconces, you can invite and enable,” he says. Additionally, natural lighting from windows should be factored in.


“A trend we’ve been seeing is the ability to have flexibility in your spaces,” says Wong. “The [Del Webb] homes are not really enormous in size, but the residents really want to use them for multiple purposes, whether it is entertaining within their homes, having open space, or just using that space as a retreat.”

It’s important to design how spaces interact with each other, he continues, such as how the kitchen is oriented to the great room, or how those two spaces are oriented to the eating space.

Flexibility can be extended to the usage of second bedrooms. “We’ve been seeing a trend of alternative uses for secondary bedrooms,” says Wong. “We’ve found that over time, some couples who start off in the same bedroom at night, for whatever reason end up sleeping separately—whether because of snoring, restless legs, different nocturnal habits.”

He says they’ve been trying to design a space that allows for more practical uses of a second bedroom, including access to this bedroom through the master bedroom’s bathroom for a two-sleeping area, same-suite design.

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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