MIT: Assisted Living Innovation and Design to Flourish as U.S. Ages

Age-related demographic shifts could one day drive a radical transformation of how assisted living communities are designed and operated, according to a recent report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Real Estate.

The latest census data shows the number of Americans age 65 or older is projected to be 83.7 million by 2050, according to the report, which was sponsored by financial holding company Capital One (NYSE: COF). The looming influx of seniors, sometimes called the “silver tsunami,” is anticipated to expedite the development of new, senior-oriented technologies and designs.

Plus, as more baby boomers retire, they’ll look for a higher quality of senior housing than the generations before them, according to the report.

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“We no doubt will see a flourishing of innovation in the design of assisted living facilities and the technologies therein,” the report said

Multi-use, multi-generation

As the number of seniors who need senior living services grows, assisted living providers will likely move away from operating smaller, stand-alone locations and instead choose to operate larger, more complex and cost-effective buildings, according to Albert Saiz, director of the MIT Center for Real Estate.

“What we have seen is more integration of residential health care and other services for seniors,” Saiz told Senior Housing News. “The challenges ahead have to do with the cost of provision…and with the psychological well-being of all their occupants.”

More providers may also move toward urban areas, where seniors have more varied entertainment options and greater opportunities to make friends than they might have in more suburban or rural areas.

“Local planners need to be aware of the social needs of our senior population, and make sure that they clearly define areas in which seniors can walk and interact with other age groups,” Saiz said. “Why would we keep schools, town halls, and libraries away from assisted living facilities?”

That doesn’t mean providers will entirely leave the suburbs. In fact, research has shown the general trend in the U.S. is still toward increased suburbanization of older adults, the report noted.

One possible trend the researchers identified is the rise of suburban “civic centers,” which are clusters of public spaces, schools, retail, multifamily units and mixed-use buildings where the young and old co-exist.

“By decreasing segregation between older adults and other citizens, these civic areas will encourage intergenerational interactions,” Saiz said. “This will improve the behavioral health of the elderly and provide opportunities for younger citizens to learn from their wisdom.”

Multi-generatonal living may also become more prevalent in years to come. As age-related financial constraints increase, more seniors may choose to age at home or with a loved one.

“In some cases, we will see more family compounds with finished basements and adjacent in-law buildings where families can take care of their seniors,” Saiz said. “However, most seniors will still live by themselves due to cost concerns.”

The rise of automation

The future of senior living will likely include remote sensors that monitor residents, automatized pill and IV dispensers and the robotization of services, the report stated.

Already, the senior living industry is seeing a slow-but-steady influx of futuristic robot technology.

“These technologies will [also] arrive both in the home and in skilled care facilities,” Saiz said, noting that their increased usage could be spurred by a future labor crisis.

“As life expectancy and quality of medical care continue to rise, the number of elderly people per working age citizen…is going to increase,” he said. “We will require technologies to play a role.”

Seniors staying at home longer could also drive a boost in automation and remote monitoring tech.

“This may lead to care providers installing sensors, cameras, and other technological gadgets to monitor the well-being of the senior population,” Saiz said.

Written by Tim Regan

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