How Technology Will Soon Change Urban Senior Living Design

Developing and rehabbing urban senior living continues to be a hot trend for owners, operators and developers. In order to make these communities more attractive to potential consumers, providers are leveraging technology—and they’re realizing that all of this technology may someday change the way urban senior housing communities are designed, affecting everything from parking to security features and even dining spaces.

Last week at the Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit in Berkeley, California, panelists and operators from two Bay Area communities shared their experiences with the attendees about how technology is becoming woven in to the fabric of community design in these densely populated areas.

Operators from two local communities in the San Francisco and Oakland area, Rhoda Goldman Plaza and Belmont Village-Albany, respectively, shared some of the challenges with technology usage by the residents in their communities. Today’s residents are using more technology than residents in the past, they said. Many are coming into the communities with such a level of familiarity and expertise, it suggests that technology adoption is continuing to increase among older adults, even though the applications may still not be designed specifically for them with features such as larger buttons and fonts.

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These Bay Area operators are finding that residents are quickly adopting technology applications to help them navigate a city lifestyle. For instance, they’re using transportation apps to request on-demand vehicles and schedules for buses and trains.

“We spend a lot of money on parking. We might not be far away from radically changing the design [of senior living communities] based upon how cars work,” said Frank Rockwood, co-founder and president of real estate services firm Rockwood Pacific, who was also on the panel.

Consumer technology apps and devices have penetrated into these communities. Netflix, Amazon Prime, the Met Opera were just a few of the applications discussed amongst the panelists. With the age of residents continuing to climb, devices and applications presented technology support challenges for communities’ staff.

“You’ve got an average age of 86. Everyone has aged related memory loss. When the screen goes blank, [they say] ‘oh my god, I’ve lost everything,’” said Candice Milford, managing director of marketing at Rhoda Goldman Plaza, which is an assisted living and memory care community in San Francisco that was established in 2000 by Jewish Family and Children’s Services and the Mt. Zion Health Fund. “You’re constantly teaching them to learn it over and over again.”

Some technology makes many residents nervous about adoption because of concerns over privacy.

“Surprisingly, I thought the whole place would be proliferated with Siri and all that.” said Milford. “They’re very cautious about that. They know Siri is listening and they don’t like that. They can’t remember to turn the listening button off. They tend to stay away from it and it’s disappointing.”

Despite privacy concerns with voice-enabled technology, the operators found that physical security and access control is equally, if not more, important than electronic security and privacy.

“Because we’re urban, security is really important to us,” said Michelle Moros, executive director of Belmont VIllage-Albany. “We have the outside of our community under video surveillance 24/7. Being a large community, we need to control who is going in and out. As well as when the residents are in the community and out. Locks to the individual resident doors … some providers are moving away from a key to a pass or card so we can control or see who has been in and out of the apartment for variety of reasons.”

Houston-based owner and operator Belmont Village Senior Living has about 25 communities.

Even though monitoring is designed to protect the residents in these urban campuses, the oversight still causes consternation, even when it’s done with the best intentions.

“My experience is residents do not want to be monitored. They want their care needs met. It’s like an automobile airbag, you’re not aware then its there and then when you need it, it pops up instantly,” said Paul Gordon, partner at Hanson Bridgett, LLP, who was also on the panel.

When looking at developing projects in metro markets, owners and providers are looking to extend their operations into the local community as much as possible. Technology is helping them do just that.

“Instead of building a second or third dining room, cafe, bar or restaurant, we’re really working hard to figure out how to better integrate with the [dining options in] town,” Rockwood said.

Through Rockwood Pacific’s town integration program, residents can apply their dining credits to meals at local restaurants or make reservations, thus potentially having implications on the sizing of the building.

Written by George Yedinak