Masonic Villages Goes Big on Smart ‘IQ Homes’ for Aging in Place

A not-for-profit senior living provider is moving forward with a plan to open dozens of new town home-style independent living residences, each equipped with technological and design features meant to help older adults live in the setting longer.

Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania-based Masonic Villages is moving forward with a plan to build 58 new “IQ Home” dwellings at its communities in Sewickley and Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. The nonprofit has five continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) in the state, each offering a range of senior housing and care services. Its 2017, its operating revenue was $139.3 million, according to its latest financial statement.

“This idea, called aging in place, did have a great deal to do with our thinking in terms of developing the smart home,” Patrick Sampsell, chief environmental and facilities officer at Masonic Villages, told Senior Housing News. “This is both a consumer preference and also a direction in which government regulations seem to be pushing organizations like ours.”

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The first “IQ Home” prototype — a collaboration between design firm RLPS and Masonic Villages — opened to residents at Elizabethtown earlier this year. The idea behind the project was that seniors need a full range of solutions, not just one or two flashy features, in order to better age in place.

“When you talk about smart homes, oftentimes people jump right to the tech and the gadgets,” RLPS Partner Daniel Godfrey told Senior Housing News. “For us, we realized that technology alone cannot support aging in place.”

To that end, the homes are designed to extend independence, and come with integrated communications technology from K4Connect, and aging-friendly adjustable access to things like countertops, cooking surfaces and bathroom appliances. The dwellings are also equipped with innovative design features like tankless water heaters, air filtration systems, motion sensors and even refrigerators that track whether they’ve been used recently — a potential indicator for if a resident needs help.

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A prototype version of the home worked so well that Masonic Villages made the IQ Home design template its standard for new units moving forward.

“Currently our campuses are being retrofitted with additional infrastructure and portions of the smart home upgrades, such as the communications portal,” Sampsell told SHN. “As infrastructure is complete, additional smart home elements will be placed into the existing units.”

As planned, there won’t be an additional cost for residents who move into new smart home dwellings.

The provider is also continuing to compile costs on upgrading its existing units into smart-home versions — those costs can vary widely, but the smart home technology is not limited to standalone town homes and could be integrated into apartments within multi-unit buildings, Sampsell said.

Of course, Masonic Villages is just one senior living provider looking to use technology and design to help its residents stay in their care settings for longer periods of time. In particular, Amazon’s Echo device and its Alexa functionality seem to have gained favor with large providers such as Ascension Living and Front Porch. In fact, smart home technology is becoming a “must have” in senior living, according to panelists who spoke at a recent Senior Housing News event in Los Angeles.

And, if current trends are any indication, more providers will move in this direction in the future, likely because they’ll be more successful in the end, Sampsell said.

“The unique nature of our smart home, with its focus on both physical upgrades, as well as technological upgrades, will provide us with an important edge in preventing residents from hospitalization and re-hospitalization,” Sampsell added. “The design intent of providing homes attractive to the 65-year old, but functional for the 85-year old, will allow for a continuity of living from the first date of residency at one of our Masonic campuses.”

Written by Tim Regan

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