Senior Citizen doing a yoga pose
There’s a growing body of research suggesting that people heal faster when exposed to nature and sunlight; they live longer when socially engaged; and their brains remain sharp when challenged by new concepts and given creative outlets. This evidence has clearly influenced senior living developments, which have evolved from places once stigmatized for their isolation and restriction to spaces conceived and designed with the goal of improving their residents’ quality of life.
It’s no surprise that the almost 75 million baby boomers, who now find themselves making decisions for their aging parents, have influenced the change. With their discerning tastes, active lifestyles, desire for meaningful experiences, and strong social engagement, the “Sandwich Generation” is demanding something different for their parents and, eventually, for themselves. Here we highlight some of the most innovative trends in design, programming, and technology across the metro—and why timing is everything when it comes to making a move.
When the late John Goodman took over The Goodman Group from his father in 1976, the senior living landscape looked drastically different: Words like “amenities,” “environments,” and “wellness” weren’t part of the vernacular, and onsite bistros, cafés, and spas were nonexistent. Goodman went on to expand the family’s Chaska-based company to 33 senior living communities in eight states.
“This generation does not want to move into what we would formerly have called a nursing home,” says Robyn Johnson, director of brand and strategic initiatives at The Goodman Group. “[They] don’t want to be sequestered to the edges of society. They want to continue to have access and engage with the community.”
Goodman believed that the facilities themselves could play a role in the well-being of their residents. He created a design concept called “Soulful Environments,” based on the idea that there are therapeutic benefits to exposure to the fine arts, nature, and sensory stimulation. He developed a multi-sensory space with circadian lighting to mimic the real spectrum of daylight for seniors with limited mobility who can’t get outside regularly.
“There’s a remarkable amount of evidence-based science to show that when you incorporate the sensory experiences of nature into senior environments, you see a reduction of agitation and a higher sense of well-being,” says Johnson. “You can actually reduce the antidepressants and antipsychotic meds [taken by many seniors] because of the opportunity to engage them in new ways.”
Many of the new developments being built in the Twin Cities boast the latest in design, dining, and programming. At Trillium Woods, which opened in Plymouth in 2015, residents gather in the main “clubhouse,” complete with a pub that serves drinks and appetizers, and offers happy hour. The 46-acre community is connected to walking paths, and some of its garden duplexes have lake views so residents can enjoy the outdoors.
Jill Nokleby Kaiser, director of housing development at Ebenezer—which owns and manages 76 senior living buildings in Minnesota—emphasizes the role of design as a way to encourage social interaction. She says Ebenezer’s new construction connects spaces of different sizes, such as a café just off a large event room. “If you have a place for people to gather for a cup of coffee just off that area, they’ll come down and wait for that event to happen, and then they’ll run into friends and they’ll sit there and have their own unplanned activity,” says Nokleby Kaiser. “Community happens when we’ve designed spaces that feed it. Community doesn’t happen when there are five different small rooms tucked away in corners that nobody uses.”
Trends in Technology
Many senior living communities are using new technology to improve nursing care and safety, offering everything from virtual doctor visits to online wellness profiles to the latest call button safety features. Equally exciting are the ways they’re using technology to engage residents on a personal and social level.
At Brookdale Senior Living, which owns and manages 10 communities in the Twin Cities, residents access customized educational and personal information using a computer program called InTouch, which contains photos of family members, past vacations, and special interests, as well as favorite music, customized games, and Skype accounts to call loved ones. The data is based on interviews with family members, which helps Brookdale create what’s called a “Life Story.” The touch-screen monitors are available in common areas, and they can also be rolled to a resident’s room for easy access.
“We have seen mid- and late-staged Alzheimer’s patients who don’t communicate as frequently as they used to, and you work with this system with them, and it’s a transformation,” says Linda Manning, Brookdale’s district director of sales and marketing. “We use the InTouch program to take them back to when their memory was good and strong.”
Brookdale also offers a tablet-lending program it dubs “Ipad-To-Go,” where seniors can check out tablets for their personal use. “We have residents who now have Facebook pages and one who has a blog,” says Manning. “It’s a great way for older adults to connect with younger family members through social media and FaceTime. They can take online classes, check their e-mails, and shop online.”
Trillium Woods, whose average resident age is 79 years old, encourages engagement through its internal communication site called Odyssey, which features the daily schedule of activities, menus, and more. “Our residents are very technology savvy,” says executive director Elizabeth Ann Fetner. “We also have a group of ‘super-user residents’ who do training [on Odyssey] for fellow residents.”
While senior living communities may still offer bingo and crossword puzzles, they’ve expanded their programming to include yoga classes, cultural and recreational outings, and intergenerational group activities like music and art lessons.
A number of Ebenezer properties, including Towerlight in St. Louis Park and Ridges Campus in Burnsville, have onsite daycare centers that provide an invaluable opportunity for seniors and youngsters to connect and engage on a daily basis.
“Our daycare kids are going up to memory care every day,” says Nokleby Kaiser. “The fact that our communities can make sure kids grow up not being scared of old people, knowing they have their grand friends, being proud of their relationships, and being accountable to somebody who’s not their parents, that’s priceless. It’s not segregated, it’s integrated, and that’s how we should live.”
Ebenezer has also led the way in the arts, partnering with MacPhail Center for Music to offer music instruction and inviting seniors and daycare children to participate in programming together. “For the most part, our lifelong learning coordinators plan our programs assuming that they’re going to have both kids and seniors there for whatever they put on the calendar,” says Nokleby Kaiser. “They’re painting together, they’re making music together, they’re dancing together, and they’re designing the Christmas pageant together.”
At Trillium Woods, residents lead TED Talk–style programs and lecture series, selecting the topics and moderating discussion groups afterward. The company encourages residents to be involved in decision making at every level, not just programming, and calls it “Lifestyle by Design.” “We have a resident-led food and beverage committee that helps design the menu,” says Fetner. “Our residents even named the pub; they chose Minnehaha Pub.”
Aging in Place
Shirley Barnes, CEO of Crest View Senior Communities, knows on a personal and professional level the importance of timing when making a decision to move a loved one to a senior living environment. She spent sleepless nights worrying about her father, a former farmer who was living in his home at the time. After he was diagnosed with a stroke at 82, the family moved him to his hometown senior community. Barnes’ mantra: “Better a year too early than a day too late.”
Barnes’ sister learned from the experience with their father and decided for herself to move to a Crest View community in Columbia Heights “She says she is so happy because she has purpose again,” says Barnes. “She can have privacy, but she also feels secure because she knows someone will always be there. She also has her cat because we’re pet-friendly. All of those things are so important.”
As a solution to the issue of timing, many new senior living developments being built today offer all levels of care on one site—independent living, assisted living, and memory care—to encourage the philosophy of “aging in place.” One of the many advantages of this approach is independence, because seniors can make the decision for themselves when and where to move. As Barnes puts it: “Move in before you think you need to, because it’s not about need all the time; it’s about want, it’s about desire,” she says. “Move in when you can still create community.”
Even for people settled into senior living communities with endless opportunities for outings, nothing can replace trips to a favorite restaurant, holiday family get-togethers, or a grandchild’s wedding. For seniors who are wheelchair-dependent, those special events can be exhausting and even cause anxiety. We talked with Chris Becker, from local dealer Cummings Mobility, for tips on renting or owning a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.
How can having the right vehicle improve quality of life for an aging family member? Having a vehicle that is accessible to all members of the family will be a benefit to all of the family. With a standard vehicle, a person using a wheelchair needs to transfer from their wheelchair in and out of the vehicle’s car seating and then the wheelchair needs to be stowed. This often requires assistance from a caregiver, so some independence is lost, plus there is the risk of injury for both the wheelchair user and the caregiver from falls or back strain. . . . A vehicle with an accessible ramp eliminates the need for transfers. The wheelchair can be driven right into the vehicle.
What are the most common misconceptions about wheelchair-accessible vehicles? Most misconceptions are based on fear of the unknown or preconceived ideas from older models. Many people don’t realize that front-wheel-drive minivans by many manufacturers, and even an SUV, are available. They have in mind that it is going to be a full-size van that is big and awkward to drive. Current accessible vehicles offer different floor plans that will accommodate a wheelchair in the front, second, or third row, with side and rear entry.
How can customers decide whether to purchase or rent a vehicle? An alternative way to learn about accessible vehicles is to rent a converted van. This can help in reducing the fear of the unknown or possibly aid in convincing a resistant family member. Sometimes a short-term use is all that’s needed for a day, week, or even months, and renting would certainly be an alternative to buying in these cases.