A New York Times article recently took a closer look at how senior centers have changed. What was once a place to get a meal and play a few rounds of bingo is now more centered around becoming a social hub where seniors gather together to broaden their horizons.
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Boomers are taking classes to develop new skills and hobbies. They are hitting the gym or learning to dance. They are building new friendships and joining a community that prefers an active retirement.
What does that mean for design?
The most important change in all this? The look and feel of senior centers. Centers of yesterday don’t have the appeal today’s seniors are looking for. This means major interior renovation and even rethinking what these facilities are called. One AARP office coined the term “21st century wellness centers” and that is certainly a more palatable way to think about the change that is taking place.
Centers of the past are very institutional, but a recently renovated centers are more like large cafes than anything else. Getting the balance between safety/accessibility and attractiveness seems to be the challenge designers and manufacturers must rise to for centers that compete in this new retirement environment.
Where to begin?
The National Council on Aging talked with senior center directors about what was important and what they hoped to see evolve in facility design. One of the most discussed issues was flooring. The people who use senior centers have a wide range of physical capabilities. Add to that the fact that canes, walkers, scooters, wheelchairs, etc. are all a part of the flooring equation and things get difficult.
A floor needs to have some grip, but not so much that it might cause a tripping hazard for those who have difficulty walking.
Daltile’s StepWise technology provides a dynamic coefficient of friction (DCOF) that is among the highest in the industry, yielding a higher level of safety and slip resistance. It’s infused into the tile surface so it won’t wash away over time or with heavy traffic.
Proper installation of sub flooring and tile ensure that the floor is level and doesn’t develop lippage that could pose a hazard.
Maintenance and hygiene are another top concern for flooring. Easy cleanability and materials that won’t harbor bacteria are key to keeping boomers focused on their activities rather than being sidetracked by illness.
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How to Design?
The door is wide open for more interesting and engaging designs in the senior center, but there are still limitations. High-contrast designs can cause problems for seniors with perception difficulty or dementia. The NISC explains, “it’s not uncommon for dark patches on light backgrounds to be perceived as recessed areas—even holes.” Consider lighting as well. Any glare can have a similar effect on high-contrast designs.
Acoustics are another item to consider when designing. Some acoustic paneling on the ceiling or walls can help reduce background noise that makes social interaction so difficult with hearing loss. Of course, the architecture of the room can also contribute to decreasing echoing and chatter. Thoughtful layouts can help too. Putting the dance studio next to the library might not be the best idea. If all else fails, plan to include noise cancelling materials in the walls during construction.
With an emphasis on more active retirement centers, design of the space has the opportunity to be more customized. Take into consideration the types of activities the center plans on and design accordingly. Wire the dance studio for sound. Put in storage for art classes. Plan on ceiling mounting a projector for educational classes. Make room for coffee and snacks for bridge games.
Accessibility has become much more stylish of late with universal features like zero-entry showers and multi-level countertops. Get creative with accessibility in a facility that will need every type of accessibility you can imagine.
Many boomers get into cooking and entertaining. Keep apprised of the legal requirements for handling, storing, and displaying food and safe cooking of food so your design meets code effortlessly.
While many centers are changing their approaches—and their facilities along with it—the focus remains the same. Increasing the quality of life improving social engagement all while being independent is the name of the game and new designs are the biggest proponent that.