Critter Corner: Futuristic Post-Pandemic Changes Coming to Senior Living?

Dear Angel,

With the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and the danger it poses to residents, some things need to change now and for the future. What changes are being implemented and/or planned?

Thanks!

Chan Jess

Dear Chan,

While it’s uncertain how or when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, the pandemic will likely shape how senior living communities are designed for years to come.

Since March, senior living providers across the U.S. have been altering their normal operations to prevent or limit the spread of COVID-19. They have cancelled group activities and communal dining in favor of in-room entertainment and meal delivery. Providers are relying on technology to help overcome social isolation, and looking for new ways to remotely connect residents with family members and medical workers. Senior living in the future will keep these scenarios in mind, and create ways for providers to support technologies and minimize future disruptions.

According to Senior Housing News, these are some of the changes that will likely be implemented in nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the future:

  • Maximize Interaction: Future designs will seek solutions to safely maximize interaction with the outside world even during a quarantine situation.
  • Smaller Groups: To avoid community-wide disruptions in the future, more providers may choose to adopt designs that emphasize the use of “separated neighborhoods,” where residents can live, socialize, and dine together in smaller groups. Areas could be cordoned off in the event of a future epidemic or pandemic without bringing the entire community to a full stop.
  • Less people per floor: Many nursing homes follow the 60-bed, two-people-in-a-room models. During a COVID-19 crisis, it is nearly impossible to self-isolate such a large population. Lessons learned during COVID-19 might push providers to consider more single-occupancy rooms, fewer people on a single floor, and smaller dining venues. “If you have a small neighborhood, and somebody’s got COVID-19, then you don’t have a wing of 60 people who are all sharing the same stuff.” says architect David Dillard.
  • Outdoor access: The ability to have outdoor access to a small terrace or balcony can be important to the sanity and the health and wellness of an individual during a pandemic, so outdoor access should happen more and more in a variety of levels of care within senior living.
  • Surfaces that are easier to clean: Architects and designers may also choose to work with new materials that are either antimicrobial or are easily cleaned. In the future, providers will look to make flooring, furniture, accessories, countertops, cabinets, handrails and doors more resistant to pathogens like the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
  • Sleeping quarters for staff to stay overnight: New communities may also be built with more spaces that can be used as interim housing for staff.
  • Air filtration and purification may also become more important in senior living design, possibly driven by future changes in air quality codes.
  • Strong technological infrastructure: Many residents are embracing remote audio-visual communication tools such as Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype to stay in touch with friends, family members, and even medical professionals. The use of such services will likely only increase in the future and will necessitate a stronger technological infrastructure in communities.
  • No-touch technology: Senior living providers may also take a closer look at technology that allows residents to navigate communities without pressing buttons or grabbing handles. This could be accomplished through motion controls, which are already in use in the senior living industry, or voice controls, such as the ones seen in Amazon’s Alexa product.
  • “Clean rooms” for visitors: Future senior living communities may also facilitate in-person visits with the help of a dedicated “clean room.” Under that concept, residents would meet with their loved ones or friends in two adjacent rooms separated by a glass partition and equipped with an intercom system or even mobile phones. Staff would then sanitize the room after each use.

According to Jeff Anderzhon, senior planner and design architect, “If we look at designs for the worst case, then we’ll be a lot better off for those more minor epidemics, like the flu every fall.”

Angel

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