Category Archives: Senior Living Interior Design

Old-School Nursing Homes vs. Today’s Assisted Living Communities

While there are still some of the old-school nursing homes out there, there are a lot more new-school senior living communities that have populated the market, since the birth of the “senior industry” 30 years ago. 

The old-school nursing homes usually operate solely on revenue from Medicaid (the US government) and don’t have sufficient funds to make improvements, so they simply have not kept up with the changing market. Whereas, most of the new communities are private pay (by the residents) and do not accept Medicaid, so they operate more profitably, which allows them to make investments and improvements to serve their community and residents and remain competitive.

Over the past five years, there’s been an explosive growth of brand-new senior living communities developed by large established senior living owner/developer/operator companies as well as investors that have jumped into the senior housing industry. They’re all anticipating that the tsunami of Boomers turning 65 each year will want or need senior housing and care.


The properties just keep getting better and more impressive as the developers strive to meet consumer desires and to stay ahead of competitors, but it’s always important to research the owner/operator and interior designer. Consider everything when selecting senior living, not just price.

Established companies usually have their heart in it and are experienced. They know what works and what doesn’t. They know where they need to spend money and provide resources.

Investors’ priorities may be different, or they may be inexperienced and not have a handle on day-to-day operations, which can be disruptive for residents and their families, and cost them more which causes unanticipated rent increases. They’re also more apt to forgo hiring a professional senior living interior designer either because they don’t know any better or because they want to avoid the expense.

Senior living properties that have not been designed by a professional senior living interior designer put residents at risk with life-safety issues that are preventable.

Sadly, I come across this more than I should, and it makes me cringe. For example, recently I visited a brand-new large, senior living community with independent living, assisted living and memory care. I inquired, as I always do, as to who the developer and designer were. I was told that the developer was a local investor and their secretary did the design. Yikes! That is flat out scary and dangerous!

Assisted living and Memory Care are healthcare. Senior living, memory care and healthcare design are highly specialized and based on science and art. Design for seniors at every level of care requires that highly specialized design, which is a lot more than looking pretty. So, I will never recommend that community, despite that it looked nice. But only people that ask or are trained designers will know because it’s not visible to the untrained eye. The moral of the story is: Don’t judge a book solely by its cover, do your homework.  

Three Ways You Can Avoid Old-School Nursing Homes

  1. Be financially prepared to self-pay.
  2. Purchase a Long-Term Care insurance policy and make sure that it will cover home care as well as memory care, so that you’re fully protected.
  3. Hire a qualified Aging in Place design professional now and have your home and/or bathroom designed and remodeled for aging in place, so that it prevents falls and accidents and will enable you to stay in your home through active adult years and beyond, if you prefer. 55+ TLC also makes it beautiful and increases the home’s value, making it a wise investment.

I strongly recommended Long-Term Care insurance. Recent statistics indicate that 4 out of 5 people over 65 will need long-term care in their lifetime, and you’ll likely need it for 3 to 10 years. Most people aren’t financially prepared for that. LTC insurance can serve as a life preserver.

© 2019 55+ TLC Interior Design, LLC. All rights reserved.



Private Family Dining Room Renovation Makes Big Impact at Senior Living Community

Progressive, dedicated senior living communities (independent living, assisted living and memory care) continually look for ways to improve resident experience and inspire family members to visit their loved ones. Up-to-date aesthetics, private family dining rooms, new amenities like movie theaters, spas, and salons, and activities, dining and culinary experiences, health and wellness programs, and greater levels of care are among the most popular.

Why Private Family Dining Rooms?

Many senior living communities offer a separate, private family dining room for residents to host private family gatherings they otherwise may not be able to due to space limitations in their apartments. Typically, senior living apartments are 600 to 800 square feet, but can be as small as 350 sf or as large as 1,800 sf.

Senior living apartments are intentionally designed and built small to encourage residents to spend their time out in the common areas socializing, dining, participating in activities, and taking advantage of the community’s amenities, rather than staying cooped up and isolated in their apartments. Smaller apartments also tend to be more manageable and easier to navigate, particularly as mobility decreases or with cognitive decline.

The common living areas and apartments in senior living communities are usually designed by senior living architects and designers, which make them safer than houses and/or bathrooms. Although, single-family houses can be rectified for safety through design and remodel by a qualified Aging in Place design professional.

Design Matters So Much More for Adults 55+

McDowell Village Senior Living is a nice, lively, active community in Scottsdale, Arizona. It has 205 independent and assisted living apartments with approximately 300 residents ranging in age from 70 to 100+. The McDowell Village management team had noticed for some time that their private family dining room was not being used much, so renovation became a priority.

With a mission to keep residents happy, active and engaged, and not have underutilized space, the renovation objective was to update the existing dark, heavy, traditional style décor and furniture in favor of a more casual, contemporary and inviting room that would be more appealing to residents and their adult children. One that would be frequently used for family gatherings, meals and parties.

As their senior living interior designer, the challenge was to not only create a casual, comfortable contemporary space that would be used more, but one that would also integrate well with the traditional style adjacent spaces that were not being renovated at that time.

In redesigning the private family dining room, the opportunity was seized to make the room more walker and wheelchair accessible, fully ADA-compliant, and more senior-friendly (easier to use and safer) via colors, furniture size and layout, lighting, and the flooring material.

The renovation design included new lighting fixtures and proper positioning of them, which required moving some electrical, new flooring that was more durable and cleanable, new furniture and artwork, wallpaper removal, and fresh paint in new colors.  


Benefits for Residents, Visitors, Staff and Management

Private Family Dining Room Feature Wall

The renovated private dining room has been a big hit with residents and visitors, as well as staff and management. The room is now in high demand. It’s being used as intended for family gatherings, meals and parties, and even more. Resident groups are meeting there. Some of the ladies are beading and making jewelry together while other residents are getting together to play cards, despite that there are other areas in the building to do these activities. Even staff meetings are taking place there. Each is a testament to the room’s warm, casual appeal. Exactly what was desired and needed.

Whether occupied or unoccupied, the renovated private family dining room design gracefully conveys a sense of home. Even to prospective residents touring the community.



Universal Design vs. Aging in Place Design vs. Senior Living Design: Understanding the Differences Empowers Best Housing Decisions

You’ve likely heard in the media in recent years the terms Universal Design and Aging in Place for homes. Although its name is more intuitive, Senior Living Design hasn’t been publicized because it’s practiced commercially in independent and assisted living and memory care communities, and on more rare occasion in assisted living care homes.

Why should you know or care about these terms? Because design matters for successful aging and knowing the difference between Universal Design, Aging in Place Design and Senior Living Design will empower you to make the best housing decisions for you and your 55+ loved ones.

Each of these three types of design share one feature – wheelchair accessibility. Beyond that they are different. Seems logical, right? If they were all the same, would they have different names? Of course not. As a seasoned designer trained in and practicing all three types, I promise you they are each different.

However, I’m continually finding architects and interior designers don’t even know the difference. To make it worse, now companies are deliberately interchanging the terms in order to sell more products, services, and training to the trades. They believe that by calling everything Universal Design consumers will find it more palatable than Aging in Place. Most do not know any better and simply follow the big companies’ lead.

The problem isn’t with the products, it’s that they are teaching consumers that Universal Design is what older adults need, which is wrong and misleading. Read the following definitions, examples and my best tips pertaining to each to understand why.

Universal Design makes buildings or homes accessible to all, regardless of age, size, or ability. It has been implemented in commercial design for more than two decades. You transparently engage with Universal Design whenever you’re in a public building. It includes wheelchair-accessibility, which eliminates access barriers. However, Universal Design also requires compromises in design to accommodate the majority of people. For example, the design needs of children are very different than those of older adults.

Implementing design for one population would render the space restrictive to the other, so a design compromise is intentionally made. The important takeaway here is that the specific design needs for older adults are not addressed with Universal Design because it needs to work for the majority, hence the name “universal.” Universal Design is best for public or commercial spaces and for homes where there are two or more generations (multi-generational) living under one roof.

Aging in Place Design makes homes safe for adults 55+ to live safely, independently and comfortably throughout the aging process. It shares the basic principles of Universal Design, but goes further, taking into account design for the unique and specific needs of older adults.

Because 99% of homes are not Aging in Place ready, according to a 2017 Harvard Housing study, homes usually require some remodeling. If your goal is to stay in your home and age successfully and be independent, it’s wise to invest in yourself and hire an Aging in Place remodel designer to proactively prepare your home – before you need it. Just like child-proofing a home – Would you wait until your toddler has an accident or take precaution in advance? Being pro-active to protect your independence at 55+ should be a priority. You’re worth it!

Senior Living Design is highly-specialized, science/evidenced-based design that supports physical safety and psychological and emotional wellness for older adults. Senior Living Design and Memory Care Design are the highest, most comprehensive levels of design for adults 55+ and require the most training. It’s a specialty with a limited number of practitioners and an even smaller number qualified in Memory Care Design.

Senior Living Design and Memory Care Design includes the basic principles of Universal Design and Aging in Place Design but go well beyond. Most independent, assisted and memory care senior living communities’ common areas have been designed and furnished by professional senior living interior designers to meet the unique needs of older adults.

However, when residents move in safety wains. Because residents or their families usually decide to “decorate” the apartment. Again, design matters. A senior living interior designer should be hired to create a safe, accessible furniture arrangement, select or purchase senior-friendly furniture, and design for other needs to prevent falls, make daily activities easier and for comfortable living. The rest of the community has been designed and furnished for safety and wellbeing, your apartment should be, too. You’re worth it!

I have found it rare for assisted living care/group homes (categorized as up to 10 beds) to be designed by a professional senior living designer, which is very unfortunate as it puts residents’ safety and wellbeing at risk. Some assisted living home owners are proud of how their homes look. However, senior living design is art and science. Pretty is nice, but without the science behind professional senior living design, there isn’t safety.

It’s important to always inquire and vet a senior living community or assisted living care home on their care, staff, food, activities, amenities, neighborhood, etc. But be sure to also find out who designed it. Google and research the design firm or individual. Are they a qualified professional senior living interior designer? It’s a matter of life safety, health and well-being, so it needs to be part of the housing decision for you and your loved ones. You deserve it!

I am an advocate for adults 55+. My expertise and passion are helping to make the rest of life the best of life for my clients through design in private homes, senior living communities, assisted living care homes, and residents’ apartments in senior living communities.

I am trained, experienced and award-winning in the specialties of Senior Living Design, Aging in Place Remodel Design, Universal Design, and Memory Care Design. I’d like to be your designer!

New Studies Link Exercise and Healthy Weight to Potential Dementia Prevention and Slowing Alzheimer’s Progression

Exercise helps to prevent Alzheimer's and dementia

A new paper published in The Lancet Neurology, led by the University of Melbourne and the University of Washington, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, reports that the number of people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias globally more than doubled between 1990 – 2016, from 20.2 million to 43.8 million. By, 2050 the researchers are projecting that more than 100 million could be living with dementia related diseases.

The 2016 study found dementia was more common at older ages, with the prevalence doubling every five years over age 50. It also found that 22.3 percent of healthy years lost to dementia in 2016 were due to four modifiable risk factors: being overweight, high blood sugar, consuming a lot of sugar sweetened beverages and smoking. There is a significant potential for prevention of dementia.

As reported in Neurology, (Dec. 19, 2018) an ENLIGHTEN trial revealed that regular exercise boosts executive function (impulse control, emotional control, flexible thinking, working memory, self-monitoring, planning and prioritizing, task initiation, and organization) and can potentially delay the onset of dementia in adults at risk for it.

Research from Queen’s University and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro recently published in Nature Medicine show that irisin, a hormone that is boosted by exercise, plays an important role in the brain and that Alzheimer patients carry less of the hormone. Boosting levels of irisin in the brain could slow the progression of the disease.

Dementia develops over at least 20 to 30 years before it is diagnosed – these findings allow us to act now to eliminate the risk factors and potentially ward it off, for ourselves and our loved ones.

Living Options for Those with Alzheimer’s or Other Dementia

There are Memory Care communities (standalone or within senior living/assisted living communities) with excellent programs to keep residents active, engaged, comfortable and safe. They are not inexpensive at $5,000 to $12,000 per month (depending on the community and state it’s located in). Some of these communities also offer short respite stays.

When staying at home or moving in with family, it is important to take away car keys and provide other methods of transportation for the person with dementia. It may be emotionally difficult, but it’s for safety and protection. Here in Arizona there are way too many ADOT “Silver Alerts” providing a license plate number and vehicle description with a plea to help find an elderly person with dementia that never returned home! Many times, it does not end well.

Hire caregivers with dementia training, available through home care agencies, to provide assistance and/or respite for family members. Have the home designed for dementia-support by a qualified dementia design professional. Dementia-supportive design will optimize independence and quality of life, preserve dignity, and reduce dementia-related fear for your loved one.  

Because dementia-supportive design is so highly-specialized, there are relatively few designers nationally that have the essential specialized training and experience. Of the ones that do, nearly all work exclusively on the commercial side designing for Memory Care/Senior Living Communities.

I am dementia-supportive design trained and experienced. And, because God gifted me with the ability to design for both residential and commercial (which is uncommon, for a variety of reasons), 55+ TLC Interior Design is pleased to offer dementia-supportive design and Aging in Place design services for residential private homes and design for commercial Memory Care and Senior Living Communities.

Source: Neurology and NeuroscienceNews.com

Is your remodeling contractor really qualified to design for aging in place and senior living?

We all knew it was coming and you’ve seen the headlines. Boomers are getting older and life expectancies are growing longer. It comes as no surprise to anyone that we have an aging population challenge on our hands, which will continue to grow over the coming decades.

Whether planning your own retirement years, seeking the best possible living environment for your parents, or facing big decisions that impact the residents in a senior living community or care home you manage, I think it’s safe to say we all want to ensure seniors stay as safe, happy, healthy, and independent as possible in their later years.

However, I’ve noticed a disturbing problem that concerns me as someone who specializes in aging in place remodel design and senior living interior design. As economists, business analysts, and popular media outlets squawk about the coming “silver tsunami,” many companies are looking to cash in on what they see as a gold rush opportunity.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with paying attention to economic trends and serving the needs of a particular market segment. The more we can do to make the “second chapter in life” more secure and enjoyable for seniors, the better.

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