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A Modern Outlook For Senior Living Facilities

Facility Executive | June 2023 Issue

At the most basic level, senior living facilities need to ensure residents feel safe, comfortable, and healthy. But, facility managers can go above and beyond by fostering a sense of community, offering amenities, and designing hospitality-like spaces.


To dig deeper into some of today’s trends in senior living facility design, Facility Executive spoke with Tammy Ng, Project Manager from MBH Architects.


Facility Executive (FE): What are some major additions or changes facility executives and managers are making to enhance senior living facilities?

Tammy Ng (TN): Senior living facilities are now more than ever focused on holistic health. Combining senior living quarters with public communal gathering spaces helps to promote social interaction, mental stimulation, a positive outlook, and improved physical health. Many construction projects and retrofits focus on the “one-stop-shop” model by including senior amenity spaces, such as cafés, clinics, classrooms, outdoor gardens, the list is endless. These spaces typically are thoughtfully programmed to allow for flexibility as services shift to fill the needs of the visitors or residents. With warm and modern interior finishes, open multipurpose floorplans, and furniture typically found in hospitality environments, the rooms today are welcoming, and avoid feeling clinical.

FE: Creating a safe and healthy environment is critical to having a successful senior living space. What are steps facility managers can take to ensure that these facilities are designed to fulfill this requirement?

TN: COVID-19 shifted the trajectory of senior living design. Since the pandemic, technology has played a larger role in maintaining communication in senior living spaces. As we know, virtual meetings have now become a part of everyday post-pandemic life. Virtual meetings are used for seniors to communicate during tele-health appointments, have regular check-ins with caretakers, or participate in classes and physical therapy exercises, for instance. Announcing the facility’s program schedule to residents is done through the integration of app-based services and interactive media screens in the lobby areas. Seniors are becoming more and more tech savvy, and the spaces for seniors are following suit.


The selection of interior finishes has a direct impact on the safety and health environment. Selecting finishes that are wipeable and easy to clean is important. Motion sensors have also been helpful in keeping hands from contact with germs, such as on door hardware, sink faucets, and soap dispensers. During the pandemic era, many senior living facilities have upgraded HVAC and filtration systems to help eliminate any pathogens that may linger in the air.


During the pandemic era, many senior living facilities have upgraded HVAC and filtration systems to help eliminate any pathogens that may linger in the air.

FE: One important element of senior living facilities is to create a sense of community. What are some facility features that can help foster this sense of community?

TN: Currently, we are assisting Vivalon with the construction of its Healthy Aging Campus. Vivalon is a mixed-use senior apartment complex with a multi-purpose senior center and geriatric clinic on the first two floors, which are open to the public. The location of the facility is convenient since it is steps away from local stores and services in the surrounding downtown. Its bike room and its proximity to parking garages and bus stops make the Vivalon Healthy Aging Campus an easy destination to reach. In addition, Vivalon also provides shuttle services to seniors, allowing seniors with limited mobility to visit the campus on a regular basis. The Healthy Aging Campus enables seniors to remain independent while providing the necessary support services and maintaining a connection with their community.


These opportunities for interaction build a sense of community not only within the Vivalon Aging Campus, but beyond with San Rafael as well.

FE: How are spaces today being thoughtfully designed to take those with limited mobility into consideration?

TN: Generally, there are standard code requirements we need to meet for accessibility at the facility. In addition, MBH has provided design features to help further improve the usage of the space by those with limited mobility.

For senior facilities, we make sure we provide additional closet space to accommodate the stowing of wheelchairs, canes, and walkers. Facility managers will find that this additional storage and a coat check area would be helpful to include to help account for these items from visitors.


We are also careful in selecting finishes particularly for floors and walls. We tend to pick patterns and colors that have minimal contrast. This is helpful for seniors that have limited visual ability. The contrast in colors or busy patterns tend to cause visual confusion and therefore, may actually become a tripping hazard.

FE: What advice might you have for facility executives on how to maintain these senior living facilities?

TN: With the increased use of new technology at senior living facilities, I recommend maintenance staff understand how to operate and maintain these new systems. For instance, implementing UVC technology or the latest air filtration system to help filter and clean the air within the facility is useless if the technology is not properly turned on or the filters are not changed per the manufacturer’s recommendations. Proper maintenance of the equipment is just as important as having it installed in the facility.



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