Housing Variations

It's not your great-grandfather's retirement home -- there's a plethora of choices these days

Senior community can feel like a village or hotel

Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle) - February 2, 2007 by Ross Jones


If I suddenly dropped you into an environment with elegant lighting, contemporary colors, high-end finishes and services such as Wi-Fi, formal dining and a concierge, you might assume that you were in a luxury hotel.

Next, if I offered you on-site health care, physical therapy, prescription assistance and 24-hour on-call access to a medical professional at the same location, would you recognize that you were in a contemporary older-adult community? Perhaps not.

If you have not had the opportunity to help an older family member or friend make the transition into senior housing, you might not recognize a contemporary community for older adults. Today, choices are plentiful and communities cater to diverse lifestyles while helping the older generation remain active and independent.

With four of the nation's top 20 operators of assisted living communities headquartered in the Puget Sound area, this region is a leader in driving positive changes and improving the lives of seniors. The industry also is responding to the needs and demands of customers, the growing number of seniors in need of alternative housing and changes in lifestyle preferences.

Baby boomers

A recent survey of adults age 65 and older by AARP demonstrates that seniors have a strong preference to remain in their homes as they age. However, this isn't always practical or healthy.

More than any other generation in history, baby boomers recognize the advantages of collective living environments and have been assisting their parents with the transition from their single-family homes to some kind of senior community.

As a group, the boomers are driving changes in the design and amenities offered in senior housing. They are demanding upgrades in the amenities, service and care for their parents and older relatives, while also thinking ahead to the type of housing they will want and need in the future.

Common categories

Variety abounds in senior housing. The categories you will most commonly hear referred to in the industry are Active Adult, Senior Apartments, Congregate Independent Living, Assisted Living, Alzheimer's and other special care environments, and Skilled Nursing.

There are also campuses known as Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) that provide a full range of housing, from independent living to assisted and skilled nursing, all within the same community. What you will find within each of these settings are homes that are as diverse as the residents themselves.

Some operators emphasize recreation. Leisure Care calls it "Five-Star Fun." Its Fairwinds-Redmond community, for example, offers a fitness center, lap pool, day spa/salon complete with massage, and a bistro with Wi-Fi, in addition to chef-prepared, restaurant-style, formal dining. There's also concierge service, valet parking and travel services. A full schedule of activities and services is the focus.

An alternative to the hotel feel of Fairwinds is Emerald Heights, a CCRC also located in Redmond. Emerald Heights takes pride in the villagelike feeling of its campus. Amenities include walking paths, a general store that sells gifts and groceries, a wellness center complete with pool, weight and exercise rooms, a health care clinic, a craft room, a well-stocked library, and a coffee shop that serves lattes and waffles and doubles as the center of conversation. In addition, the formal dining room offers restaurant-style service as well as a take-out area.

If this sounds like any small, close-knit residential neighborhood, it is. The differences are the experience of staff on site, the design of the individual living spaces that promote independence, and the different levels of care available to meet residents' needs.

Urban options

While the suburbs offer more space to build senior communities, preference for urban living is a growing trend for the 55-plus adult, and senior housing providers are responding.

Pacific Retirement Services, a not-for-profit provider of CCRCs and affordable senior housing, based in Medford, Ore., broke ground in August for a 12-story community in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle. The Mirabella's amenities will include an auditorium, banking services, wine tasting room and business center, as well as an outdoor dining terrace and courtyard.

In downtown Bellevue, The Bellettini, a Lytle Luxury Development project under construction, will offer the 55-plus demographic a half-mile proximity to downtown shopping, restaurants, museums, and theaters, as well as health care and the library. The community itself features restaurant-style, gourmet dining with an exhibition kitchen, 24-hour concierge service, a 32-seat theater, wellness center, a full-service spa and hair salon, cafe, dog-walking park and underground parking.

Environmental innovations

There are other trends in senior housing that are not evident to the casual observer. One is the use of sustainable or green design techniques, which are gaining momentum across all areas of the building industry. These techniques enhance the overall health of the environment, as well as that of residents and staff.

America's 50-plus population is estimated to reach 100 million by the year 2010. That changing demographic will compel the senior housing industry to continue to grow and evolve. New housing options and concepts will develop and amenities will likely change as lifestyle preferences, health care advances and technology change with the generations.

Wattenbarger Architects PLLC in Bellevue, focusing exclusively on senior housing. 425-453-0606 or inbox@wattenbarger.com.