Aging alone and the importance of self-care

Resultado de imagen para senior inside of house"By Carol Marak | Sixty and me

It feels like it was yesterday I was helping my parents with their care needs while working a full-time job. Today, I’m the one who has grown older and occasionally needs help, but unlike my parents, I don’t have adult children or a partner to call on.

I continue to work but my former caregiving responsibilities have turned to self-care instead. How did this happen so quickly? Who do I turn to for help?

In the past, I was more passive, but helping Mom and Dad changed my behavior, and I became more proactive. Now I wish that change had happened sooner than it did. I was 56 when I realized my situation (a solo ager) would likely have more challenges than the kind my parents faced.

Aging Alone Is Becoming a Trend

As a whole, society is reactive. Especially when dealing with life events like medical emergencies, or if one needs care at home, or the body starts to break down and begins to develop some weird chronic condition.

But we lack planning. No one wakes up in the morning, thinking, “Today I’m going to put a plan together just in case I need help.” No, it just happens.

Living alone during later life is gaining prevalence throughout the world, though its relevance has grown in recent decades on a global level.

This living arrangement, more widespread among women over 65 than men of the same age, is one of the most visible characteristics of the global societies currently underway.

Most of the research on the topic of aging alone has concentrated on the developed world. It’s in the West that single living during later life tends to be highest due to the decline of intergenerational coresidence and the increase of solitary living.

We All Face Caregiving

Whether it’s self-care or giving care to another, it happens to all of us. Both affect us sooner or later. It is a multi-generational issue for both genders.

As many as 6 in 10 adults with at least one parent age 65+ say they have helped a parent with activities of daily living such as shopping, preparing and eating food, cleaning, taking medicine, bathing, and dressing.

They also provide companionship and emotional support, both of which play a large part in caregiving. Women, more than men, engage in emotional support when caring for a loved one.

But who does an older person without nearby family or a caregiver turn to for emotional support to help them? Or what if a solo ager living alone has to make a medical decision and wants to discuss it with someone? Whom do we call?

Solo Agers, Are We on Our Own?

Even now, when I need to see a doctor, I have to make an appointment, drive to the office, sit in the waiting room, then the examination room, and then talk to a nurse only to have to explain it all over again to my doctor when she comes in.

Some medical conditions may not necessitate that much trouble. And believe me, at my age today, I have a lot more health related questions than ever before. How can I get a doctor to answer my questions quickly and easily?

And what about a simple will? Do I have to pay exuberant amount of dollars to write one since I likely will not have a big estate and my heirs are few?

A Gallop poll conducted after Prince’s death showed that 44 percent of Americans do have one. The problem they found was that roughly 3 in 10 of those aged 65 years and older say they do not have a will.

And I know many who do not. They struggle with selecting a health care proxy which makes doing the deed off-putting.

The Family Caregivers Benefit Plan

These are real situations that caregivers and seniors run up against. But I recently found an app that provides access to many professionals right from my phone (app), tablet (app), and desktop 24/7.

With a membership, I get advice from physicians, pharmacists, psychologists, dentists, dietitians, and fitness experts, all without an appointment.

It’s done via email, and usually I get an answer back within a few hours. Or, if I’m dealing with an emotional issue, I can call an 877 number and talk with a counselor when needed.

The best thing is, I can use those services as often as I want. I’ve been subscribed to the plan for three months now, and I’ve gotten answers and advice from two dietitians about nutritional issues, four different doctors about chronic conditions, and even had a simple will done at no charge.

This service is called the Family Caregiver Benefit Plan (of which I’m an affiliate) and no, it’s not just for caregivers. It’s for people like me – solo agers, and any adult who has questions about self-care.

I know many solo agers who have health concerns, and sometimes we don’t want to bother a friend or our doctor. That’s my reasoning for trying out the plan, and I’m happy with the results so far!

How far do you live from family or relatives? Are you aging alone? How extensive is your network of friends? Do you have a plan in case of an emergency? What about a will or a health care proxy? How do you envision your life from this point onward? Please share your thoughts and concerns with our community.

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The 5 Best Beaches in Mexico

Resultado de imagen para playa"By Jason Holland | International Living

In terms of numbers, Mexico is the most popular expat destination for North Americans in the world. And it’s no wonder why. With over 5,800 miles of coastline on the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Pacific, there are no shortage of postcard worthy, powdery, white-sand beaches in Mexico.

But, what constitutes a great beach is different for everybody. Some like quiet natural beauty, where the only sound is the breaking waves and the only other visitors are seagulls. For surfers it means that perfect break. For others, the perfect day at the beach requires a lounger, umbrella, a good book, and a waiter bringing a steady stream of cold drinks and appetizers.

Here we explore a small portion of the many wonderful beaches in Mexico, with a focus on those that are easy to access, have places to stay nearby, and overall offer a great experience. From places of solitude to bustling scenes where beach bars and restaurants line the sand, we have you covered.

Playa Los Muertos, Puerto Vallarta

Playa Los Muertos, Puerto Vallarta

This a busy stretch of sand in the heart of the action in Puerto Vallarta’s famed Old Town, so if you want peace and quiet this is not the place for you. The landscape is dramatic, with jungle-covered mountains, dotted with luxury villas and condo towers, dropping dramatically to the sand.

The malecon, a pedestrian only promenade which runs along the water, is filled with vendors offering up grilled shrimp, ice cream, and fresh coconut water—don’t worry if you see a machete, that’s just to chop off the top. There are also many restaurants on the sand where you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner and if you want a beach chair under the shade of palapa, you’re covered there too, and if you order food you can stay there all day.

Paamul, Riviera Maya

Paamul, Riviera Maya

The graceful curve of Paamul can be found just south of Playa del Carmen. This is a private residential community with one mid-sized hotel. If you patronize the restaurant, which has a swimming pool, you’re free to use the beach.

Several expats call this quiet community home, especially during high season from January to April.

You can enjoy a chelada (beer on the rocks with lime juice) and ceviche made from locally caught fish. Be sure to bring your mask and fins as there is great snorkeling right off the beach.

Medano, Cabo San Lucas

Medano, Cabo San Lucas

Medano offers the convenience of walking out your condo right onto the sand and plenty of watersports activities, including world-class big game sport fishing at the adjacent marina. There are a lot of sunset cruises as well. You don’t want to visit during Spring Break though, but Medano Beach is a fun place to be the rest of the year.

Head to the north, away from the marina, to find simple cantinas right on the sand, where you can get ceviche for just $4 a bowl, and cold beers for a couple of dollars. Closer to the marina you’ll find sit-down restaurants and sometimes raucous beach clubs that cater more to the party set.

Sayulita, Riviera Nayarit

Sayulita, Riviera Nayarit

Bohemian Sayulita first attracted surfers decades ago. It’s grown a lot since then. No longer sleepy, it has a top-notch restaurant scene and active nightlife. But it’s still very laidback and has a distinctly bohemian vibe.

Similar to Puerto Vallarta, which is about an hour’s drive south, tree-covered hills surround the bay, with increasing development evident. But it’s still a great place for surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, fishing, and other water sports. And you can get a massage on the beach to help you recover at the end of the day.

Holbox Island, Yucatán

Holbox Island, Yucatán

On the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula, a couple hour’s trek from Cancún, is the tiny island of Holbox. Reachable by ferry (several boats go back and forth on the 25-minute ride throughout the day), it’s perhaps best known as one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks, who congregate offshore from May to September.

But another draw are the powdery white-sand beaches, with calm azure water. Much of the island is sparsely developed, so you can easily find your own private beach.

The village itself is small with boutique hotels, seafood restaurants, and artisan shops. There are very few cars allowed on the island (basically just police and municipal officials have them), so you get around on foot, by bike, or hire a golf cart.

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One of Mexico’s Treasures: San Cristóbal de las Casas

San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, MexicoBy By John Harvey Williams | Expats in Mexico

In my last blog, I shared part one of my recent trip from Oaxaca to Reynosa, Tamaulipas by way of Chiapas and Veracruz. Today, we move on to one of Mexico’s treasures: San Cristóbal de las Casas, before heading north.

San Cristóbal is one of many magical places in Mexico.  Though it is only about 45-minutes from Tuxtla Gutierrez, the climate changes dramatically to a very cool and pleasant highland atmosphere, sometimes shrouded in fog, which gives the town and its surroundings a sense of mystery.

This visit was my first since 1989.  Things have changed considerably.  Though unbeknownst to me when I was there in 1989, the surrounding country was organizing for what would become known as the Zapatista peasant uprising of 1994. After 35 years of living full time in Mexico and traveling by vehicle all over the country, there is never a road trip that does not revel to me something marvelous that I have never had the pleasure of enjoying before. This trip was no exception.

I had the opportunity for the first time to visit the Museo Na Bolom. It is a must visit for anyone visiting San Cristóbal de las Casa. The museo was founded by Frans Blom and Gertrude Duby in 1950 and was their home as well as a foundation for the promotion of Chiapan indigenous culture and language.

After two nights in San Cristóbal we headed off to the very important classic Maya site of Palenque in northern Chiapas. On the way, we enjoyed another wonderful surprise, Toniná. Toniná was also a very important classic Maya site. It was almost constantly at war with its neighbor Palenque.  I was very much aware of Toniná from my many years of study of Mesoamerican art history and have always admired their superb bas relief sculpture in stone.  I had never before visited the site, however, and was unaware that we would be passing close by. The architecture is spectacular and there is a very interesting site museum filled with superb examples of the Toniná sculptural style, which is renowned not only for its superb bas relief work, but also rare Mesoamerican portrait sculpture in the round depicting their rulers in baroquely elaborate regalia.

Later in the day we arrived at the Misol Ha waterfall park and spent the night in a quite rustic, but pleasant, cabin after a very enjoyable swim in the natural pool at the bottom of the waterfall.  The next day it was off to Palenque where we stayed at the wonderful and luxurious Chan Ka Ruinas hotel.

Upon arrival at the archeological site, following a very enjoyable visit to the site museum, we were immediately approached by an enthusiastic Lakandon youth offering to be our guide to the site.  We took him up on his offer and did in fact see some trails through the jungle that I doubt we would have seen without him.

After a very enjoyable night at the Chan Ka we were off on a beautiful seven-hour drive to Puerto de Veracruz.  Veracruz has always been one of my favorite Mexican states, not only due to its spectacular natural and quite diverse natural beauty exemplified by the Olmec wet lands and Tuxtla Mountains in the south, tropical highlands surrounding Xapala and beautiful and tranquil pristine gulf coast beaches of the Costa Esmeralda, but also because of its wonderfully friendly people known as Jarochos.

Puerto de Veracruz is infused with Mexican history. It is near where Cortez landed to begin his conquest of the Aztec Empire and the site of innumerable dramatic events in the history of Mexico, including the attempt by Spain to reconquer Mexico after independence, the arrival of Maximilian and Carlota on May 28, 1864 to begin their very tragic Mexican reign, the short-lived occupation by the U.S. Navy in 1914 and the presence of Constitutionalist and future Mexican President Venustiano Carranzo during the Mexican Revolution.

Today, the port is booming with development, especially the construction of luxury residential high rises in nearby Boca del Rio.   We enjoyed a badly needed three-night rest at the newly renovated Hotel Emporio where we relaxed in a very luxurious room on the corner of the sixth floor overlooking the Plaza de Venustiano Carranza and the city center.

A beautiful new museum has recently been dedicated to the history of the Mexican Navy from pre-Columbian times to the present.  One very interesting display at the museum was the history of Mexico’s entry into World War II on the side of the Allies on May 28, 1942 as a result of the sinking by a German submarine of a Mexican oil tanker, the Portrero del Llano, which was on its way to deliver oil to the U.S.

From Veracruz we were off to visit my partner Lucio’s wonderful family in the highlands of the Veracruz Huasteca region.  They live in a very small village within the municipality of Castillo de Teayo, which in pre-Columbian days was an important center of Totonac culture and controlled by the Aztec’s at the time of Cortez’s arrival.  Lucio’s grandmother speaks Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.

This area is very picturesque and dedicated almost entirely to the cultivation of oranges.  Wherever you are in Mexico it is highly likely that the oranges you buy at the market are from this area, which encompasses hundreds and hundreds of square kilometers of orange groves.

Following a very pleasant visit with the family we departed for the port of Tampico where we stayed at a comfortable hotel overlooking the Plaza de las Armas and the Cathedral.  Tampico is a very pleasant place, also with a very interesting history.  There is a traditional cantina on the main square called La Sevillana that serves wonderful seafood.  We have made it a regular stop when visiting Tampico.  Among the many interesting attractions in Tampico is the old Profirian customs house which is now a museum, and the bronze statue of Humphrey Bogart in the main square where the first scene of the “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” was filmed.

Mexico is always full of surprises. Keep enjoying this country and its marvelous people. Hasta la proxima.

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Retro fit your home

houses-san-franciscoBy Senior Planet

You can plan ahead for aging on your own terms and mitigate the aging process without the loss of your personal freedom or independence.  The Boomer generation is the first to have readily accessible tools that enable smart strategies to age in place, saving tens of thousands per year in assisted living by aging safely in place.

The latest technologies like robots, the internet of things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), personal assistants, and “smart home,” security, are all designed to meet the challenges of aging.  We can handle memory, vision and hearing impairment and move from reactive to proactive with the use of AI, Data Mining and Sensors.

Want to start? Ask yourself…

  1. Are you open to learning about the many tech tools available that can make life easier?
  2. Where do you want to live your life? What feels right? Freedom is making the choice yourself, so you don’t have it made for you and end up living out your life in a place where you don’t feel you belong.
  3. How are you going to care for your mind, body and spirit if people are able to live decades longer than expected?

Technologies that can help:

  • Robotic Technology: In Ireland, Mylo the robot acts as a personal home assistant to alleviate stress and worry when living alone. Mylo can sense a fall or cardiac event, check the heart rate, locate his patient within the home and, if needed, initiate an emergency response and alert if his patient wanders.  Milo speaks a bit slower, is easier to understand and does not get irritated when the same questions are asked repeatedly.
  • Lighting: The Battery-Powered Motion-Sensing LED Stick-Anywhere Nightlight can be used on stairs, bathrooms, closets, kitchen and hallways. The Human Charger light therapy device enhances energy levels and helps you get restful, sustained sleep.
  • Automatic pill dispensers keep you on schedule for medications; there are many options available.
  • iGuardStove and FireAvert are automatic stove shut-off devices to prevent a fire or burned pan from unattended or forgotten cooking, saving lives and property.

Remember to make your environment simple and intuitive by limiting choices to increase independence and confidence. Technology allows you to stay in your own home, safe, and out of harm’s way without feeling overwhelmed when you have too many options.

Plan for and plant your seeds for your own personal self-determined harvest, before you need it. You can and should determine what is best for you today so that you won’t be dealing with unhappiness and crisis in the future.

Lisa Cini is an award-winning senior living designer, President / CEO, Mosaic Design Studio and author of The Future is Here: Senior Living Re-imagined, and Hive, which describes her family’s four generations living under the same roof in her own home. Lisa’s web site offers tech products that help seniors embrace aging and live independently.

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One of Mexico’s Best Beach Destinations Is Still Totally Overlooked by Americans

gn-gift_guide_variable_c_2xBy Megan Drillinger | Thrillist

Mazatlan is not a “rising” destination.

It’s not “off the beaten path.” And it’s absolutely nothing like what you imagine when you think “top Mexico beach town.” In fact, unless you’re from the Southwest US, Canada, or Mexico, you’re probably not thinking of Mazatlan at all. And that sucks for you.

Mazatlan is often glossed over by Americans in favor of shinier, sugary sands in Cancun, or posher digs in Los Cabos, or boho chic in Sayulita. Not a lot of Americans are going here. Their loss, frankly. Mazatlan is one of the most unique destinations in Mexico, and speaking as someone who spends more time in Mexico than anywhere else, I do not say this lightly.

It is one of the rare spots in the country that offers both historic colonial city and thriving beach capital. It’s like if San Miguel de Allende and Puerto Vallarta had a baby. Picture cobblestone streets flanked with vibrantly painted colonial houses. Leafy plazas in a crown of cafes and restaurants, whose tables spill out into the street. There are beautiful churches, a historic theater, street vendors, and murals. And just a few blocks away, picture a sprawling malecon (boardwalk), the longest in Mexico, that hugs the Pacific shoreline, lined with beach resorts and palapa’d beach bars slinging ceviche and frosty Pacifico beers. It’s all right here in one, neat little Mexican microcosmic package.

Ok, so where is Mazatlan, exactly?

Mazatlan is a port city on the coast of the western state of Sinaloa. (Erm, yes. That Sinaloa. But more on that later.) If you had really, really strong binoculars you could look across the water from Mazatlan and see Los Cabos in the distance. It’s basically right at the point where the Pacific Ocean becomes the Sea of Cortez.

And speaking of the Pacific, bet you didn’t know that the Pacifico brewery was founded here. And not by Mexicans. Pacifico is actually German, founded by a family of immigrants in the mid-19th century. In fact, there’s a long history of German settlement in Mazatlan. They brought with them their traditional Bavarian folk music, which evolved over time to become what we know as “banda.” If you’re staying at one of the beach hotels in the popular Golden Zone, keep an ear out for the steady “oompa-pa” of the omnipresent beach tuba player. I’ll repeat. Beach. Tuba. Player.

Don’t worry — you’ll be safe in Mazatlan

Okay, real talk for a second, because I know you’re all wondering about the Sinaloa safety factor. Even if you know nothing about Mexico, chances are you know the name Sinaloa. And if you don’t know Sinaloa, perhaps you know the name El Chapo. Sinaloa is the state home to one of the most notorious cartels in Mexico, and while El Chapo is in prison the cartel still very much exists.

That said, you’re going to be absolutely fine in Mazatlan. I cannot stress this enough, so let me repeat: You will be safe in Mazatlan. While other cities in the state, like the capital Culiacan, may be a little more precarious, Mazatlan remains an oasis of safety and one of the friendliest places around. Still, keep a smart head on your shoulders. Don’t go looking for cocaine and/or meth. But that’s honestly just good life advice no matter which country you’re visiting, cartels or no.

Everything you need to do in Mazatlan — including the best beaches

Before you do anything, go to a baseball game. Obviously.

But then you’re probably going to want to go to the beach. Keep in mind this is Pacific Mexico, so don’t expect the sugar-colored sand of the Yucatan Peninsula. Sand here is a lot more, well, sand-colored.

Start with Playa Sabalo, which is a great relaxation beach at the northern end of the Golden Zone. You’ll also find Playa Gaviotas and Playa Camaron. These are also along the Golden Zone, but the energy is completely different from Playa Sabalo. Gaviotas and Camaron are where you’re going to go if you want a quintessential Mexican beach party, with beach bars, live music, and energy that keeps going after sunset.

One of the best-kept secrets of Mazatlan is Stone Island. First, it’s not really an island, but you do need to take a boat to get there. It’s a beach area to the south of the Port of Mazatlan, and it feels like it’s another world away. The wide, sweeping beach extends for miles, backed by hilly jungle and a sweeping view unencumbered by development. There are a few small hotels here, and many outdoor restaurants perfect for a cold beer, a fish taco, or a shrimp cocktail.

But you don’t have to be a beach bum to make the most out of Mazatlan. That’s the beauty of it. Maybe you want to take a food tour or a cooking class — Tomatl is a great one, created by a local Mazatleca, who has tours devoted to street food, or one specifically centered around tacos, mezcal, and beer.

Mazatlan is also surrounded by several “Pueblos Magicos,” or Magic Towns of Mexico, which are villages that are government-recognized for their historic charm. Near Mazatlan you’ll find three: El Rosario, El Quelite, and Cosala. What you’re doing here is very much throwing it back to the old school Sinaloan way of life. Meander the tiny streets lined with colorful buildings, dip in and out of the churches, stop at a panaderia and pick up a delicious cake or cookie. Life slows way, way down in these outer villages, and they definitely offer the best glimpses of the way things used to be.

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How to live your golden years and not just survive them

Middle aged couple counting coins into jarBy Nataly Mayne | AMAR Association

Before we actually dive into this topic, I want the following phrase to be on every readers mind: It is never too late. Whether you’re on your 30’s, 40’s or already into your golden years, you can always start working on whatever you need to make your life more enjoyable, especially as retirement gets closer. As some people say, you have to stay ready so that you don’t have to get ready.

People always talk about being financially responsible and independent, and while that is specifically important as one ages, we want to take into account all things that you want to be prepared for as the years go by. Retirement may seem like years away, or maybe not, but being ready for it and all the things that it entails, it’s extremely important as it can decide how much you will enjoy this phase of life.

In an interview for The New Times, businesswoman and 53-year-old Agnes Mukarutabana, mentions that one of the most important things to keep in mind is that you want to start planning as soon as you can. “Do the most important things now, when you are young and energetic” (Kantengwa, 2019). She also mentions the importance of setting apart part of your check as savings for your retirement, and that it is never too early to start doing it. As she wisely advices, traveling or treating yourself is okay but should not stand between you and getting ready for retirement.

And now that we covered money, we can discuss something that can be equally important but that not many people talk about: physical and mental health. Going “old” and losing your strength is one of peoples’ worst fears, however, it can be prevented. Taking care of your health since early stages is also important here. Alphonse Semuhungu, a general practitioner, mentions that keeping a healthy lifestyle since your young adult years all the way into your 40’s is strongly related to health risks further down the line (Kantengwa, 2019).

On the other side of the physical health, we have mental health: retired teacher, John Munyangeri, mentions a very important key piece, which is to retire to something, not just from something (Kantengwa, 2019). As nice as it sounds to have full free days, finally being able to wake up late and maybe cut down on coffee, for some people, not having a work to report to, it can be depressing. Making sure you continue with hobbies or social engagement is very important in order to make sure you enjoy all this free time.

As a last point, we would like to emphasize the importance of social engagement. This is relevant for folks going into their golden years, but also for younger people with relatives or loved ones aging. Making sure to keep company around and being socially active is key as a part of aging, as reports show that loneliness can actually affect one’s memory, physical well-being and life expectancy (Immanuel, 2019).

Sort of like playing Jenga, it is important to look at all the angles and making sure we’re covering every base when it comes to taking care of ourselves, or even preparing ourselves, for our golden age. That includes financially, mentally and physically!

The New Wave of Senior Housing

Places to gather and abundant daylight are essential for senior living projects. Kendal on Hudson, north of New York City, offers residents a range of services. Kendal facilities forge ties with the surrounding communities, fostering social engagement. The project is by DiMella Shaffer (Photo: Robert Benson Photography)By Peter Fabris | Pro Builder

Since the 1950s, the Baby Boom generation has had a big impact on building: a flurry of elementary and secondary schools in the 1950s to serve a glut of post-war youngsters; colleges ramping up capacity as those school kids approached adulthood; more suburban homes when Boomers settled down with families. Now it’s time to consider housing this generation in its senior years, and developers and builders are stepping up.

But Boomers are inspiring a design reboot of senior living, by staying active, fit, and engaged in their communities as they age. New senior living designs address these aspirations and support independence for as long as possible.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that the 65-plus population will reach 78 million in 2035, a jump of more than 31 million from 2015. One in five Americans and one in three households will be over age 65 in 2035. “This dramatic shift in the age distribution of the U.S. population will drive up demand for a variety of housing options,” according to the 2017 State of the Nation’s Housing report by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. Not all Boomers will opt to live in dedicated senior housing, but most who do will expect much in amenities, services, activities, and creature comforts.

Indeed, senior housing built just a couple of decades ago may already seem outdated. Such was the case at some facilities in the Kendal System, a group of retirement communities in the Northeast and Midwest, before recent renovations were carried out. “Some of our properties are 20 to 25 years old,” says Stephen Bailey, SVP for new business and development at The Kendal Corporation. Some of the health centers had a more institutional feel when they were built, he notes. “We’re now making them more homelike and enabling aging in place in the least-restrictive possible environments.”

Health and Wellness

Staying fit is a priority for this generation of seniors, and many seek more than the standard physical routines to promote wellness.

“They look at health holistically,” says Leslie Moldow, principal at planning and design firm Perkins Eastman. Wellness aspects such as diet, mindfulness, social engagement, and opportunities to give back to the community all make for a healthier person, many Boomers believe. Housing design and programming that supports these practices will make for the most successful developments, Moldow says.

Kendal communities offer common spaces dedicated to activities such as yoga and tai chi. Some senior housing developments support wellness activities with office space for social workers and fitness coaches, notes architect Philippe Saad, associate principal at architecture firm DiMella Shaffer.

A recent project in Needham, Mass., for Wingate Healthcare, for instance, includes health exam space for nurse practitioners and visiting physicians. The room is equipped with an exam table and basic medical instruments, such as blood pressure monitors. “It includes a waiting room and charting area for medical professionals to work,” says David Feldman, VP of real estate for Wingate Healthcare. “They don’t have to go to individuals’ apartments to see patients.” It’s a more efficient arrangement that still allows for patient privacy.

In many senior living facilities, the restaurant area is an important gathering place. At One Wingate Way, in Needham, Mass., an independent living facility by The Architectural Team, the bistro and outdoor patio are linked to the adjacent assisted living project.

In many senior living facilities, the restaurant area is an important gathering place. At One Wingate Way, in Needham, Mass., an independent living facility by The Architectural Team, the bistro and outdoor patio are linked to the adjacent assisted living project. (Photo: Courtesy The Architectural Team)

Connection and Community

In the hierarchy of wellness factors, social engagement is as important as physical well-being. “The World Health Organization has listed loneliness as a major health issue,” Moldow points out. Enabling residents to form new friendships within a senior living development, and to engage with people from the outside, are core values for developers.

Many turn to local assets to enrich residents’ lives. Kendal’s communities near Oberlin College in Ohio and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire have formed strong ties with the institutions. Professors give lectures in Kendal’s library or theater spaces—known as Gathering Rooms—while some residents who were professors once themselves, or have expertise in a particular field, sometimes teach classes for fellow residents.

The layout of Kendal’s common areas is intended to provide comfortable spaces for lectures and other events and to allow for maximum opportunity for informal socializing. Gathering Rooms are typically centrally located so that those in the assisted living area can easily get to events.

“Our most utilized space is the bistro,” Feldman says of One Wingate Way, one of Wingate’s four Needham, Mass., sites. The centrally located space hosts continental breakfast, all-day coffee, and a happy hour daily. Located next to residents’ mailboxes and an outdoor patio outfitted with furniture, the bistro is a hub. Residents can grab coffee and a newspaper and sit with friends or make the acquaintance of new residents. An open demonstration kitchen brings a social aspect to food prep. The development’s programming staff invites local chefs to prepare meals in the kitchen, and residents can observe and ask questions.

To foster more opportunities for chance meetings, new developments eliminate long hallways in common areas. Open spaces with long sight lines enabling residents to see people coming and going from one area to the next are the norm. “We define spaces with columns, soffits, or flooring details,” Feldman says. Large windows reduce line-of-sight barriers between outdoors and indoors.

The desire for connectivity in common spaces and circulation areas prompted one developer to use elevation between floors to link a lounge area with the dining space below, says Andrew Stebbins, senior project manager at the firm The Architectural Team, in the Boston area, which worked on the One Wingate Way project. The double-height space allows residents in the lounge to see diners below. It’s not the most cost-efficient allocation of space, he concedes, but it highlights the importance of connectivity between common areas.

Benfield Farms Senior Housing An hour north of Boston Photo: Robert Benson PhotographyAn hour northwest of Boston, Benfield Farms by DiMella Shaffer is an affordable rental community for seniors that takes cues from its surrounding bucolic landscape. The project maximizes natural light, energy efficiency, and inviting common areas. (Photo: Robert Benson Photography)

Cues From the Natural World

With studies indicating that exposure to nature produces health benefits, biophilic principles—where design is inspired by nature—have great influence over aesthetics, especially in common areas. Generous fenestration is a must to bring in a lot of daylight. “One value of sunlight is that it activates production of melatonin in the body, which improves sleep,” Moldow points out. Clerestories and skylights add light to living units as well as common areas.

Because biophilic design mimics nature, some spaces—particularly lobbies and dining areas—may be configured with fractal geometric patterns common to the natural world. “This helps create variety and surprise,” Moldow notes. The overriding principle is to avoid lining up a monotonous series of rectangular spaces.

Natural materials, particularly wood and stone, bring a sense of nature indoors. Generously landscaped patio areas bring nature to the doorstep. Designers often take advantage of natural assets by adding walking trails on the grounds or footpaths to adjacent natural areas. At Paradise Valley Estates in Northern California, a hillside stream that feeds an underground cistern had been partially buried. A restoration uncovered the flowing water, creating a stream bed and a natural habitat. The area was landscaped to accommodate outdoor activities such as tai chi classes.

North Hill continuing care universal design senior housing
North Hill, a continuing care community in Needham, Mass. by DiMella Shaffer, includes motion-sensor fixtures, contrasting surfaces, hospitality-style lighting, and handles that are easy to grasp. (Photo: Robert Benson Photography)

Universal Essentials

Making life easier for those with infirmities means incorporating universal design principles to support independent living.

Bathrooms provide designers with numerous challenges. Standard tubs are a no-no. Instead, generously sized showers with zero thresholds reduce the risk of slips and falls and must offer enough space for a caregiver to assist with washing, if needed. In recent years, manufacturers have stepped up, offering handsome towel bars and shelves that double as grab bars.

Rooms must have at least a 5-foot turning radius to accommodate wheelchairs, and designers must account for this while minimizing wasted space, Saad points out. “You can install floating vanities so that the wheelchair can turn underneath,” he suggests. This strategy allows easy access to the vanity for those in wheelchairs, as well.

Doorways and hallways must be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, with minimal turns. Substituting pocket doors for swinging doors creates barrier-free design; adding stops to pocket doors can prevent fingers from getting caught in an open door. Levers instead of knobs make it easier for those with arthritis to open doors, but levers should turn in to prevent loose clothing from getting caught.

Independent living spaces have full kitchens built with electric or induction cooktops to maximize safety. “We avoid putting microwaves over stoves, so that residents don’t have to reach over a hot surface,” Saad notes.

Those are just some of the more critical aspects of universal design. There are many others that make everyday life easier, such as raising electrical outlets and boosting vanities and cabinets to reduce the need to stoop.

Assisted Living and Memory Care

There comes a time when a move to an assisted living facility may be necessary, in addition to living arrangements
that provide around-the-clock care. Some senior housing developments colocate assisted living spaces and 24-hour care on the same campus as independent living units, allowing seniors to remain in the facility as their need for services increases.

“Clients want to hold on to residents for as long as possible but must have the services to support them,” notes Anthony Vivirito, senior project manager at The Architectural Team. Where those in independent spaces and assisted living commingle, storage space for walkers and wheelchairs is important near common areas so that the devices don’t block circulation paths. Residents who have difficulty walking may be aided by staff to sit for a meal or an event and have their device retrieved for them afterward.

Design considerations for memory care are essential. Those with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can become confused while navigating their own living space, so transitions between spaces need particular attention to minimize confusion. Lighting, for example, can reduce the appearance of what seem like barriers or voids. In addition, Saad notes, “You need sharp contrast between toilets, the floor, and walls.” Darker walls with white toilets provide clear definition.

Motion-sensitive fixtures provide supplemental lighting around the living space. It’s key to reduce floor shadows, which residents with memory impairment can mistake for holes or steps. For the same reason, elaborately patterned carpeting is off-limits.

Memory care units typically have secure doors, often keypad-controlled, so residents don’t wander off. These units should have a circular pedestrian flow so that there are no dead-ends, Stebbins advises. Otherwise residents may become agitated because they feel trapped and may try to exit the area. A centrally located common area, used for various activities, often anchors memory care units.

Technology and Innovation

New technologies have great potential to support independent and assisted living, and developers have taken notice. Many new developments include technology, Saad says, noting, “The new generation of seniors is more tech-savvy.” They are more likely to use mobile tools to order their dinner or sign up for events, for example.

Hearing loops, low voltage systems that feed audio to hearing aids in an auditorium or other large space, can improve the experience for those attending lectures and performances; health monitoring devices for vital signs, blood sugar levels, and other health data are an obvious fit and could be tracked by staff. There’s debate, though, about how much monitoring is appropriate. It’s a benefits versus privacy issue, Bailey says. Should all assisted living residents have monitors that can track their whereabouts, or should that feature only apply to those in memory care?

Technological innovations will continue to affect senior living design. Saad says eye-gaze technology, which allows people to control elevators, window shades, and other features by moving their eyes, has great potential. Driverless cars could help to reduce isolation for those unable to drive.

Design for seniors—for independent and assisted living—will continue to spawn innovation because the current generation of retirees wants fuller, richer experiences. Builders that want to work in this opportunity-rich space should be mindful of this trend.

“There’s an opportunity for nonprofit senior home developers to partner with home builders,” Bailey adds. “We could learn a lot from each other.” Builders working in the for-profit sector, as well, would be wise to closely monitor design trends. After all, design in this space is as dynamic as the new generation of seniors aiming to redefine aging. PB

Hollwich Kushner rethinking senior housing Skyler

Hollwich Kushner, a forward-thinking architectural firm, envisions communities that meet our needs at any age, rethinking traditional ideas about senior housing. (Illustration: Courtesy Hollwich Kushner)

Mothers of Reinvention

In their youth, Boomers adopted what were then seen as unconventional housing options to suit their lifestyle. Some are doing the same as elders. Though a live-off-the-land commune is too ambitious for most septuagenarians, and a crash pad offers insufficient privacy, living in a close-knit community holds appeal for many seniors. The market for living arrangements that promote social engagement is growing, and some seniors are eager to try innovative options.

With families often dispersed across the country or the world, caring for aging relatives is challenging. In response, seniors are looking at ways to be near friends, whether aging in place or moving to senior-specific housing. “Choosing your surrogate family becomes more important,” says Matthias Hollwich, principal and cofounder of New York architectural firm Hollwich Kushner, and an expert on senior housing. “People are looking to form relationships with the same kind of trust and relationship you have with a family.”

NORCS (naturally occurring retirement communities)—neighborhoods that have a large proportion of residents over 60 but weren’t originally designed to meet the needs of seniors—can help fill social deficits for people who stay in their own homes. NORCs match services with seniors who need them, sponsor meetups and special events, and provide a digital forum where neighbors can ask for, and offer, help. A good organizational model is the Village to Village movement, which provides a template and advice for forming a NORC.

Sometimes NORCS go further. Morningside Gardens in Manhattan converted two adjoining co-op apartments into communal space for a NORC serving about 2,000 people. Included are a café, lectures, wellness programs, and social events. After it opened, something unexpected happened: programs began attracting younger people. “It has become an intergenerational hub, with young parents bringing their children,” says Hollwich, whose firm designed the space. “Seniors watch the children and give the parents a break. Seniors also mentor the parents. It is magical.”

Cohousing compels neighbors to form close ties. Elderberry CoHousing, consisting of 18 private townhomes with a maximum size of 1,200 square feet each, opened a few years ago near Durham, N.C. Homes are situated close together with tiny yards. Parking is prohibited near the houses to ensure that residents walk by their neighbors. Every house is required to have a front porch to further encourage frequent neighbor-to-neighbor conversations.

“You have people living cheek by jowl, and you’re committed to social interactions with the people around you,” says Karolyn Mangeot, who moved with her husband, Richard, to Elderberry in late 2016 from their nearly 4,000-square-foot home and 8-acre property in Indiana. What the Mangeots have gained is a deep sense of community that far outweighs any inconvenience of a smaller living space, Mangeot says. A shared common house equipped with laundry facilities and a large kitchen makes it easier to get by with less space in their own house. The public building also contains a guest room for any visitors to use.

Neighbors become extended family members committed to helping one another as they age. When one Elderberry resident needed rides to doctors’ appointments for lung cancer treatments, other residents stepped up. But there are some limits to what a cohousing community can do. “We realize that we may not be able to care for everybody until they die,” Mangeot says. If a resident develops severe dementia, for example, care for that individual would be beyond the scope of what the cohousing community can provide. “We would help them move to a place that has appropriate care,” she says.

New ideas. The desire for community is strong enough to prompt unusual takes on senior living. For example, a group of friends constructed Bestie Row, a tiny-home community along the Llano river outside of Austin, Texas. The plan is for the senior BFFs to help one another age in place as long as possible.

Hollwich points to a model in the Netherlands where college students are given a free room at a nursing home with the only requirement that they spend 30 hours a month interacting with senior residents. The students provide computer lessons, cook meals, watch a soccer game with their elders, or just chat. This concept helps combat social isolation and depression and provides a cost-free alternative for students who want to escape rowdy dormitories. Best of all, it pushes against the marginalization of seniors.

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