In senior living communities, the inclusion of spaces and programs allowing different generations to interact is a growing trend and can give owners and operators an edge in a competitive market.

And yet, while few would argue against the benefits of mixing and mingling people of all ages, the United States hasn’t explored that sentiment in senior housing models to the degree that other cultures have worldwide.

It’s a situation that some in this industry are eager to change. But is everyone?

Representatives from SAGE (Society for the Advancement of Gerontological Environments), AIA Design for Aging, and The Center for Health Design created a joint task force to find out.


Led by senior living developer Craig Witz, principal at Witz Company (Madison, Wis.), the five-member team included Addie Abushousheh, organizational and environmental gerontologist and research associate for The Center for Health Design (Murrieta, Calif.); Greg Hunteman, principal at Pi Architects (Austin, Texas); JinHwa (Gina) Paradowicz, associate principal at Perkins Eastman (Chicago); and Lisa Warnock, principal at Glow Interior Designs LLC (Portland, Ore.).

The task force drafted a survey and distributed it to architects, designers, developers, operators, and residents to gauge interest and gather ideas for the future of intergenerational living. Their findings, which were presented during a packed session at the 2024 EFA Conference + Expo in Atlanta in April, offer plenty of food for thought.

“Going into this,” Witz says, “I had talked to some developers who had no interest in the topic of intergenerational senior living. I’d talked with some architects who speak a good game, but don’t follow through on actually incorporating intergenerational concepts. I was worried the survey was going to be a bust. But I was overwhelmed by the response.”

Survey data

Nearly 500 participants completed the survey: 56 percent female/44 percent male, from ages 22 to 89 (with an average age of 57). Almost half were designers and architects, and 74 percent of all respondents have worked in senior living for at least 10 years.

When asked if they believe that designing for intergenerational living should be a priority, 95 percent of survey participants responded yes.

Perhaps more importantly, respondents provided 2,700 comments to flesh out their thinking and offer a clearer picture of the opportunities and challenges ahead.

“I was blown away by the participation,” Abushousheh says. “There was passion about this topic that reminded me of the discussions we were having around household models two decades ago.”

Wish lists for intergenerational design in senior living

Pulling from the survey responses, the task force outlined the top 10 benefits of intergenerational design and programming in senior living, which include socialization and reduced isolation; improved health outcomes; lifelong learning; and breaking down stigmas of aging.

“Housing segregated by age [is] just as misguided as housing segregated for any other reason—and [it’s] not for me,” wrote one respondent, an 89-year-old retired architect. “Intergenerational housing has great appeal for me, as long as it balances the need for privacy and companionship.”

Survey participants shared their visions for ideal intergenerational approaches, which the task force distilled into 12 key concepts (see “Visions for an Intergenerational Future,” at end of article). The task force also described some existing and planned projects that demonstrate different concepts in action, including:

  • Kampung Admiralty: This “vertical village” in Singapore opened in 2017 and offers a fully integrated intergenerational model.
  • The Spires at Berry College: The 400,000-square-foot continuing care retirement community (CCRC) built on a university campus in Rome, Ga., employs students and hosts programs to support interaction between residents and their younger neighbors.
  • Oak Health Club: Launched by AARP, the concept in Loudoun County, Va., includes a wellness and fitness program, café/juice bar, spa services, and more, supporting both older adults and the broader community.

Additional intergenerational projects can be found in this EFA round-up here.

Pushback on intergenerational design in senior living

Seniors-only housing has its defenders, and comments from the 5 percent of survey respondents who said no to prioritizing intergenerational design explain why. “Certainly, including space for family members and the younger generation is extremely important, but sometimes too many distractions (people or large areas) can be too much for someone suffering from dementia,” pointed out one participant.

Added another: “Current multigenerational environments are still too noisy and move too fast. … People must remember that gerontology is a specialty area, like pediatrics or child development, and that the more physically or mentally fit do not own America.”

Among the top 10 concerns about intergenerational design and programming, the task force identified such issues as safety and security, lifestyle and noise differences, health and infection control, and staffing and operational complexity.

Task force member Paradowicz recognizes the objections and says, “This isn’t meant to please everybody. It’s more about creating options for those who are looking to age in a community with more variety. It’s about having more choices.”

Leading developers, operators to embrace new concepts

Other top 10 concerns raised by the survey—legal, regulatory, and funding hurdles—can feel particularly daunting to developers and operators, Hunteman adds. “This is a little out of the box,” he says, “and owners are more comfortable with what they know. So we’re trying to create some proof of concepts to provide examples of successful projects. Our goal is to show people how they can do it.”

The task force has taken an initial stab at that goal with the release of its Intergenerational Roadmap, a summary of ideas and approaches that communities can consider as they figure out how much they want to embrace the concept. The roadmap includes both physical space considerations and programming/operational elements.

“You absolutely need both. I see people trying to incorporate intergenerational programs operationally, but they’re doing it within traditional senior living design,” Hunteman says. “It just doesn’t work.”

Next steps for task force

The task force will continue to spread the word about the survey findings through additional industry presentations. It hopes to enlist support from other organizations and individuals, developing more data on existing intergenerational programs, expanding the Intergenerational Roadmap, and following up with additional surveys.

The response from participants and EFA session attendees has created some momentum. “People were super-fired up about this discussion,” Warnock says. “So now we’re trying to think of ways we can open it up so that others can continue to propel it forward.

“People are really hungry to be part of it,” she continues. “They want to be part of the movement.”

For more information about the task force and its future initiatives, contact Craig Witz at craigw@witzonline.net.

Kristin D. Zeit is a contributing editor at Environments for Aging magazine and can be reached at kristinzeit@gmail.com.

12 Key Concepts for an Intergenerational Future

The survey asked participants to describe their ideas for incorporating intergenerational design and programming into future communities. The task force combed through the responses and then distilled them into the following key concepts:

  1. A new approach. A shift toward a more integrated, inclusive approach to senior living that values community connections, lifelong learning, and intergenerational engagement as central to the well-being of seniors.
  2. Intergenerational engagement and integrated community living. Designing inclusive, multigenerational living spaces with shared educational, cultural, and recreational activities that encourage interaction and support between seniors and younger generations and that break down ageism, encourage socialization across generations, and celebrate cultural diversity.
  3. Health and wellness focus. Prioritizing physical and mental health through fitness programs, nutritious dining, and outdoor activities that serve both the senior community and the general public and are inviting to all ages.
  4. Technology and connectivity. Leveraging technology to enhance communication, promote digital literacy among seniors, and ensure seniors remain connected with society.
  5. Active, purposeful, and meaningful living. Providing opportunities for seniors to contribute to the community—e.g., volunteering, continued employment, and active participation in community events—to maintain a sense of purpose and reduce the risk of isolation.
  6. Accessibility and universal design. Ensuring all community spaces are accessible and adaptable to the needs of individuals as they age, with a focus on mobility and safety.
  7. Educational partnerships and shared learning. There is a strong desire for collaborations with educational institutions, from grade schools to universities, providing mutual learning/lifelong learning and mentorship opportunities.
  8. Integrating childcare with senior care. Many envision combining daycare or preschools with senior living facilities to encourage daily interaction across generations.
  9. Integration with the larger community. Incorporation of mixed-use development concepts and designing senior living spaces as integral parts of larger communities, close to essential services (healthcare, shopping, etc.), family, and public amenities and transportation, providing opportunities for seniors to interact with people of all ages.
  10. Affordable and flexible housing. Providing diverse housing options that cater to different financial needs and can adapt to changing health and mobility requirements.
  11. Socialization and reducing ageism. Breaking down stereotypes and stigma associated with aging by promoting socialization between seniors and younger individuals.
  12. Sustainable living. Promoting environmentally conscious community designs that are vibrant, with green spaces and sustainable practices.—KZ

 

Source: SAGE-AIA Design for Aging Joint Intergenerational Task Force