While planned programming holds its own merit in developing relationships at affordable senior living communities, one industry professional believe that seniors may feel the most at home making organic connections based on their own interests.
In exploration of this topic, Jane Sloss, project manager at Worn Jerabek Wiltse Architects, interviewed 19 residents of several affordable senior living communities about their homes. And recently, these findings were shared at the 2021 Environments for Aging Expo & Conference, August 28-31, in the session “This is Home: Making Home in Affordable Senior Living Communities.”
“The premise of the study was to explore the idea of home—not necessarily the physical idea of home, but more the ethereal idea of home, what feels like home,” Sloss said. “I think there’s tremendous opportunity and value in helping people to think intentionally about their homes and how the places we live can feel more like home,” she said. “In order to unlock that opportunity, we must meet residents where they feel most comfortable.”
What Defines Home for Seniors?
Throughout Sloss’s interviews, residents weighed on the successes and missteps their communities have had in transforming the shared accommodations into a place more like home. As an example, Sloss explained how Heritage Woods of Minooka in Minooka, Ill., enabled a resident who was a lifelong gardener, to continue her hobby.
“Dreama told me that working in the dirt makes her feel at home,” Sloss explained. “She uses a mobility device, so an accessible raised planter allowed her to maintain her green thumb. She was able to not only plant and grow zucchini, but also bake zucchini bread, from her harvest, and share it with other residents.”
Meanwhile, another interviewee, David, a resident of Heritage Woods of Gurnee in Gurnee, Ill., told Sloss that music was a big part of his life. “David’s friend Richard brings his CD player to the community living room on Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays and plays music. A group of residents gather and sing along with the music that he plays. David describes the gathering as having a ‘real good family atmosphere,’ which makes him feel at home,” she said.
Ron, who had lived in the basement of a house before moving to Heritage Woods of Gurnee about a year ago, told Sloss that he doesn’t spend very much time in his apartment. “Ron mentioned the generous entry lobby of the building as a place that he likes to spend time,” she said. “The lobby serves as gathering place and community living room for residents. It’s a place where residents can see who’s coming and going and meet and greet one another.”
The Kitchen as a Defining Space
Amidst all the successes, however, one challenge many residents shared was being able to foster a sense of home through cooking and sharing food. Since resident rooms in many affordable communities only contain a kitchenette, meals are often served in a communal dining room.
It was an opportunity to expand the way in which residents cooking and sharing food way to be viewed. “Is there an opportunity to modify the design of kitchenettes within the units or to expand the opportunities for residents to cook outside of their apartments?,” Sloss asked. “Given the desire to cook and share food, perhaps communities could include shared family kitchens into the design of affordable communities.”
Another version of this article originally appeared in Environments for Aging.