Not Just Yet: A Boomer’s Take on Senior Living

September 21, 2018

Last month in this space StudioSIX5 Interior Designer and R&D Coordinator Lauren Tines wrote about how she, as a millennial, came to design for Senior Living. It was a good piece and conveyed how passionate our firm and our team members are about improving the lives of seniors. I want to give you another perspective.

I am a Baby Boomer.

I grew up listening to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Elton John and Joni Mitchell. I got my first career position in 1980, in Little Rock. I later worked for architectural and engineering firms in Houston, New York and now here at StudioSIX5.

My father’s family is long-lived; my grandmother lived to be 98 and died in 1999. She spent the last year or so of her life in a nursing home in North Little Rock. The place was depressing—completely institutional in design, drab concrete block walls painted a pastel green, vinyl tile floors, venetian blinds on the windows, no view to speak of, and smelly. My heart ached when I’d go to visit her, and I could tell that she, bedridden, was miserable.

My mother died of Alzheimer’s in 2009. She began to suffer from its effects 10 years earlier, and my dad took care of her at home as long as he was physically able. When he realized that if she fell, he wouldn’t be able to pick her up, we moved her to a nursing home where she lived the last eight months of her life. Though still institutional, it was much improved over the one my grandmother had been in and had a parklike setting with views of trees and birds.

My father, who is now 93, just recently decided to give up his house and move into an independent living community. Though the community is not as nice as a StudioSIX5-designed one, it is clean and functional with plenty of interaction among the residents and two meals included per day. It’s near restaurants and shopping and churches. I’m glad that senior living has progressed so far in the last 20 years.

Many of the latest developments in senior living are intended to appeal to Baby Boomers. We have designed the interiors of dozens of Active Adult communities all over the U.S. These are age-restricted (55 and above), with stunning design, fitness centers and areas for socializing. They are located in dense, urban settings where residents can walk to restaurants and shopping. And they’ve become quite popular.

But here’s the thing: people are living longer and are in better health at a given age than ever before. So instead of moving into an active adult community at 55, they’re moving in at 70 or 75. The oldest Baby Boomers are just now turning 72. So even though 10,000 people turn 70 in the U.S. every day, it’ll be a few more years before Boomers start filling up assisted living communities.

The more likely role Boomers play in today’s senior living is helping their parents find a suitable community. And studies show that seniors who live in communities—where they can socialize—tend to live longer than people who tough it out alone in their homes.

At StudioSIX5, we value the lives of our seniors and all the contributions they have made and continue to make. My father is a member of the Greatest Generation, who grew up in the Great Depression and fought as a B-17 navigator in World War II, flying 20 missions over Germany before the war ended. Later, he went to college on the GI Bill and became an architect. Over his long career, he designed scores of schools, churches, community buildings and banks. In his sixties, he moved to New York and managed the Specifications Unit at the New York City School Construction Authority until his retirement. In between, he raised a family and was a leader in his community and in his church. As you might imagine, he has stories to tell.

We never lose sight of the fact that any resident of our communities is someone’s mother, wife, sister or grandmother, or father, husband, brother or grandfather. All deserve to be cherished for their contributions, and to live in all the comfort and dignity and respect we who follow can muster for them. They have stories to tell. We should listen.

Jonathan Blackwood
Principal, Communications Director