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Forget Bingo and Shuffleboard Courts, This is What Those 55+ Want

Active adults want high-tech, high-energy communities

By Greg Hunteman

The active adult market offers seniors that are thinking about retiring the opportunity to focus on moving into a lively social community that emphasizes fun and independence while minimizing the healthcare components of other senior living project types.

In a recent report, the National Investment Center (NIC) defines active adult communities as “age-eligible, market rate, multifamily properties that are lifestyle focused.” The NIC report further states that active adult properties “appeal to a younger, healthier (i.e., no or low acuity needs) cohort of the older population seeking an option for living in a secure, maintenance-free setting with amenities and opportunities that foster socialization and shared activities with like-minded older adults.”

Focus on…a lively social community that emphasizes fun and independence while minimizing the healthcare components of other senior living project types.”

Some unique elements should be considered for an active adult community that attracts and keeps residents:

Spaces to Work 

The full retirement age is currently 67, and many older adults are staying on the job longer, taking on consultant/freelance roles, or reentering the workforce. At the same time, nearly a quarter of volunteers are aged 65 or older. From a design perspective, a business center with computers, printers, office supplies and mailing services is likely to be a popular amenity. But also consider creating a multipurpose room that can be used for videoconferences, meetings, lectures and classes. State-of-the-art internet and wifi capability should be available throughout the community, as well as things like charging stations and power outlets.

Space for Creativity and the Arts

A 2020 study demonstrated a “higher sense of purpose in life is associated with lower risk of chronic conditions and premature mortality.” When building spaces for active adults, it’s important to have rooms and areas where they can engage in activities. They will appreciate amenities such as fully equipped art and/or craft studios and workshops/garages. In buildings with small community centers, a flexible multipurpose space can be organized to accommodate a variety of activities and social gatherings. 

Varied Recreation Spaces 

Active adults won’t settle for bingo and crochet circles, or even just book clubs, to fill up their activity calendars. When designing for these residents, they need spaces and programming that are dedicated to their overall well-being and happiness, like pickleball and frequent outings. Pools are still popular, but these should be designed as part of an outdoor social setting, with shaded patio seating and outdoor kitchens for get-togethers and entertaining. 

Transportation Options

Active older adults want walkable environments and easy access to things like grocery stores, restaurants and entertainment. If you can’t build near a city center or commercial area, make sure you have adequate parking that is convenient, easy and protects against the elements. Things like bikes or cars for rent/use also are increasingly popular.

Health and Wellness

Health care is not a driver or an expectation for active adults seeking senior living. While residents may not expect – or even want – health care facilities onsite – they do want wellness amenities such as state-of-the-art fitness facilities; yoga, mindfulness and other classes and programs; outside trails and parks, pickleball and other unique spaces. Some communities have an office onsite for local home care agencies as well as larger communities providing space for telehealth or onsite exams, and efforts such as pharmacist consultations and programs about various health and wellness issues.

Safe, Secure Surroundings

Active adults want to be safe but don’t want to be reminded that they’re aging. While you may want to implement things like grab bars and railings, these should be integrated with the environment and look more like a design detail than a senior safety measure. Other safety and health features will include: voice-activated alarms and reminders; touchless faucets, elevators, energy-efficient appliances and air conditioning/heating; and state-of-the-art air filtration systems. Active adults also value family, so don’t forget space and amenities for grandchildren and pets.

The active adult is a unique – but growing – consumer market, but designing to the special needs and desires of these residents can help fill communities quickly and make them much in demand in the years ahead.

Greg Hunteman, AIA, is president of Pi Architects, an architectural firm focusing on multifamily and active adult living.