Genuine Care Means Genuine Connections

By Mike Kolejka

Isolation in Senior Living communities can become a real and scary common danger to growing older. 28% of Americans over 65 years and older live alone. Applying that statistic to yourself, imagine going through life and spending your last years isolated in a room with no incentives to make or seek out connections with others.

It’s important for us as people to realize and be aware of the potential isolations as we age, and look out for the care of others that are close to us.

Social Isolation is caused by a number of factors and can develop when living at home with a lack of communication. With that loss of contact and communication, residents begin to feel closed off from others. Getting together with others, social isolation can still be a self-perception of being alone even when one is in the company of other people. Even though you’re with others, people can still feel isolated because they’re losing close and genuine connections. Ultimately, these feelings can be created or fostered from life events like retirement, death of a close one, health problems, or even reduced income.

 Fortunately, there are many ways to combat and help with social isolation. Cornell did research on the subject and found that “Social integration, the opposite of social isolation, has been found to be generally beneficial to health across adulthood and into old age”. So with social integration, participation in a wide range of relationships and activities is key to combating social isolation. Our grandparent’s bingo nights are bringing way more to them than a chance at the cash pot. Bingo players are gaining social connections, becoming more mentally and physically healthier, and they get to talk to others about family, the community, and things that are most important to them.

Bingo night isn’t the only activity to combat isolation with. Cornell also found that “Older adults who volunteer their time, actively participate in family experiences, make new friends and retain old ones are far less likely to experience depression, develop health problems and will most likely practice good mental and physical health habits because of the interaction with others”. With these social interactions and being truly integrated within their community, this creates a large amount of close and genuine connections that help us all feel greatly cared for.

Combating this issue starts at the beginning of design.

Design can greatly foster or reduce social isolation within senior living communities.

Lets start with the aspects of environments that can have a negative effect on Social Isolation. Sterile, double corridors of rooms foster a feeling of being disconnected from the rest of the community. If you’re in a hotel, do you feel like you’d like to get to know your neighbor? Inside the rooms, oversized rooms lead to a lack of motivation to leave the room and socialize with others. If a facility has more than half of its space devoted to private rooms, where is the inclination to go to a social space? A lack of windows or outdoor environments can ultimately leave people without rich visual connections.

Facilities have shifted from room spaces to a design focused on facilitating interactions between all. They’re focused on larger amenity spaces, producing connections to the outdoors, and getting people out of their rooms and into their communities.

Projects are being designed with central common spaces where rooms have easy access and often times, need to be passed through to get to places, creating environments of common social integration. At Sarah’s place, we moved amenities out of the rooms and created personal social areas that connect to the core gathering spaces. This fosters a sense of interaction and has been a sort of “porch space” just outside of their personal rooms. Similar design approaches were also taken at Grandview Terrace’s memory care household as well as all of our firm’s State Veteran Homes by creating similar 10-12 bed households. These designs feel less like nursing or memory care institutions and more like large residential homes.

Common Amenities are being emphasized throughout design. Amenities such as lounges, dining venues, activity rooms, TV lounges, and the most popular, sports bars, are being enjoyed to a greater degree and giving residents areas to socialize and enjoy a libation (or two) to keep them interacting and enjoying the company of their fellow neighbors.

This emphasis on common areas helps keep residents out of their rooms and socializing as much as possible. The greater the social interaction, the better quality of life the residents have. Their mental and physical well being is vastly improved and their satisfaction with staff greatly increases as well. In the coming years, we all might find ourselves in senior living communities. I’m not sure about you, but the care we receive should be everything we deserve. The community we’ll spend years within should be getting us all outside of our rooms connecting us to the beauty of life and the company of eachother.