Older Canadians seeking seniors housing represent an increasingly important segment of the Canadian population for developers, organizations and property managers. Not only will the number of Canadians over the age of 55 continue to increase over the next several decades, creating a growing demand for new and innovative types of seniors housing, but this group possesses characteristics that are more diverse than any previous generation of seniors. The desire to “age in place,” however, whether in the family home or in a familiar neighbourhood, seems to be a sentiment shared by most Canadians.
Developers, sponsors and property managers planning seniors housing targeted to Canada’s 55-plus population should also consider the new and emerging trends described below, which present both challenges and opportunities.
Commitment to environmental sustainability and energy efficiency
With increased competition driving the pursuit of efficiency, operators of retirement homes and long-term care facilities are looking for ways to improve the environmental sustainability of their projects while lowering their utility costs.
More diversified amenities
Older Canadians are increasingly demanding more diversified programs and amenities and service packages that offer greater independence, partly because of the changing demographic profile of seniors housing projects. Most retirement homes and other seniors housing developments today provide accommodation primarily targeting women, with programming and amenities designed around their needs. As more men enter seniors housing projects, activities need to be planned that take their needs into account.
Moreover, the generation now entering retirement is, on average, better educated and more active and healthier than previous generations of retirees. The programming that appeals to them is very different from the programming that would have appealed to their parents.
Greater emphasis on marketing and promotion
With greater competition in the marketplace, developers, sponsors and property managers are increasingly looking for more innovative ways to market and promote their accommodation. While brochures and flyers still remain important tools, operators are increasingly turning to the Internet to create awareness, especially among the adult children of seniors, who can influence the decision to move.
With the expanding range of residences and programs being offered, it is necessary to educate consumers on the choices available and dispel the image of old-fashioned seniors’ homes. Effective marketing also helps reduce the time to achieve lease-up. Finally, effective marketing in the local community, through market positioning, understanding local needs and good relations with local health professionals, helps to ensure future referrals of new residents.
More flexible, welcoming and accessible building designs
In contrast to the institutional feel that characterized many “old folks’ homes” of the past, seniors residences today offer larger suites and more common areas. Some contemporary retirement homes resemble hotels more than the nursing homes of previous generations. These buildings offer increasingly sophisticated fire and safety systems, better heating and cooling, and advanced communications and emergency response technologies. In the long-term care sector, new design standards and models are leading to the creation of friendlier, less institutional residences where the residents can better cope with their limitations and can do so with more dignity.
Buildings designed and constructed today are also more flexible than buildings in the past and can change and adapt as the market evolves. For example, movable partition walls can be adjusted for changing office and staffing requirements. Pre-installing plumbing runs to permit flexibility for shifting the unit mix, conduits for emergency response systems and automatic door openers; roughing in the future ability to install elevators; and blocking for the future installation of grab bars are also simple and relatively inexpensive steps at the construction stage. So, too, is creating room sizes, doorways and hallways that can accommodate wheelchairs and special equipment, which can be added if and when required. Thoughtful design during the initial construction stage can facilitate future retrofitting while camouflaging full accessibility, which may appear institutional to those not immediately in need. While expanding the overall floor area and adding materials may increase initial construction expenses, these pale in comparison to the cost of major renovations in the future.
Developing projects around the principles of universal design is also becoming more commonplace. Universal design, sometimes known as barrier-free building design or inclusive design, is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. The intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design recognizes that people have a range of capabilities and that the designs of buildings and tools should reflect this range. In most cases, achieving universal design entails small changes, such as lowering light switches, raising electrical outlets, installing lever door handles instead of door knobs or providing features such as adjustable closet rods or kitchen counters.
Improvements in technology, treatments and options
Continuing improvements in technologies, features and options for seniors include sophisticated resident tracking and emergency response systems, enhanced ventilation systems, anti-microbial carpets, new food preparation systems, and computer-based monitoring and communications systems. The increased use of the Internet has also led to the introduction of computers and wireless networks as standard components in the design of new residences. As well, to take into account the increased reliance on motorized scooters, developers now have to provide for scooter access, parking and recharging.
To take advantage of CMHC’s Mortgage Loan Insurance or to learn more about CMHC resources, contact Paula Gasparro, Manager, Business Development, Multi-Unit Mortgage Insurance at 416-250-2731, via e-mail at [email protected] or log on to www. cmhc.ca/mult-unit.