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Designed for Seniors: How Senior Living Communities Promote Independence and Safety as You Age

Retirement communities are designed for seniors so they can maintain their independence longer, reduce injuries, and stay safer than they would at home.

Senior living communities offer a range of lifestyle benefits such as convenient services and amenities, maintenance-free residences, and health services. But another key benefit to consider is safety. Senior living communities are designed with the safety of older adults in mind — and many of those safety measures also help residents maintain independence.

Is It Safe to Age in Place?
Many older adults want to stay in their current residence as they age. And while that may be comfortable and familiar, it may not be the safest option for aging in place. The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University (JCHS) says that only 1% of American homes have five basic universal design features that make a home accessible, and therefore safer, for seniors: single-floor living, extra wide hallways and doorways, no-step entry, electric controls reachable from a wheelchair, and lever-style handles on faucets and doors.

A different JCHS study found that in 2017, 24% of homeowners ages 65-80+ had to undertake at least one home project to improve accessibility. And home modifications for accessibility and fall prevention can be costly.

Communities Are Designed for Seniors
There are state and national standards, codes and guidelines that apply to the design and building of senior living communities. These include:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act that addresses accessibility issues.
  • The Facility Guidelines Institute that provides guidance on the planning, design and construction of skilled nursing and assisted living.
  • The International Building Code that is used by building inspectors.
  • The National Fire Protection Association that guides fire officials with the Life Safety Code.

These types of guidelines help ensure a senior living community offers several types of safety benefits for residents.

Physical Safety. When you visit a senior living community, you’ll see a number of safety features throughout the residences and campus.

  • To minimize the risk of falls, you’ll see things like flat thresholds, ramps, hallway handrails, wider halls, low- or no-entry walk-in showers, grab bars in bathrooms, and good lighting. These features allow those with mobility or vision issues to move around more safely — which lets them maintain independence for longer.
  • Many communities offer 24/7 security, and some are gated to provide an extra measure of safety and peace of mind.
  • Emergency call systems can be found in residences, as well as public restrooms, making it easy to call for assistance. Some communities offer personal emergency call devices so residents can seek help no matter where they are.
  • To help protect memory care residents, those wings or facilities have secure doors and private outdoor areas to keep residents from wandering and getting lost.
  • Residents of assisted living and memory care can get professional help dressing, bathing and transferring, which helps prevent falls and injuries.

Emergency Preparedness. Senior living communities have protocols in place in case of a natural disaster, infectious illness outbreak, fire or other emergency. Most states have emergency preparedness guidelines for all types of senior living communities — from independent living to assisted living, memory care and continuing care retirement communities. They should cover:

  • Risk assessment and emergency planning
  • Communication plans
  • Training and testing

You can read more about emergency preparedness here: How Senior Living Communities Prepare for Emergencies.

Access to Care. As a resident in a community, you have easy access to a variety of health services if you ever need them. And that means whether you have a simple cold or a serious medical issue, you can get help much faster than you could if you still lived in a house.

  • Many communities have wellness clinics where you can get regular blood pressure checks and checkups, or see a nurse if you’re not feeling well.
  • A variety of health service professionals such as RNs, LPNs, CNAs and physicians are typically available to meet your health needs.
  • Life Plan Communities offer a full continuum of on-site care.

Your safety and security are important. So as you explore your senior living options, be sure to factor them into your decision-making process. Two tips can help you do that: 1) Assess your current residence’s safety with this checklist. And 2) when you visit a community near you, ask about their safety features and protocols. Doing both will help you make a decision that gives you and your family peace of mind.

Where You Live Matters is powered by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), a respected voice in the senior housing industry. ASHA primarily focuses on legislative and regulatory advocacy, research, and educational opportunities and networking for senior living executives, so they can better understand the needs of older adults across the country.

Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University
Journal of the American Institute of Architects
A Place for Mom