Today we live in a rapidly aging society. The shift in the population pyramid means that traditional healthcare systems need to be reimagined in order to efficiently support an increasing senior population. This added pressure on healthcare is significant--the number of older adults in the US alone requiring long-term healthcare support is set to increase from 15 million to 27 million by 2050. By partnering with designers, healthcare providers can create valuable responses to address these growing needs.
One building typology that expresses this designer-provider partnership are centers for healthy living (CHL). CHLs help to bridge the gap between the senior living and healthcare sectors, and go beyond simple clinic or exercise spaces. Taking a more holistic approach, they seek to become accessible destinations for programs that nurture wellness while providing a sense of place and community.
In a new downloadable report, Perkins Eastman have explored this typology in great depth by investigating existing CHLs. Through spatial and market research, case studies and user surveys, their findings identify strategies for improving upon the CHL model in the future. Read on for our summary of their discoveries.
1. Address wellness holistically
Wellness has varied definitions and approaches--the report identifies eight dimensions of wellness in particular: emotional, environmental, intellectual, physical, occupational, spiritual, social and financial. In their research, the Perkins Eastman team found that there was more focus on the physical and social dimensions than the others. For a CHL to fully provide for their users, its physical environment and programs/service need to address all dimensions of wellness with equal thought.
2. Focus on a transition from illness to wellness
CHLs are more than clinical facilities, and so should focus on education and prevention rather than just treatment. Most of this is down to the user experience with the space and services.
Spatially, environments should be inviting, with clear wayfinding and plenty of natural light. Co-location of amenities is also a chance to increase interaction. For example, by placing therapy and general fitness gyms next to each other, rehab patients are familiarized with the facility and are more likely to continue gym use even after finishing physical therapy. Circulation is another design opportunity, with accessible and appealing stairs or ramps encouraging users to move from floor to floor without relying on elevators.
As for services, research found that users are looking for variety. Programs and services should offer personal, individualized options that address physical fitness, nutrition, clinical, counselling, education, social, recreational, spiritual or self-reflective, and volunteer opportunities.
3. Respond to, and work with, different sectors of the market
Long-term sustainability of the CHL itself is also important. This can be further broken down to economic, social, and environmental sustainability. To ensure this, an ear should constantly be kept out for new findings developments across multiple sectors. This convergence of ideas from healthcare, hospitality, senior living, sustainable building and market research can create a wellness that starts from the built environment itself.
4. Design flexibly
This point also relates to long-term sustainability. As technology and lifestyles change, so too will the needs and requirements of the new generations aging into the user group. Therefore, spaces can’t afford to be functionally restrictive, especially when existing CHLs are already noting a lack of space (the average floor space of CHLs studied was 36,776 square feet, or 3,400 square meters). The report points out however, that flexibility does not automatically mean a one-size-fits-all environment, and that such spaces are often unable to support any one function well.
5. Partnerships, plug, play
As mentioned earlier, the range of services provided by a CHL vary across different fields. By partnering with outside industry providers, the quality of services and programs can be increased while encouraging ties with the surrounding community. Furthermore, because of the many components of a CHL, it could also physically pair up with other buildings. As a base that could be "plugged into," a CHL could share its facilities with hospitals, hotels, housing developments or even universities. Along with sharing resources, this “plug and play” approach would also help create intergenerational interactions between the different groups of users.