HEALTHTAC West Panel: Cher is 77, the ‘Friends’ Cast is 60 — Are We Ready?

SAN ANTONIO, TX — The fifth of our six panels at the recent 2023 HEALTHTAC West conference at the La Cantera Resort & Spa had a rather attention-grabbing title: Cher is 77, the ‘Friends’ Cast is 60 — Are We Ready? Moderated by Reid Bonner, founder & president of Senior By Design, this panel explored several aspects of senior living design.

Bonner began by connecting interiors with emotions. “When you walked into this hotel,” he asked, “how did you feel? Because interiors can make you feel.”

“More important than anything,” added panelist Chris Hoard, president/chief development officer at Distinctive Living Development, “you said the word ‘emotion’ and I’m just going to throw in the word ‘connection.’ We have to create spaces that allow true connections. And I think John [Kotsatos of Meadowood] mentioned it yesterday morning: This is all about the family, and what we need to do is create spaces that will allow those connections and family members to have a moment.”

From there the topic segued to another important aspect of design: flexibility.

“Baby boomers,” said Andy Wade, president/principal at Traditions Management, “may be looking for themselves or maybe [they’re] an adult child of a loved one — what are their expectations? Many of those things push us into amenities and spaces that are more active adult … it does require a lot of flexibility.”

NexCore Group’s Senior Vice President Design Innovation, Steve Christoff, changed the direction of the conversation when he said “the problem with senior communities is they’re senior communities. Real communities aren’t senior communities — they’re real communities with a spectrum of lives that share and experience together. And that brings vibrancy, and a story and connectivity and richness to the experience … I don’t think that the ‘Friends’ cast wants to go live in a senior community. That would be my take. I think Joey would be pissed off, I think Chan Chan would be out of there, and god knows Phoebe would never even show up, for sure. I think we’ve got to think differently, about how do our communities exist inside of the fabric in a way that is unique and special? There’s great mixed-use developments happening. We need to be in front of that, informing the land developers on how we exist inside of these spaces, and how we want to exist and how restaurants and retail and schools and real community functions work around us.”

As for how people exist inside of those spaces, Bonner offered a fun idea: “The boomers that are coming, the majority of those women get Botox. I mean, I don’t know what I would look like without Botox — it would be frightening. Maybe have Botox in our spas. That’s what’s coming. Why not have this sourcing? Why not have these cooler coffee shops, these experiences that are really cool?”

“I think that’s exactly right,” said Tiffany Cobern, director of senior housing operations at MedCore Partners. “We’re trying to replicate more of the relatability factor for boomers that mimic what they currently do, where they spend their money, how they like to socialize. So now we’re designing merch space in our communities, we’re designing lead-in spaces to dining areas that make them feel like they can hang out there, like the ‘Friends’ cast would have done in that coffee shop … that is exactly where senior living design is headed. You want to meet them at their point of need, but also at their point of preference.”

And, Cobern added, the best way to find out residents’ point of preference is to ask them.

“It’s one thing to stay informed about what spaces are becoming more desirable for baby boomers and what spaces are going to be flexible for utilization and programming, but one of the things that I think we have to do as an industry is intentionally seek out our own organic focus groups of existing residents that live in one of our assets or one of our communities, and sit down with them and say, ‘If we designed this again, what did we miss? What would you like to see?’ As an owner/developer, I don’t even get going on the design aspect with architects until we have those conversations with existing residents.”

Hoard agreed. “At the end of the day, it’s all about them and their families. I think many of us were at the Active Adult [conference] in Dallas earlier this year — one of my favorite parts of that whole conference was the very last session because we had residents and we got to hear their feedback … and they don’t want to not entertain, they don’t want to let go of family. So, we’re designing our resident rooms [with] a little bit smaller bedroom because they’re not going to be there very much, they want that living room space, they want to have Sally come over, they want to have Bob come over.”

“I think we’re at a point in the near future in design,” said Christoff, “where we’re going to have incredibly difficult choices, because we’re going to have so much information about preferences — we’re going to be in overload mode. This information will tell us a lot, but ‘place’ should always be the center of design. And ‘place,’ what I mean by that, is where do you sit, where do you have conversation? Not, ‘What’s the room called?’ Forget about that. That’s not what you’re creating, you’re creating a place to be and how to be … I’m excited to be in this career field and be with all of you today and get to know your perspectives. The future is really, really bright for the boomers and beyond.”

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Jim Nelson Jim Nelson
Editor

Jim Nelson is the Editor at Senior Living News, an online trade publication featuring curated news and exclusive feature stories on changes, trends, and thought leaders in the senior living industry. He has been a writer and editor for 30+ years, including several years as an editor and managing editor. Jim covers the senior living sector for SeniorLivingNews.com, distributes its e-newsletter, and moderates panel discussions for the company’s HEALTHTAC events.