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Keeping pace with the thriving senior living industry

The LeadingAge Annual Meeting + Expo prepares industry leaders to better serve the country’s older adult population

Every fall, senior living industry leaders and supporters from around the country gather at the LeadingAge Annual Meeting + Expo to discuss the state of the industry and make plans for better serving the country’s older adult population. LeadingAge is an organization of more than 6,000 members and partners, including nonprofit organizations, representing the entire field of aging services, with a mission to be the trusted voice for aging. The annual conference brought its comprehensive program of expo booths, educational sessions and networking events to San Diego this year. The message was clear—the challenge is to keep pace with the thriving industry.

With 600+ vendors, the trade show floor was packed with new products and service offerings. This alone demonstrates the growth and health of this market sector. From enhanced technology solutions to improved safety and security, along with products that support greater resident independence, to building finishes that address health and well-being, the exposition exemplified how businesses are rising to the challenge to meet the high expectations and demands of the evolving senior demographic.

With 170 educational sessions, the diverse attendees had numerous opportunities for professional development in their varying areas of expertise. From a design perspective, here are a few themes that emerged:

Language is important

Dr. Maggie Calkins from the IDEAS Institute discussed the importance of language when designing environments to support individuals with dementia. Based on a survey of industry participants, she offered the following definitions of a household and a neighborhood:

    • A household has not more than 16 residents, and 12 or less is preferred. It contains a functional kitchen that residents can access, as well as a dining room, living room and laundry area. The front door opens to a living and dining room. The space lacks visible institutional icons such as a nursing station and med cart.
    • A neighborhood is a group of discrete households that offer larger, more public social spaces found in a traditional neighborhood, such as a coffee shop, beauty salon, store, restaurant, bookstore or library, chapel or large meeting hall. A neighborhood is not just a large house.
    • Calkins also discussed the importance of a care model based on a “self-directed, relationship-based life,” which places the emphasis of control with the resident.

The topic of language is under consideration by the State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) as they seek to clarify how each provider defines household, neighborhood, memory support, etc. This Health Care Built Environment Assisted Living Subcommittee initiative will help simplify communication with the State of Wisconsin and assure seamless communication among all industry supporters.

Change is upon us

A consistent point of discussion throughout the conference was the importance of embracing change and coming to the realization that it is inevitable. Many senior living communities have an established history—for some, that means several decades—so change may not be easy. Regardless, in order to keep pace with the industry, remain competitive and thrive, communities must embrace change. Awareness and education can help ease transitions, so a first step may be to attend a local LeadingAge event in Wisconsin.

Environments designed for an older adult population are complex

One senior living community such as The Gardens of Sun City can function as a living environment, a work environment, a healing environment and a place that promotes play (Live, Work, Heal, Play). When considering the inevitable change discussion, above, it is important to examine these multiple dimensions of a community. A wholistic view is necessary.

If you are looking for a senior facility, you may visit their website and see what kind of environment and services they can offer you.

An understanding of precedents is important

The design for aging field is constantly changing and it is important to learn from each other. What works and what does not? An understanding of contemporary senior environments can enrich communities and open the doors to possible changes to improve the quality of life of residents, staff and family members. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Design For Aging Review (DFAR) session highlighted the winners from the 2019 competition and discussed trends and innovation. The book has not been released yet, but here is the link to the eleven Merit and Special Recognition award recipients’ profiles: Design For Aging Review 15th Edition.

In addition to the trade show and educational sessions, numerous networking events provided the opportunity to connect with colleagues and thought leaders to continue discussing the future of the industry. For those unable to attend the national conference, these valuable conversations and connections can start locally with LeadingAge Wisconsin as well as with local members of Society for the Advancement of Gerontological Environments (SAGE). The Milwaukee-area senior living industry reiterates the national theme of thriving and presents an opportunity for many businesses to keep pace with better serving Wisconsin’s older adult population. You may check out sites like for additional guidance.

Visit AG Insights to learn more about the senior living, multifamily and mixed-use trends being explored by AG Architecture.


LeadingAge Annual Meeting + Expo
LeadingAge Wisconsin
Society for the Advancement of Gerontological Environments (SAGE) 

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Andrew Alden is a Senior Associate at AG Architecture, an architectural engineering firm committed to the design of innovative senior living, trendsetting multifamily and modern mixed use environments. Alden brings over 20 years of experience and an extensive resume that includes a diverse portfolio of award-winning senior focused project work. He is a strong believer in the value of linking research and practice. He teaches, conducts post occupancy evaluations, publishes articles and presents at conferences. As a future-focused thought leader he supports industry organizations, such as the Society for the Advancement of Gerontological Environments (SAGE), American Society of Aging (ASA), Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA) and Gerontological Society of America (GSA).

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