When our sister magazine Environments for Aging (EFA) was launched 20 years ago, senior living design was “a subway ride” away from healthcare, as described by a member of EFA’s Editorial Advisory Board. Both sectors were still deeply institutional in nature, often designed around models that were convenient for staff rather than the patient or resident, and lacking elements that conveyed comfort and control.

So much has evolved since then. More and more new senior housing properties are based on operational models that support person-centered care, which is reflected in built environments that are more residential (at times, even hospitality-like) in nature.

This all probably sounds familiar. It certainly did to me when I spoke with the EFA board about design trends over the past two decades, part of our anniversary coverage appearing in the Fall 2017 issue of the magazine. The board shared stories of introducing elements like natural light and access to nature, listening to patients and staff in the design process, even turning to other industries like retail and corporate design to inspire new approaches. A lot of this occurred parallel to similar trends in healthcare, with patient-centered care guiding the way on this side of the coin.

It seems that senior living may still be a subway ride away from healthcare, but they’re both on new tracks with much more comfortable trains.

Many of you know this firsthand, either working across sectors yourselves or in firms that do work in both. In fact, managing the needs of seniors in healthcare isn’t a foreign concept, with the introduction of geriatric emergency departments gaining momentum to help address the massive aging population and the influx of older patients with chronic disease seeking care in EDs. But challenges remain, as Dan Cinelli, principal and executive director of Perkins Eastman, shared during our EFA discussion.

He recently visited a geriatric ED in Michigan and asked a clinician there what her biggest fear was for those patients. Her response: when they’re sent to the inpatient environment, which hasn’t been designed with seniors in mind. “We need to start taking all the things we’ve learned about all the minutiae of elder care and push that knowledge over the threshold to other healthcare architects who are now seeing a massive number of elderly people on the healthcare doorstep,” Cinelli said of the role senior living designers must serve.

As these two design sectors progress independently, it’s important to remember where they converge. It may be time to ask your senior living colleague to lunch or visit a local community to ensure that all the healthcare spaces we build are supportive and safe, for everyone. You might also consider checking out EFA to dig more deeply into the mindset (you can find links to our most recent issue and archives at EFAmagazine.com), or attending the EFA Expo & Conference in Savannah, Ga., in April.