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Modern senior living: homes of the future, worries of the present

April 9, 2011 |  6:00 am

The future of senior living -- design, real estate pitfalls, technology -- is the subject of a Home section package in the Saturday print edition of The Times. Among the stories:

Modern design: Retirement communities often rely on a traditional look to create environs that feel familiar and comforting. But rather than reference the past, a design and development team behind a proposed community called Boom in Rancho Mirage is pointing squarely at the future. Ten firms contributed their visions for what modern senior living might look like at Boom, including this rendering from Diller Scofidio & Renfro. The result is an interesting exercise in dreaming about the perfect retirement home. Read the article or check out the 20-image gallery.

Buyers, beware: Financial difficulties at some senior care communities have created a new set of worries for prospective residents and family members trying to ensure their safety and happiness. At some high-end communities, large up-front fees that residents thought were refundable have been lost in bankruptcy. And at more modestly priced, family-run board-and-care homes, a foreclosure can mean all residents are forced to vacate. Writer Rosemary McClure has the full story.

Staying in touch: In an era when extended families are often spread across state lines, companies are developing technologies to help adult children more easily monitor an aging parent from afar. Family Health Network, part of a technology incubator near Durham, N.C., has developed a touch-screen computer system that guides older people living on their own through a series of daily questions, along the lines of “How are you feeling?” and “Have you taken your medications this morning?” By simply touching buttons on a simplified display, answers can be recorded and relayed to family members as reassurance that the loved one is safe. The program can incorporate email, shared calendars for monitoring appointments and shared photo albums for reducing feelings of isolation. The system also can be set up to handle video calls. The touch screen system was one of several advances cited by Majd Alwan, vice president for the Center for Aging Services Technology at Leading Age, a nonprofit group formerly known as the American Assn. of Homes and Services for the Aging.

Monitoring from a distance: WellAware Systems in Glen Allen, Va., has developed a way of embedding motion sensors in homes so caregivers can infer the activities of daily living. The system includes a bed sensor that can alert loved ones if Mom is getting up nine times every night, or if Dad got out of bed at 2 a.m. but never returned, perhaps because of a fall. Or motion sensors might note an unexpected lack of movement in the home all morning -- perhaps another sign of a potential problem.

For readers of McClure's article who would like additional resources of information, keep reading ...


Many websites advertise assistance in senior housing searches, but some of these sites are for-profit operations and it’s wise to stay away from them. Because quality varies widely, it pays to do your homework and visit several facilities before making a move.

Nursing homes are monitored the most closely by the government, and several websites can simplify a choice. One example: Medicare’s Nursing-Home-Compare Web portal.

Other sources:

Medicare’s Nursing Home Checklist

California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, (800) 474-1116  (guide to 7,000 facilities in California)

California Assn. of Health Facilities

Los Angeles Department of Aging, (800) 510-2020

Council on Aging, Orange County, (714) 479-0107

State of California Department of Social Services, Community Care Licensing Division, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties, (818) 596-4334; Orange County, (714) 703-2840; Riverside and San Bernardino counties, (951) 782-4207


Home may be where the heart is, but it’s not always the most practical place to spend your golden years.
Here are some common categories for senior housing and what the terms mean:

Age-restricted communities: These developments, also called “active adult” or “55+” communities, weed out the youngsters and focus on recreation, such as golf and tennis. There’s usually a mix of housing, including townhomes, apartments and single-family homes. But if a grandchild needs to move in for a while, you may have problems.

Senior apartments: Also restricted to older adults, senior apartments are sometimes aimed at low-income residents. They may have accessible features; higher-end developments may offer transportation, recreation and other services.

Continuing-care retirement communities, or CCRCs: These facilities, often high-end, are made up of independent living homes and offer a spectrum of social and recreational activities. But they also advertise assisted living and nursing care; residents who encounter health issues can remain in the community and get an increasing level of assistance as its needed.

Assisted living: These facilities range from board-and-care homes that house only a few people to large communities that may serve more than 100 residents. The goal is to help people stay as independent as possible while offering necessary help, such as meals, personal care and medication management.

Nursing homes: Skilled nursing care provides a higher level of help with basic daily activities and might include, for example, the administering of injections. Some facilities have doctors on staff, but most assistance is provided by nursing assistants.

-- Rosemary McClure