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Three years ago, I decided to move into a seniors’ villa complex with my two young children. I wanted a safe, quiet community that combined my values and personal interests with my professional passions. As an interior designer focused on the aging population, I felt joining this type of community would be the perfect way for me to have fun, while learning how the 60+ population lives. At the same time, I hoped my children would benefit from interacting with an older generation on a regular basis. I couldn’t have been more right. Not only have we shared a great many laughs with our neighbours, but my children have even referred to some of their activities as “cool.”

One of my favourite experiences was at our Canada 150 celebration. The majority of my neighbours participated – not only during the event (lawn bowling got a bit competitive!) but with planning, volunteering, preparing food and activities, and even dressing up. One couple, who had been together for 50 years, wore the same track suits they wore to the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. My children thought their attire was epic, demonstrating how styles always seem to come back full circle. And when my 10-year-old son joined the Arizona golf tournament, the older men really stepped up their game. We all mingled, shared memories, played games and generally celebrated life. Our connection with each other was heartfelt.

I have learned many things through this experience. Firstly, seniors want to remain at home or in their community – they want to be independent. They thrive when they are given opportunities to choose their own activities, take care of their own homes and decide what to eat and when. Their personal items, like photos, dishware and clothes, are critical to retaining or accessing memories and staying current. And they love connecting with people of ALL ages.

From a design perspective, we consider these aspects when we design a seniors’ complex or homes that allow people to age in place or community. We shouldn’t prevent risk by taking away joy or focusing solely on safety. People, including each one of us, have faced risks our whole lives. We still need to experience the seasons, get rain on our heads and snow on our tongues. We should have opportunities to feel the different textures of grass and sidewalks, not just bare hospital floors. We need to share our memories with people of all generations, from children to those in their last phase of life. When I design homes for seniors I make sure they can maintain their independence safely, while promoting growth and development through positive experiential opportunities that spark the magic of the brain.

When you think about where you want your parents to live, or where you want to live yourself as you age, what are the critical things that come to your mind?