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“There are so many parties!”
That’s how executive director Beth Kuhlman describes the vibe inside The Waters of Excelsior, a senior community that opened in November.
The space was intentionally designed to serve three distinct generations. There’s the Greatest Generation, over age 90, who face complex health issues and tend to prefer home-cooked meals, traditional spaces, and calmer activities. Then there’s the Silent Generation, hard workers who grew up in the midst of war and the Great Depression—they lived cautiously, saved diligently, and have preferences all their own. On the horizon is the Baby Boomers—the “silver tsunami,” as Kuhlman and her team jokingly call it—who are living longer than seniors before them and want an entirely different retirement experience. The Waters—like countless other senior communities springing up coast to coast—is trying to get ahead of that curve.
“We’re going from homestyle meals to sushi and happy hours. How we’re building and what we’re offering is all changing,” says Kuhlman. Her company operates 11 communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Ditching the drab aesthetics that most people associate with nursing homes of decades past, The Waters designs spaces with intentionality and a lot of research—incorporating lighting, activities, health and self-care services, and décor that all foster aging adults’ wellbeing long-term.
Yes, there’s nursing care. Physical and occupational therapy are available on site, with a big-picture goal of fewer hospital admissions and (when a resident has a major health issue) faster returns home. The team takes a proactive approach to health, though, and it’s noticeable from the moment you walk in the front door.
There are floor-to-ceiling windows and a high-tech lighting system that mimics nature and encourages healthy circadian rhythms. That means better sleep and better sharpness during the day, but it also addresses health issues that are common in seniors, like degenerative eye and cognition issues. Memory-centered diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia can cause “sundowning,” where people get confused about the time of day, and it’s often exacerbated by dim or non-natural interior light.
“There are a lot of reasons for correct, bright, natural light, and preventing those issues is easier and better than calming a resident down later,” Kuhlman explains. When lights must be used, they’re high-efficiency LEDs instead of fluorescent.
Beyond the physical accommodations, The Waters’ signature Purpose programming is designed to engage residents and build community. Rise-n-Thrive morning exercise classes focus on flexibility, strength and balance, while t’ai chi, walking club, yoga and more round out the physical training options. There are social hours, cooking classes, off-site excursions, book clubs and dances. Waters Academy features classes taught by credentialed professors. There are art classes and local serving opportunities. And residents have access to common spaces and reservable party rooms.
“While [residents] are here, we want them to be as independent as they can be. And that goes beyond physical health,” Kuhlman says. “We want to honor and encourage personal choice in every aspect of daily life.”