While we know boomer nation is going to have a huge impact on the healthcare industry and the design of its facilities, there isn’t much research available on the demographic in relation to planning, design, and construction. However, there’s plenty to discover on boomers and aging in general that can be applied to design decisions for the built environment.

For example, the Nielsen Rating Co. is well known for its television research and ratings. However, considering the buying power of boomer nation, Nielson has broadened its research to cover the generation’s retail marketing and spending trends. 

This research study was summarized in a Sept. 10, 2012, article in Advertising Age magazine. The article by Jack Neff discusses symptoms of aging that may influence the way boomers experience the environment around them. Included below are examples of the more notable findings of this research study and design takeaways.

1. Due to neural decline, boomers find it difficult to handle visual or verbal complexity:

  • Design corridors and spaces that are easy to understand and navigate
  • Use intuitive principles and features to develop a comprehensive approach to wayfinding.

2. The boomer brain tends to experience negative emotions less frequently and often filters out negative messages in general. This is due to the amygdala, an emotional center of the brain that’s more active in older people when viewing positive images. Often, healthcare interiors feature darker finishes and subdued lighting, which could be viewed negatively and therefore won’t stimulate the brain. To provide more positive images for the boomer generation, include:

  • Open spaces with plenty of natural light and bright colors
  • Artwork that’s light and easy to understand (versus abstract artwork )
  • Wayfinding that’s easy to understand and well-lit
  • Furnishings that appear light in weight and are in light/simple materials.

3. The brain is much more adaptable than we originally thought, with research showing that as you age, the brain and neurons don’t start to die as was expected:

  • Stimulate boomers with technology like registration kiosks
  • Provide options for aging in place—boomers will find it more beneficial to live at home in multigenerational settings where they can interact with all ages and a diversity of neighbors.

How do you think the built environment can be improved for Boomer Nation? Do you know of any applicable research that applies to this topic? Let me know on Twitter at @BoomerDesign and @HCDMagazine.