Germ-zapping robots, living ‘pods’ and hands-free elevators: How COVID-19 has upended the future of retirement home design

The impacts of COVID-19 and worries about viruses to come are upending the seniors housing industry, particularly when it comes to safety, experts in the area say.

As a result, designers and operators of retirement homes and seniors facilities are exploring innovations and new technologies aimed at helping better protect residents.

Whether it’s new air and water purification systems, robots that zap germs, new surface materials that mitigate the spread of viruses, or living arrangements where smaller numbers of seniors are grouped together in “pods” that enable more social distancing, the rush is on to incorporate these emerging approaches, experts in the retirement and seniors living industry say.


“For decades, those engaged in planning, design and public health have focused on chronic diseases and their impact on vulnerable populations like the elderly,” says Bob Murphy, an architect and president of Murphy Partners, a firm in Toronto specializing in seniors housing.

“The repercussions of this virus, and the fear of subsequent ones, will alter every aspect of the seniors’ housing industry as we know it,” he went on to say.

Murphy says his firm, which launched in 1985 and has been involved with design work for more than 100 seniors facilities, mostly in Ontario, recently launched an in-house project dedicated to researching and analyzing best practices and concepts from around the world pertaining to accommodation and the care of seniors in the new pandemic reality.

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