“Service-Enriched Housing”

Definition: A community for seniors that offers not only beautiful living accommodations but also services helping all residents remain independent, socially engaged, and active.

One misnomer often used to define service-enriched housing is age-in-place. That’s a downer and not completely accurate. When done right, service-enriched housing helps seniors live-in-place—not having to move if their needs change over the years.

Doctor visits are part of service-enriched housing for seniorsExamples are things like:

  • a variety of on-site dining
  • security measures
  • an urgent-care doctor practicing in the community
  • transportation to off-site destinations (near and far)
  • small sundry shops
  • postal services
  • high-speed internet
  • hobby lofts that can accommodate a wide variety of interests

A real bonus is accommodations on-site for specialized housing such as memory care or assisted living should that ever be needed. This is sometimes referred to as a Multi-Level Community.

Additionally, true service enriched housing for seniors will offer educational opportunities, group travel, an on-site consigner, beauty/barber services, and abundant recreational and exercise facilities including swimming/aqua size pools, a state-of-the art gym, sports courts, and very accessible open space. Water features are also a bonus.

Where are you happy? (Spoiler alert: probably outside)

George MacKerron

George MacKerron, Happiness Hunter

If possible, service enriched housing makes nature a basic building block of each day’s adventures. Why?

I’d like you to meet Dr. George MacKerron.

George MacKerron developed The Mappiness project. The basic idea is to capture in real time what people are doing and how it makes them feel. The way it works is, you download an app to your cell phone. The app then pings you at random times a couple of times a day and gives you a list of questions: Are you driving, doing childcare, cooking, hanging out with friends? Are you outside or inside and how are you feeling? Like, “I feel happy, not so happy.” If you would like to participate see https://www.mappinessapp.com/

mapping happiness

At the conclusion of a year, participants received their compiled data which indicated how they were spending time and which activities made them feel a certain way. The shocking conclusion? Even people who made a point of spending time outside and an effort to exercise showed very few times the app caught them doing those things. Mostly the app caught them doing things that didn’t give them much satisfaction.

One of the things uncovered by the project is that most people are not that happy when they are at work. They’re happiest when they are on vacations, with friends, making or listening to music. One of the surprising finds was that they’re also very, very happy when they are outside.

An Epidemic of Dislocation

Unfortunately, there is an epidemic of dislocation from the outdoors. Think about this: 70 percent of today’s mothers in the U.S. recalled themselves playing outdoors every day as children but only 26 percent of them say their kids play outside daily. That’s a huge change.

After school, kids used to come home, meet up with their friends, and go run around the neighborhood. Now children’s time is over-scheduled. If they are outside, it’s with adults in some organized sporting activity. Or it’s inside with homework, school projects, texting—a lot of ‘screen time’. Sadly, the same can be said about many older adults.

There is a huge problem with that. Being outdoors, especially around water, isn’t about finding peace in God or religion. It is about a more immediate connection to nature and how that spurs our spiritual imaginations–how being in more rural, natural environments made us whole as humans evolved.

Today, technology is allowing neuroscientists to take some of their measurement devices into the field. There are portable EEG units that measure brain waves away from the lab. Neuroscientists are starting to look at how people’s brains respond to different environments.

being outdoors is good for your brain - that's why service-enriched housing needs to include it

The Alpha Bit

What they’re seeing is that if their volunteers are walking through a city or noisy area, their brains are doing different things than if they are walking in a park. The frontal lobe–the part of our brain that’s hyper-engaged in modern life–deactivates a little when you are outside. Alpha waves, which indicate a calm but alert state, grow stronger.

When psychologists talk about flow, there seems to be a lot of alpha engagement there. Buddhist monks, meditators, are also great at engaging alpha waves.

Our sensory system evolved in the natural world, and when we’re in those spaces, our brains become relaxed, because these are things that we were designed to look at, hear, and smell.

The point to this? When you are considering a move to service-enriched housing, you are on the right track to happiness and independence. If you can, select this housing in an area rich with nature, waterways, and quiet*. Your evolutionary self will thank you.


*It’s not a coincidence that our own Rincon del Rio is located in such an area…namely, the beautiful foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, in the Gold Country area of Northern California.