A majority of seniors (nearly 90 percent, according to AARP) say they want to stay in their own home for a long as possible, and there can be many financial and emotional advantages to this choice. But this decision also can ultimately lead to social isolation, especially if a spouse, partner, or long-time friends and neighbors pass away or leave the home because they require inpatient healthcare services.
While living solo doesn’t always mean that a person will become lonely, it does increase the chances of becoming isolated. Seniors who have the highest levels of loneliness and isolation more than double their odds of dying within six years (compared to seniors with the lowest levels of loneliness).
For seniors who are staying in their own home, as well as for those who decide to relocate to some type of senior living community, a primary focus, of course, is to keep people healthy and independent for as long as possible. But research shows that social interaction should also be a top priority since it is tied to both physical and mental health.
As a society, we need to explore ways to better encourage seniors to participate in volunteer programs or other activities that promote socialization. We should also consider how we can facilitate seniors’ ability to get out of the house and interact with others, such as increasing public transportation options and ride-sharing programs for seniors.
The opportunity to socialize with peers is one of the advantages of senior living communities, such as continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs, also called life plan communities). Not only do these communities offer a large group of potential friends who are in a similar place in life, they also offer numerous scheduled events and activities to residents–everything from happy hours, to cooking and fitness classes, to affinity groups that share a common hobby or interest.
So while it is a source of comfort to many CCRC residents to know that they have access to progressive care services should they need it, the physical and psychological benefits that go along with frequent socialization opportunities may be even more valuable to their long-term health. And, while there are plenty of increasing options in terms of where and how people retire, one of the best options will always be a CCRC or life plan community that provides access to health care plus numerous social connections that are increasingly important as we age.
Top-level findings in research over the last few years include:
1. The current mature market population is "transitional" -- a mixture of the Depression-era Silent Generation and early Boomers who share some values, but are very distinctive in wants, needs and behaviors.
2. Today's seniors conduct more online research prior to a move or purchase decision. Therefore, the first initial contact is not the presentation, but in fact, the Internet.
3. The popularity of homecare is increasing, something that could pose a threat to current independent and assisted living models.
4. Developers need to be cognizant of aging in place features.
5. Dietary trends include low-sodium, gluten-free, ocean-friendly and locally sourced items.
6. Concern about future generations' ability to afford a retirement community.
7. Activities must be wellness and intellectually-oriented.
8. There are mixed views on healthcare reform, and more acceptance of person-centered, alternative and holistic treatments.
9. Seniors are open to new technologies, including smartphones, tablets and computers.
Looking to the future of senior living based on various findings and drawing upon observations, research and discussions, here are just a few areas where the senior living industry will see the biggest changes in the years ahead as they strive to appeal to these newer retirees:
1. Physical design: Communities of the future will become less “cookie-cutter” in their layout. Yes, you’ll still see some large campuses being built, but smaller “boutique-style” communities, which offer a homier feel while still providing traditional CCRC services, will gain popularity. Increased outdoor spaces like trails, mini-parks, and even adult playgrounds encourage exercise and fresh air. Developers also will look to integrate more features that facilitate extended independence and aging in place.
2. Technology: Today's seniors are embracing technology like smartphones, tablets, and computers, and as a result, they do more online research prior to a move or purchase decision than previous generations of retirees. So, a strong online presence is increasingly important for selling a community to prospects. Communities also must meet this growing demand by offering residents Wi-Fi access…this is non-negotiable. Online activities like social media and FaceTime stimulate brain activity and foster inclusion and socialization (especially among residents who have mobility issues). Further, new assistive technologies are making it easier and safer for seniors to live on their own for longer. Having access to a computer and the internet allows older adults to keep up-to-date on news and current events, play brain-stimulating games, and research the latest information on topics from medical conditions to travel to healthy recipes. Email and social media sites like Facebook help seniors stay in touch with each other as well as family; in fact, over a quarter of seniors are utilizing these sites, according to Pew. Tools like Skype and Apple's FaceTime allow seniors to actually see friends and loved ones who may live far away. Highly portable tablets (like iPads) and e-books (like Kindles) are increasingly popular with the older set and can be helpful for aging eyes as a book's text is brighter and can be magnified if needed. Smartphones are a convenient way for seniors to stay connected via voice, email, or text. And more and more seniors are trading in their old flip-phones for a new smartphone. Some cutting edge seniors are cutting the cord. In millennial language that means dropping cable in exchange for services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Apple TV
3. Dining options: Retirement communities will offer increased dining options for years to come as today’s seniors find less appeal in the formal dining room found in many traditional CCRCs. Look for more flexible dining times and options like bistros or cafes, which offer lighter fare in a more casual setting. Dietary trends like vegetarian, gluten-free, and locally sourced items are also gaining popularity.
4. Healthcare: There is a growing acceptance of person-centered, alternative, and holistic treatments among this generation of retirees. To appeal to these prospective residents, communities will increasingly emphasize an empowering, active lifestyle with a variety of wellness activities. With the uncertain future of our overall healthcare system and government-run programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, it is difficult to predict the direction of care in CCRCs, but cost-containment and effectively meeting demand will surely be key considerations.
Within retirement communities, housing and lifestyle are tightly intertwined, so the most successful senior living facilities will be those that don’t simply accommodate, but rather embrace, prospects’ evolving preferences in new and innovative ways.
The choices are many and markets will define and demand various aspects of what they want as they age. The best way to create the future of senior living is simply to create it.
By: Tina McLeod, Marketing & Sales Consultant to the Senior Living Industry