SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: The future of senior living

Maureen Wendt

Choice, control, connections and convenience. Not surprisingly, these are the top desires of older adults, based on a recent survey.

Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging derived 10 top senior living trends after surveying 600 senior living organizations, representing more than 1,000 communities in 15 states. This survey indicates that catering to the personal needs and interests of people by offering options beyond the basics, and including more comprehensive provision for in-home care, is a trend that is advised for the future.

Trends are identified to allow developers and providers to address opportunities and create innovations to help shape the future of senior living relative to services, programs, amenities and design. The ultimate goal is to create environments and lifestyles where people want to live, not where they need to live.

Based on survey results, these are the top 10 emerging senior living trends.

1. Senior living residents are choosing to "age in place." Residents will seek services and programs that will support "aging well" in place. These include home care and home health services, onsite health clinics and geriatric assessment programs.

2. Health and wellness programs and services are top priorities. According to the survey, the percentage of senior living communities offering wellness programs for residents and staff will nearly double (from 40% to 78%) in the next five years. Fitness programs, wellness coaches, spa services, aquatics, saunas and steam showers will be important features for the next generations of residents. A significant percentage of respondents are also interested in developing partnerships with health systems and fitness centers to meet the growing demands for health and wellness services.

3. Technology will be key to promoting and sustaining independent lifestyles among senior living residents. Senior living providers are developing residences equipped with advanced "smart home" technology to provide safe environments where residents may maintain a high level of self-sufficiency as they age well. Additionally, residents will expect easy access to wireless Internet throughout the community and more providers are anticipating the need to provide computer training for future residents.

4. Resident programs must focus on meaningful activities and intellectual stimulation. Resident participation in lifelong learning opportunities will continue to grow. Survey results found that three out of 10 respondents are currently in some form of partnership with colleges or universities. Within the next five years, it is projected that eight of 10 respondents will partner with academic institutions. Additionally, senior living providers are planning to significantly expand Web-based educational offerings to residents.

5. Senior living providers will provide services "beyond" their four walls. Senior living providers are going to be expanding "beyond" their four walls to offer services and programs to older adults living in their own homes. The majority of older adults live in their own homes and the trend is expected to continue as boomers age. To that end, providers are planning to expand services to community-dwelling older adults, including adult day programs, services to the home-bound, and in-home care services. Social connections are just as important to one's health, and thus programs to prevent social isolation are important for community-dwelling older adults.

6. Long-term care is transforming to support person-directed care and meaningful relationships. For senior living communities that provide the full continuum of living options, supporting the needs and preferences of residents who require long-term care is a high priority

7. Residents are demanding "customized services," driving the need for senior living providers to offer a customer-driven portfolio of services and programs. This trend indicates that senior living providers will need to focus efforts on offering "specialty" programs such as memory care, palliative or hospice programs, and rehabilitation or restorative services. Additionally, residents will expect more value for fees they pay for services, programs and amenities. As educated consumers, residents will expect senior living communities to effectively manage expenses by means such as adopting energy-efficient environments.

8. Language, perceptions and attitudes of care providers must be updated to reflect changing older adults' needs and expectations. A senior living community could have a "life coach" rather than an "activity director." The old model of an "activity director" is not going to have the right mind-set to understand and know how to treat customers with higher, more self-actualizing expectations.

9. The senior living industry may become a hotbed for job creation. With a shortage of professionals trained in gerontology and geriatrics, recruiting and retaining qualified workers will be essential. At the same time, there is potential for new service businesses and growth in areas such as home care and transportation.

10. Above all, consumers want choices and value. If there is a single phrase that sums up the future of senior living, it is "resident choice." The model of senior living has come a long way from the "we know best" view. There is no one-size-fits-all community or program. Older adults are demanding more choices, control, a redefinition of what community means, and convenience within and outside of the community. These choices include financing options and customized portfolios of services that take into account individual expectations, services and programs considered to be "added value," access to "on demand" services, and purposeful engagement in activities.

Maureen A. Wendt is president and CEO of The Dale Association, a non-profit organization that provides senior, mental health, in-home care, caregiver support services and enrichment activities for adults. For more information, call 433-1937 or visit www.daleassociation.com .

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