55+ Housing

Senior Living in Transition: What’s Next?

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In all industries, change in the market over time is inevitable. Thriving as change occurs requires having a clear vision of the future and taking action to reposition, reimagine or redesign products and services to meet new market demands.

Senior living is an industry that has been experiencing significant changes over the last decade resulting from shifting demographics, new technology and the ACA’s transformation of the health care delivery system. The senior living market, which has been evolving during this time, has now reached a tipping point and is poised for disruption.

Disruption often comes from outside an industry; from those who see opportunity in a changing market and are not wedded to the status quo. They will initiate a product development process that includes market research to test assumptions, clarify customer values, identify unmet needs and determine the new features and benefits that will generate demand.

Many senior living developers and operators have become entrenched in existing business models that can be quite lucrative, even while serving a small (10%) segment of the growing older adult market. Taking a wait and see attitude will likely result in new industry leaders emerging who attract a larger segment of the market to their products and services.

For those interested in riding the aging wave as a developer, operator or service delivery partner, change is bringing new opportunities with the potential for significant financial rewards. A 2013 Brooks Adams research study of consumer trends reveals that 76% of adults 50+ are likely to move to some type of older adult community in the future. The industry, with its current senior housing and service models, is likely leaving more then 60% of the market on the table.

Opportunities have never been greater to re-envision current product and service models and expand the role the senior living industry can play going forward. There is great interest in finding solutions for the growing number of older adults who are unable to afford the options currently available. There are partnership opportunities with health care systems, multi-family housing developers, mixed-use developments, retail center developments, technology companies and more, for those who understand the direction these changes are taking the market and who hold a long-term vision.

For some time now the industry has been asking itself “what’s next”. It’s now time for the industry to ask that question of the market! Rather than the usual industry research that focuses on what future customers like or don’t like about current offerings, what’s needed is to listen to this new generation of older adults express their aspirations for this time of life and describe the kind of community environments and experiences that would interest and even excite them.

It takes a village to serve older adults and their families, many of whom lack the financial resources required for the existing senior housing and care options. It’s time to explore how that village might be created through partnerships with health care systems, insurance companies, real estate development, retail centers, technology companies, academia and more. Through partnerships the industry can leverage its services and expertise creating new customers and revenue streams.

Senior living is going to be HUGE. It’s time for the senior living industry to join with others and begin working to create a new vision of the future, one that is wanted and needed by so many.

Lifestyle Trends for a New Generation of Older Adults

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A new generation of older adults has arrived and started to turn previous images of aging into stereotypes from a bygone era.  Gloria Steinem (78), Jane Fonda (75) Paul McCartney (69) and Mick Jagger (68) are all vibrant, engaged and pretty hip folks. They are also members of the “Silent Generation” that started a cultural revolution later embraced and made mainstream by the larger Baby Boom generation.  Now that both these groups have entered older adulthood we are poised for another cultural revolution.  Once again they are bringing new attitudes, interests, values and expectations to the lifestyle they aspire to in the next stage of their lives; a stage that is now likely to last some 25 to 30 years. This time their slogan might be, “don’t trust anyone under 50”.

Here are some emerging lifestyle trends that provide clues to the environments and services that will attract this new generation of older adults as well as future generations to come.

Social Connection

This new generation of older adults is expressing a strong desire for community and social connections. This is a change from the rugged independence of their parents and grandparents; many of whom proudly lived alone in their homes until the end of their lives. It makes sense when you consider this generation was the first to popularized communal living. They also have significant numbers who are single and childless making them vulnerable to aging alone without the support of a spouse or children. Interest in intentional communities for older adults is on the rise.  Some focus on living with or next door to close friends in their later years.  Others are attracted to co-housing communities; reviving a movement that started in Denmark in the 70’s and now gaining momentum with older adults across the US.  However and wherever they choose to live, they want to remain a part of the surrounding community and continue to meet and engage with people of all ages.

Health & Wellbeing

For this generation energy is key; the more they feel they have the happier they will be. Aging well means maintaining the highest possible energy level and they are eager to learn what that entails.  They may not follow all the rules for healthy aging but they want to know what they are and will be attracted to environments, products and services that claim to support them in their quest. They appreciate that they must take personal responsibility for aging well. Good nutrition, physical fitness, stress management and mental stimulation are all highly valued as a means to achieving the health and well being they are striving for at this stage of life.

Supportive Services

The number of services related to dining, travel & leisure, home design and personal care expanded and flourished as this generation focused their middle years on work and family life.  This new generation of older adults is comfortable with the idea of paying others for services that add to their quality of life and will continue to do so as they age. Convenient access to services that support an active, healthy, socially connected and secure life hold particular value.  These include transportation, healthy dining and prepared food options, lifelong learning programs, gyms and trainers, concierge services, local neighborhood retail and home care. The desire for supportive services will increase with time while the budgets for many older adults become more limited.  They will look for good value along with the freedom and flexibility to pay for only what they want and need.  By customizing services and amenities to fit their financial resources, older adults maintain more control over their quality of life experience.


This is the first generation of older adults that will come into older adulthood with the experience and confidence to use technology in their daily lives. They’ve had a number of personal computers, love the iPad’s large screen, and are the fastest growing market segment on Facebook.  They are ready to engage with technology as a means of monitoring and enhancing their health, safety and quality of life as they age.  These will include: telemedicine, emergency response systems, medication management systems, social networking, health service and care coordination, to name just a few.

Long Term Care at Home

This won’t be the first generation of older adults to be in denial when it comes to their future long term care needs.  They’ve lived through the high costs and stress of their parents long term care but are still not financially or emotionally prepared for this aspect of aging. Few have the insurance or financial reserves to pay for future long term care which will be needed by one out of three men and one out of two women sometime after the age of 65.  Assisted living facilities are financially out of reach for many older adults, however, most prefer to stay at home if and when they need care. Most care giving will be provided by spouses, children, friends and neighbors.  Care needs will also be met through adult day centers, sharing of personal caregivers and the support of community volunteers.

Financial Uncertainty

Unlike their parents, this new generation of older adults enjoyed spending more than saving.  The recent downturn in the financial and housing markets, combined with the realization that they are likely to live well into their 80’s or 90’s, has left the majority of older adults uncertain about their financial future.  The result is that they will need to work more years than previously expected and many may never have the option to fully retire.  With a home as their largest asset, many will access their home equity to create the financial security they want and need.  For some this means selling and transforming the equity into a monthly income.  In this case, renting rather than home ownership will be the preferred option when they decide to downsize.

Aging in Community

It is clear this new generation of older adults is determined to stay active and engaged in their work and community as long as possible. They want to live where their preferred lifestyle is not limited or compromised as they experience the physical and financial constraints that come with age.  New Urbanism developments that offer mixed use communities for a variety of ages and incomes hold great promise for creating a new model of aging in community. By incorporating housing, retail, recreation, transportation and other services, they meet the needs and desires of new generations of older adults as well as enhance the quality of life for the surrounding community.

Aging in This Place?

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I must say that I was excited to see the results of the recent The Hartford/MIT AgeLab survey on Boomers’ future housing preferences.   According to the results released in June, 50% of adults 45 – 65 have expressed an interest in moving from their current homes for the next stage of their lives.  This is a significant change from the AARP survey results released just last year that found only 25% considering a move from their current home.  Why is this exciting? It’s not that moving out of ones home is necessarily the optimum choice for everyone as they age. What’s exciting is that a larger number of older adults have begun to think more realistically about whether or not their current home will meet their future needs and desires. It seems that Boomers may be slowly moving out of their initial stage of denial regarding the housing related changes that will be required to have an active, socially engaged and financially secure old age.  According to this survey they are thinking about their future housing needs but still don’t have a plan in place as to how this transition will actually unfold.  

 For the Boomers’ parents, “aging in place” often meant living in their current home as long as possible.  By the time they reached 80+ the family home was often the only option available outside of traditional independent and assisted living communities.  Perhaps the Boomers are taking a lesson from their parents and the fact that they will likely experience even greater longevity.  Hopefully they are learning that “aging in place” is really about living in a home and community that will support a positive aging experience for the next stage of their lives.  That may be their current home or maybe not, but the sooner they figure it out the better.

One of the keys to a successful aging in place experience is to be proactive and ask: “Can I age well in this place”?  In asking that question many factors should be considered.  These include lifestyle preferences, relationships, health status, work and financial circumstances, current home design and location. It’s not surprising that few Boomers have taken the steps to plan for this next stage of life.  After all, it’s challenging to think about life transitions and aging in particular.  It gets even more complicated when planning involves reconciling differences between couples.  In my experience this can be one of the most significant stumbling blocks of all.   Recognizing these challenges, The Hartford/MIT AgeLab partnership has put together an excellent guide to support the planning process. It’s sure to be a useful tool for many as they begin to consider how aging friendly their current living environment really is. 

Hopefully, by the time the Boomers in this study are ready to move, they’ll have many more “aging in place” housing options available to them.  Wouldn’t it be great if these options were so attractive and compelling that the only planning Boomers needed was to set a move date!

55+ Housing Trends: Doing the Math

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Doing the Math

I attended the PCBC (Pacific Coast Building Conference)  last week which is a conference sponsored by the California Building Industry Association.  The conference included a one day 50+ Housing Forum which is right up my alley. 

 The keynote speaker, Joseph Coughlin, didn’t disappoint.  He’s the Director of the MIT AgeLab which applies innovative ideas and technologies to products and services that will positively impact the aging experience. His presentation titled, “Aging Baby Boomers, Business and Future Innovations in Housing” was great.  I was particular struck by the concept he referred to as “Smart Income”.  Evidently being smart about how you spend your money is a new value in the 55+ marketplace.  It’s not that Boomers are cheap; they’re willing to buy a fancy car, luxury vacation or five star dinner.  They definitely want high quality but at a really good price.  

Applying the “Smart Income” concept to the 55+ housing market, it would seem unlikely that Boomers would be willing to pay for something today that they don’t need or want, even if they may need or want it down the road.  That’s just not going to make them feel smart.  Many of today’s senior housing communities have packaged fee structures that provide a predetermined set of services and amenities for a fixed monthly fee. Pre-paid packaged services is something that may need to be revisited if senior housing operators want to attract the next generation of older adults.  In the future, a community’s monthly fees may be measured against “Smart Income” standards.  They’re likely to want access to a wide variety of high quality services, on a pay as you go basis, at a price that can’t be beat on the open market.  Now that is smart.  What do you think?