The nation’s baby boomers are at the forefront of redefining the world around them-from social and political change to health care. By force of numbers alone, baby boomers will almost certainly have a dramatic effect on senior living communities. The nearly 10,000 individuals turning 65 each day have a range of expectations that are considerably broader than their parents’, requiring traditional religious and community-based models to develop new plans and programs to meet their needs.
Above all, boomers want customizable care. Perched on the front stoop of senior living, baby boomers are looking for something far more personalized than the generation before them. When considering communities, baby boomers want to be able to pick and choose from a variety of entrance-fee options and service packages. One size will not fit all.
Accordingly, the business model for senior living communities is swiftly evolving to offer flexible living and care plans, ranging from the original full-service life care contract-in which increased care does not mean increased pay-to a pay-as-you-go residency contract. Each variation lets the individual or couple entering the community select a contract best suited to their health condition or financial wherewithal, reducing the risk of overutilization of services.
A promise of future long-term care, assisted living or dementia care will also become important to baby boomers. By combining the various levels of health care within one community setting, residents can plan for all contingencies and have the support available for each transition in life.
"Choice" is the keyword. Baby boomers also are looking for a lifestyle far more exciting, challenging and rewarding than their parents’. For many, it is a chance to finally do exactly what they’ve always dreamed of-whether it’s travel, painting or going back to school-while maintaining a lifestyle similar to what they’ve left behind. That means amenities such as state-of-the-art appliances, wireless technology and walk-in closets, as well as access to a la carte, resort-style amenities such as 24/7 security, concierge service, housekeeping and laundry services. Seniors also will want a group-driven design that allows for the creation of caring, busy neighborhoods and networks-a village without walls.
And because boomers do not want to be tied to a specific schedule or regimen, senior living communities must adapt as the cruise line industry did recently. Baby boomers will not want to have dinner at a set time each day, and they certainly do not want to be limited in what they eat. Dining models need to accommodate these preferences by offering residents a variety of options throughout the day-from restaurant dining and fast and casual options like cafes and bars to in-apartment dining.
Many senior living communities also are partnering with universities to attract boomers interested in lifelong learning, so they can offer educational opportunities ranging from online classes and live lectures to new concepts of on- or near-campus living. Others are expanding their healthy living and wellness programs by introducing new and popular activities such as hiking, Zumba and cooking classes, as well as cultural awareness activities through regular trips to museums and musicals.
It is nearly impossible to clearly define or label such a diverse group of people, but diversity is one of their greatest assets and strengths. At 78 million strong, baby boomers have the ability to greatly influence the senior living community business, just as they drove trends in rock ‘n’ roll, the workforce and politics, to name just a few. Unlike their parents and preceding generations, baby boomers will spend retirement in specialized communities that combine flexible plans with recreation, culture and education.
Daniel Katz is the president and CEO of Jewish Senior Life.
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