John O'Connor illustration
McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor
John O'Connor
John O’Connor

Senior living certainly has come a long way in the past four decades or so. But in some ways, the really big stuff probably hasn’t happened yet.

To get an idea of what senior living might look like 40 years into the future, it helps to think about luminaries like Steve Jobs. Or Charles Darwin. Or Albert Einstein.

Each was a visionary in his own right. Jobs, for example, redefined computing and reshaped the music industry. Darwin’s theory of biological evolution forever altered the way life is seen and understood. All Einstein did was change how we perceive the universe.

Of those visionaries, it might be said there was a clear demarcation — a “before” and “after” — based on what they revealed and its subsequent impact.

So what connection does this have with senior living? Perhaps not much. Then again, maybe something quite profound.

But let’s establish some context first. Up until now, progress in senior living has leaned more toward gradual evolution than radical revolution. For decades, operators have tweaked and upgraded their offerings to provide residents with better care and comfort. And to be sure, many laudable advancements have been achieved. Not the least of which are some pretty amazing improvements in memory care for the oldest among us.

It’s important to acknowledge the many innovators and leaders who have greatly contributed to senior living’s overall march forward. The intent here is not to downplay their accomplishments in any way.

Nevertheless, what senior living really needs is the emergence of a visionary who doesn’t just change the game, but wraps it in a new and better reality.  

From my limited perch, that person has not yet revealed her or himself. But she or he just might be out there. And perhaps the great reveal is just a matter of time. If/when that person does arise, I think we will see a profound shift in this field; one that fundamentally alters how we consider care and services for the aged among us.

When this visionary figure does eventually step forward, we can expect a seismic shift in senior living. It will be one that fundamentally changes how we approach the business of providing care and services to the aged among us.

And that day cannot get here soon enough.

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s Senior Living and its sister media brands, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, which focuses on skilled nursing, and McKnight’s Home Care. Read more of his columns here.