Ben Mandelbaum

Today’s American seniors are used to living in a world that caters to them. All their lives, they’ve been able to purchase exactly what they needed, when they needed it, and they expect similar accommodations as they move into the later years of their lives. Better yet, they have a larger discretionary income than any previous generation, which means that they have the means to pay for the services they want.

Each day, more than 10,000 individuals hit the age of 65. These baby boomers are redefining the face of senior living every day with their improved definition of life after retirement.

The healthcare and social assistance sectors are now among the largest in the United States, and thanks to baby boomers reaching retirement age, the number of physicians needed for elderly care likely will double or triple in the coming years. These changes are expected to significantly alter senior services and care for generations to come.

For years, baby boomers have denied that they are going to get old. Now, the defiant generation finally is thinking about the future — especially where and how to live.

Senior Planning Services, a New Jersey-based Medicaid planning company, would like to present some of its finding on the various senior living industries and the expected effects of this generation of retirees.

Assisted living and skilled nursing

With so many more seniors in America, the demand for high-quality assisted living and skilled nursing never has been greater. For today’s senior, the move to a senior living community isn’t about medical necessity; it’s about a choice of lifestyle.

Many assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities now make it their aim to appeal to this new generation of seniors, adding amenities and programs that appeal to different lifestyles or that accommodate a wider range of hobbies and activities. Currently, nursing homes are funded primarily by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, but shifts in policy indicate that more residents will be paying for their own care, just as most independent living and assisted living residents do — meaning that the nursing homes have to be able to measure up.

Baby boomers can’t be offered a one-size-fits-all solution. The baby boom generation invented the idea of mass customization, and that’s what its members are looking for in an assisted living community or SNF. They’re expected to begin critically assessing senior living and nursing homes, lobbying for improved services and care — and more privacy. In nursing homes, for instance, experts assert, boomers will demand availability and responsiveness from physicians and insist on having a psychiatrist on staff to watch for signs of depression. In addition, many will emphasize integrated recreation with qualified counselors and activities that stimulate the mind and body. In short, baby boomers are looking for high-quality services and care that fit all of their needs, and they won’t settle for less.

Continuing care retirement / life plan communities

Thanks to the changing trends and new needs of baby boomers, continuing care retirement / life plan communities are considering how to redefine their services for the future.

Baby boomers have an overall mindset of “I’m too young to live in a place like this.” To change this mindset, senior living leaders, led by LeadingAge and Mather LifeWays, rebranded this type of community. The previously established term CCRC emphasized “care” and “retirement.” These terms don’t resonate well for most boomers. After months of deliberation, “life plan community” emerged almost a year ago as the new category name for CCRC. The change, it is hoped, will improve the overall perception and speak to the current needs of today’s seniors.

The benefits and luxuries often seen at life plan communities — full-size gyms, trained chefs who have studied at top cooking schools, numerous activities, interiors that have been decorated by professionals — are designed to provide independence and all the amenities and social activities that baby boomers could ask for while still leaving them with the security that assisted living and nursing home care will be available if it is needed.

Outside of life plan communities, many multimillion dollar independent living communities have been built to accommodate the wants and needs of the new generation of seniors. This group tends to embrace an active retirement, with many boomers planning a move to age-focused communities while they can still enjoy themselves, instead of waiting until a move is medically necessary. Today’s 55-and-older communities feature everything from entertainment areas with video games and computers to state-of-the-art gyms with personal trainers and activities such as age-modified Zumba and belly-dancing classes.

Aging in place

More and more seniors are choosing to age in place, remaining at home (wherever home is, including independent and assisted living apartments) as long as they are physically able to do so. In their minds, aging in place allows for more freedom, safety and comfort while promoting healing, giving aging adults continuing control over their own lives, and creating a healthier and happier lifestyle. The senior can remain in his or her existing community and reduce fears that independence is being lost.

The aging-in-place movement has opened up a variety of needs and services. Single-family homes often must be redesigned to accommodate seniors’ increased health needs. They need technology and medical services that consider both their needs and their wants. Those include accommodations for in-home caregiving, principles of green building, and eliminating preconceptions that aging in place needs to be like living in a hospital.

Of course, independent and assisted living apartments designed with older adults in mind are built with necessary features or are built in a way that more easily can accommodate features that residents may desire. Those could include grab bars, which now are aesthetically pleasing and designed to serve as towel racks until they’re needed; personal video and music devices that allow each user to listen at a volume that works for him or her instead of blasting everyone in the space; task lighting in the kitchen and motion lighting at the entry that help improve sight clarity and safety; longer-lasting light bulbs that don’t need to be changed as often and frequently have better output; and video cameras at the entry and throughout the space, which can be used to monitor occupants and visitors.

Many other “silver industries” also have arisen: certified aging-in place specialists, geriatric care managers, senior relocation specialists, senior concierge services, home healthcare agencies and a vast array of technology services. As technology improves, many individuals predict more services steadily being offered to allow seniors to remain at home even longer.

It’s an exciting time for the senior living industry. Investors are keeping a close watch on the emerging trends, as are baby boomers themselves. They have access to a vast amount of information online, and they’re taking advantage of it to acquire the services that they want and need for themselves. Everyone, from seniors to senior housing investors and senior care providers, is paying close attention to see what will develop next.

Ben Mandelbaum is chief operating officer of LTC Consulting Services and Senior Planning Services, with offices in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

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