The senior living industry must focus on innovation and “much-needed change” if it is to attract more residents and cultivate new revenue streams, according to a new issue brief from the American Seniors Housing Association.

The industry is valued at more than $250 billion, according to ASHA.

The brief, ASHA President David Schless said, “thoughtfully challenges the status quo and provides practical guidance for the industry to improve and ultimately increase market share.” The organization plans to start conversations and take additional action based on the recommendations contained in the document, written by Meredith Oppenheim.

“Industry trends suggest we must rethink what we do and how we do it with a sense of urgency,” said Oppenheim, who came to the task with more than 20 years of experience in senior living, including time at Sunrise Senior Living and Ventas, among other organizations.

Some of the areas where senior living companies can improve, according to the brief:

  • Attracting younger residents. Currently, Oppenheim wrote, “young seniors neither know what the senior housing industry offers nor have the time or interest to figure it out. They are too busy maintaining very active lifestyles traveling, pursuing interests and spending time with multiple generations of their families.” Also, she said, they perceive current senior housing residents as “mentally or physically less capable.”
  • Serving current residents and attracting more of their peers. “At a time when residents are inclined to do less, the industry needs to be the catalyst that gives them reason, desire and support to do more,” according to the brief.
  • Addressing higher-acuity needs. Seventy-five percent of Americans aged more than 65 years have multiple chronic conditions, according to ASHA. “If the industry was more proactive, it might increase its market penetration rate of only 11% of people 80 and older,” Oppenheim wrote, adding that having more physicians on staff would be appealing to adult children of prospective residents.
  • Using technology. “The industry needs to leverage technology in a way that significantly enhances resident care, improves contact and coordination with families and healthcare providers, and does not intimidate users,” Oppenheim wrote.
  • Communicating and showing compassion with residents and their families. Oppenheim shared the story of a resident who was taken to a hospital and while there did not see or hear from anyone from the senior living community, including to coordinate her return to the community. When the resident returned, staff members did not inquire as to her well-being or the needs of the resident or family, according to Oppenheim. Instead, they told her that she would need an around-the-clock companion if she remained there with medical equipment, placing the family in an unexpected situation.
  • Managing reputation and risk. “The industry can control how we define and deliver to the highest standards” by, for instance, developing communities in locations that are safe for residents and working to prevent elder abuse.

The special issue brief, “A New Look at an Aging Industry,” is available at no cost to members in ASHA’s online bookstore.