Senior living needs to consider providing elements of the consumer experience to remain relevant, Eric George, M.D., founder and CEO of ERG Enterprises and an entrepreneur, wrote Monday in an article for Forbes.

“Many assisted living centers still resemble traditional clinical settings,” he said. In doing so, George added, they are failing to meet consumer expectations.

The pandemic and the evolution of consumer expectations over the past 20 years — largely driven by the baby boomers, now aged to 56 to 75 — make it imperative that senior living reexamines the model to be able to provide them with the amenities and lifestyle choices they will want.

Last fall, more than 85 independent living, assisted living and memory care leaders gathered at the International Council on Active Aging Forum to identify a philosophy and infrastructure of the “optimal community.” The idea was to offer lifestyle and services desired by current residents, with the quality-of-life features future residents will seek.

At the time, ICAA founder and CEO Colin Milner said, “The upside of the COVID-19 pandemic for senior living is the opportunity to truly reinvent the product to one that will appeal to the younger older adults who are future residents and expand beyond the small percent of older adults who now choose their combination of housing and services.”

As McKnight’s Senior Living previously reported, out of the forum emerged five trends for senior living, including redefining the meaning of “community,” expanding the indoor and outdoor environments, creating technology-enabled spaces, emphasizing wellness culture and lifestyle, and strengthening workforce quality.

George agreed that COVID-19 will shape future marketing efforts of senior living. Communities, he said, need to identify what they can and can’t change — including health and safety measures to protect against future pandemics.

A national consumer sentiment survey from the American Seniors Housing Association and ProMatura revealed that prospective residents want to see detailed cleaning and safety protocols in place, proof that all residents and staff members have been vaccinated, and assurances that a community is following public health guidelines.

The most recent J.D. Power Senior Living Satisfaction Study, released last fall, found that activities, dining, staff and cost were of similar importance to independent living residents. But among assisted living and memory care residents, cost was twice as important as dining and activities. That finding, the company said, highlights the need to emphasize the value of the services.

The J.D. Power study also highlighted the importance of staff interactions. Overall satisfaction scores among family members increased when community staff members showed that they cared for residents on a personal level.

Senior living, according to many experts, has a trust problem to overcome in the wake of the pandemic and the high death rate in long-term care facilities, including nursing homes. The coronavirus pandemic presented the industry with a rare opportunity to re-evaluate senior living, according to the ICAA, including establishing trust by being prepared to respond to emergencies and unexpected events. 

To seize on that opportunity, George said, senior living must understand the consumer’s entire journey, from brand awareness to product and service delivery. Simply providing a service no longer is sufficient, because today’s consumer demands a personalized experience, he said. 

“Today, consumers demand an experience that caters to them. It doesn’t matter if it’s healthcare, transportation or senior living,” George wrote. “Consumers want their cake and to eat it, too. And for those of us wanting to grow our companies and beat our competitors, we must listen.”