Group of seniors sitting in yoga class.
Credit: Betsie Van der Meer / Getty Images)

As the senior living industry begins to adapt to a world changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, wellness has become an elevated priority for the future.

Wellness is guiding updated approaches to an industry recognizing longer health spans, longer work lives and older adults seeking active lifestyles, according to a new report from the International Council on Active Aging.

At the same time, more than 600 senior living communities around the world have committed to or have achieved the WELL Health-Safety Rating or WELL Certification from the International WELL Building Institute. The rating focuses on operational policies and maintenance protocols to address health and safety challenges during the pandemic and beyond. 

Wellness culture

“Wellness is defined by ICAA as our ability to understand, accept and act upon our identity and capacity to lead a purpose-filled and engaged life … so we can embrace our potential to pursue and optimize life’s possibilities,” ICAA CEO Colin Milner said. 

The ICAA’s State of the Wellness Industry 2022 report surveyed 459 members to “take the temperature” of industry leadership and staff members at senior living and care providers, community-based senior centers and agencies, and businesses with older adult participants.

Key points that emerged:

  • Of 242 senior living and care organizations surveyed, 61% said that by 2025, their community will be based on a wellness lifestyle with options for care. 
  • 81% of all respondents said they believe that executives give wellness a high or essential priority in 2022, with lifestyle programs, food service / dining, technology or technology infrastructure, and recruitment and retention emphasized.
  • 57% of respondents said they believe that their organizations are based in a culture of wellness.
  • Recruiting and staffing wellness positions is a major challenge.
  • Emotional, social and spiritual wellness will be incorporated into programming.
  • Organizational plans include adding technology infrastructure (62%), redesigning / remodeling current public spaces (40%), designing and building new buildings (34%) or adding new additions (25%).

After issuing a call to action in 2021 for senior living communities to integrate wellness throughout their operations, Milner said the survey shows that the industry is emerging from the pandemic while keeping safety measures in place and motivating older adults to “renew the quality of their lives through wellness.”

Best practices

Wellness also refers to operational policies and maintenance protocols, and as the pandemic continues to elevate the importance of health, safety and well-being in senior living communities, the commitment to WELL strategies represents more than 30 million square feet and a more than four-fold adoption increase of the standards from one year ago. The International Well Building Institute announced Thursday that more than 600 senior living communities around the world are enrolled to pursue or have achieved its WELL Health-Safety Rating or WELL certification.

The WELL Health-Safety Rating rating focuses on operational policies and maintenance protocols to address health and safety challenges during the pandemic and beyond. The rating includes 22 strategies designed to help companies keep spaces clean and sanitized, provide essential health benefits and services, communicate health and safety efforts, prepare for emergencies, and assess air and water quality.

Enlivant was the first senior living provider to earn the WELL Health-Safety Rating for facility operations and management for the Chicago-based company’s entire portfolio of 215 senior living communities, announcing the achievement in January.

“Our seniors, their families and community teams that support them all deserve spaces that protect their health and well-being,” Enlivant CEO Dan Guill said in Thursday’s announcement from the International Well Building Institute. “The WELL Health-Safety Rating aligns perfectly with Enlivant’s mission of creating safe and vibrant communities where our residents can thrive.”

Other senior living sector achievements and commitments, according to the institute:

  • Inspir Carnegie Hill, a Maplewood Senior Living facility in Manhattan, became the first assisted living community in New York City to achieve the WELL Health-Safety Rating.
  • The Jewish Home of Rochester in New York achieved the rating.
  • The Views Senior Living of Marion in Iowa achieved WELL certification at the Gold level.
  • Anthem Memory Care is pursuing the rating.
  • Sabra Health CARE REIT is encouraging all of its operators to pursue the rating as part of its environmental, social and governance initiatives.

The WELL Building Standard is now being adopted in 110 countries in 35,000 locations for a total of 3.5 billion square feet, according to the institute. The standard outlines building-level interventions and organizational strategies across 10 categories: air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind and community.