After meeting virtually over two days at the end of May, members of the International Council on Active Aging’s COVID-19 Senior Living Task Force now are breaking into work groups to provide input into key areas to emerge from those discussions.

The task force includes representatives from all segments of senior living, industry thought leaders and suppliers. The work group efforts are expected to create a model for wellness, purpose-driven care, technology, building redesign and a new value proposition. The result will be a document ICAA founder and CEO Colin Milner hopes will be shared far and wide to “help create a path forward out of all this mess.”

Milner co-chaired the meetings with Richard H. Carmona, M.D., 17th U.S. Surgeon General and chief of health innovations at Canyon Ranch, and Age Wave CEO Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., a psychologist / gerontologist. 

“This is not about masks and hand sanitizer. This is really about the business and how do we move it forward,” Milner told McKnight’s Senior Living. “The purpose of the task force is to figure out how to move the industry forward by focusing on optimizing the health and wellness of residents and staff, and identifying the industry’s value proposition.” 

Society, Milner said, is moving toward wellness, and senior living should be no different.

“We need to build a culture of wellness — one that is focused on interdependence, independence and helping people reach what they would like to see happen in their life, as opposed to what we’d like to see happen to them in their lives,” Milner said. “One thing that came through loud and clear is that there is a lack of clarity of what senior living is, not just in the industry but within the consumer market and the media. “What are all the elements that need to take place to change that?”

Challenges and opportunities

In a discussion about “The next age of aging: challenges and opportunities,” Dychtwald said the world is in the midst of a “longevity evolution.” 

During the last several hundreds years, breakthroughs in medicine have led to people living longer. It’s now normal for people to live to 80, 90 or even 100. He said the industry considers the oldest baby boomers, now 74, to be a decade away from the senior living sector.

That would be a mistake, he said.

“The boomers are about to migrate into the sector,” Dychtwald said, calling it senior living’s “biggest wave of opportunity.”

Baby boomers, he said, are thinking now about downsizing, and they haven’t figured out what to do with all their time and affluence. Members of the generation are going to have 2.5 trillion hours of free time over the next 20 years, Dychtwald added. Add in the older generation and it adds up to 4 trillion hours of free time.

“They don’t want to sit around and watch TV and do nothing,” Dychtwald said, noting that previous generations looked at retirement as a period of leisure and an opportunity to “catch your breath.” Today’s retirees want to be connected, interdependent, stimulated and engaged, he said. They want to be fit and have purpose.

“People want to match their healthspan to their lifespan,” he said. “How can I be the healthiest version of me to the last minute of my life?”

Dychtwald said a “caregiving crunch” is coming as baby boomers, who had fewer children than the previous generation, will not have family members to rely on in their older age. Future generations will be needing communities, home are or village setups to have their needs and services met without having to rely on their children. 

Add COVID-19 to the mix and it has people thinking even harder about the future. 

Value proposition

In a discussion on “Our value proposition: past, present and future, and how we communicate about it,” Nexus Insights President Bob Kramer, co-founder and former CEO of the National Investment Center for Seniors housing & Care and currently a senior adviser to the organization, said the one word that describes senior housing and senior living right now is “anxiety.” But, he added, there are “enormous opportunities even in the midst of a terrible pandemic and the enormous impact in our sector.”

Transparency in communication is key, Kramer said. It means frequent open, digital, empathetic, personal and credible communication with residents, families, staff, health partners, payers, regulators and others, he added.

“Transparency in a time of fear is essential,” Kramer said. “To win back and restore public confidence in this setting means credibility and trust.”

COVID-19 doesn’t mean the demise of the congregate care senior living model, he stressed. Everyone, Kramer said, was in quarantine whether aged 22, 44 or 66. 

“No matter how much you’re doing Zoom and FaceTime, you miss the actual physical connection of being together, having a meal together, having a drink together,” he said. “That’s part of the value of the congregate setting. It’s not just about care. The primary value proposition you have to go back to and stress is human connection and social engagement.”

Today’s senior living model primarily serves people in their mid-80s. By the time the baby boomers enter communities, they will be in their late 80s. Baby boomers, Kramer said, view senior living as “senior dying — a place to avoid if you can.” The industry needs a lifestyle product to build on the engagement and purpose, he said.

“Boomerville might be aspects of Margaritaville — fun me; Changeville — activist me; Serviceville — better me, volunteerism; Collegeville — new me,” Kramer said. “Aspiration, refining sense of purpose, developing new products that don’t exist today for people in their 70s and, increasingly, in their 80s.”

Healthcare will need to be an integral part of senior living going forward, he said.

Independent living, assisted living and memory care communities must “realize they can no longer ship residents out when they need healthcare services,” Kramer said. Residents and families increasingly expect technology, and payers will demand that communities use technology for triage to determine whether a resident needs to leave a facility for care. “It’s a game-changer in the senior care sector.”

Additional task force sessions looked at the country’s response to and recovery from COVID-19 and creating the optimal physical environment for health and wellness. Videos are posted on ICAA’s website.

Related Articles