Senior couple embracing in front of residential home
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Independent living residents not only have grown older over the past seven years, but they also have improved their financial status, according to a new report from the American Seniors Housing Association.

“Independent Living Then and Now,” compiled with ProMatura, compares how the underlying attributes and expectations of independent living residents changed between a survey in 2012 and one in 2019/early 2020. It also examines how those changes are realigning residents’ priorities.

The report highlighted trends within demographic characteristics, health and abilities, financial information, decision making on moving, residences, and engagement and satisfaction. It is based on data involving more than 7,000 independent living residents living in freestanding independent living communities; combined independent living and assisted living communities; entrance-fee continuing care retirement / life plan communities; and rental CCRCs.

“Some of the noteworthy findings from this research include the fact that independent living residents overall not only grew older over the course of seven years, they also improved their financial status, with considerably greater net worth,” ASHA President and CEO David Schless said. “In addition, trends in their health status were generally favorable, with a drop in falls, hospitalizations and the proportion of those requiring help with activities of daily living. At the same time, support from home healthcare and the use of assistive devices grew.”

Schless told McKnight’s Senior Living that the independent living customer is “changing in a myriad of ways,” and the data from the report are valuable to developers, owners and operators.

Residents are trending older

According to the report, the age breakouts for all move-ins among independent living residents remained fairly consistent over the two surveys, with the exception of the 90-plus age group. That group experienced a five-point jump, moving from 8% of move-ins in 2012 to 13% in the later survey.

The proportion of all independent living residents aged 90 or more also continued to grow. In 2012, that group accounted for one-fourth of all residents. By early 2020, their share moved up to 28%. 

In 2001 when the first survey was conducted, a little more than half of those who relocated to independent living were 79 or younger. That amount dropped to one-third in 2019/2020. The number of move-ins aged 85 or more years more than doubled from 2001 (17%) to 2019/2020 (38%). 

With the influx of older residents, health status and care needs over the past 21 years has changed considerably. Self-rated health rankings of “excellent” slid from one-fifth of residents in 2001 to 13% in 2019/2020 — half of respondents said they were in good health in 2001 compared with 39% in 2019/2020. 

Although self-rated health status declined, there was a notable drop from 2012 to 2019/2020 in falls, hospitalizations and the proportion of residents requiring assistance with activities of daily living. At the same time, support from home healthcare and the use of assistive devices grew. 

Home healthcare use is on the rise, with 9% of residents in 2012 receiving support compared with 14% in 2019/2020. Among those receiving help from a home health agency, 19% received physical therapy, 12% had help with showering/bathing, 9% had assistance with medication management, 8% had help with getting dressed, 6% received light housekeeping, 5% had transportation assistance and 4% received help with meal preparation.

They also have higher net worths

Between 2012 and 2019/2020, there was a spike in the net worth of all independent living residents in the upper income brackets. In 2012, 7% of residents reported assets of $2 million or more. That amount more than doubled to 19% in 2019/2020. Those with a net worth of $1 million to $1.9 million grew from 13% of residents in 2012 to 19% in 2019/2020.

The share of residents with annual incomes exceeding $75,000 increased from 25% in 2012 to 48% in 2019/2020. And those reporting annual incomes above $100,000 more than doubled from 13% to 33%.

Conversely, there was a fall-off between 2012 and 2019 of residents reporting annual incomes below $75,000. The most marked differences were in the $35,000-to-$49,999 income range, with a decline from 17% in 2012 to 13% in 2019/2020. Another notable drop was among residents reporting income between $25,000 and $34,999, which dropped from 16% of all residents to 8%. The share of residents with incomes falling between $15,000 and $24,999 dropped from 11% in 2012 to 6% in 2019/2020.

Moving decisions varied

Comparing the length of time residents considered their community prior to moving, those who took three months or less to make a decision declined from 32% in 2012 to 18% in 2019. At the other end of the spectrum, 13% in 2012 and almost one-quarter in 2019 spent 24 months or more considering a move. 

Where independent living residents received information about a community also changed over time. In 2012, 57% reported a referral form a family member or friend compared to 39% in 2019, 7% vs. 17% gathered information form a drive by, 8% vs. 13% knew someone who lived in a community, 7% vs. 3% saw a newspaper advertisement, and 3% vs. 4% viewed printed materials from the community. In 2019, 4% reported internet resources were used in the decision making process.

Move-in decision in 2019/2020 were fueled by maintenance (14%), increasing age (12%), proximity to family and friends (12%), declining health and companionship (both 8%), a spouse’s declining health or the desire to downsize (6% each), the death of a spouse (5%) and the need for care and assistance (4%).

The most important elements of communities that gave residents in 2019/2020 a sense of value for the price paid were friendly staff members and fellow residents (15%), meals and the dining room (11%), programs and activities (9%), security (8%), safety and location (6%), the wellness/fitness center (5%), a sense of camaraderie and the physical plant (4% each). 

The report is available in the ASHA bookstore on the organization’s website.