Relaxed senior woman meditating with friends in yoga class. Elderly females and males are exercising while sitting in row at gym. They are in sportswear.
(Credit: alvarez / Getty Images)

As senior living leaders adapt to the needs and expectations of the next generation of residents, a forum of thought leaders has created a new wellness narrative to appeal to older adults seeking to live longer and healthier.

The International Council on Active Aging in April brought together 50 thought leaders from senior living communities, healthcare organizations and industry suppliers to create philosophies and recommendations related to wellness culture.

Their work is laid out in a new report that creates new language describing the value of senior living: “Living better, longer.” 

“Future-focused organizations need to reflect what is happening in society to make them more appealing to a younger, healthier population,” the report noted. “A new narrative that emphasizes how wellness can support longer, healthier lives is the key to repositioning the perceptions of residents, staff, suppliers and the media from a negative to a positive.”

A wellness approach, ICAA Forum participants said, is person-centered, prioritizes the well-being of staff members, creates a consumer-friendly narrative, and attacks the misperception among members of the general public that senior living communities are the same as nursing homes.

Changing the narrative

ICAA Forum participants found that senior living communities often are care-driven rather than wellness-driven, due to ageist assumptions that residents need help and to current financial models that generate revenue from private payments and health insurance reimbursements. 

That mindset of care over wellness reinforces the narrative that “senior living is for the oldest people who are ill or infirm” — 50% of adults aged 55 or more years who were asked about retirement communities said they think of “old,” 38% said they perceived senior living communities as “depressing,” and 38% assumed that all congregate living communities for older adults are nursing homes, according to the report. 

“Care narratives aren’t effective for showing how a wellness lifestyle at a senior living community has the potential to slow decline and enhance quality of life,” the report read. 

Forum participants said it’s important to change the language in order to change the model. The group developed narratives based on the understanding that wellness encompasses all areas of a person’s life and covers all community operations. Language was developed for community investors, executive leadership, current and prospective residents, staff members and external service providers.

ICAA Forum participants noted in the report that the need has never been greater to transform senior living by influencing perspectives, policies and practices to enhance quality of life for residents and staff members. With longevity increasing, older adults will choose senior living based on available space and technologies, as well as their ability to fill their leisure hours in more healthy, engaged ways. 

The wellness model, the participants concluded, merges the healthcare and hospitality models, allowing residents to live better, longer.

“A new narrative to explain the value of the wellness model can inspire residents, potential residents and their families, staff and suppliers,” the report concluded. “We can be proactive in championing the evolution to a wellness-with-care model.”