“I don’t want to live with a bunch of old people”. How often have we heard that? As we Baby Boomers begin to approach an age where we might be contemplating a move, we’ll probably hear it more and more as the notion of only living with other older adults is becoming less inviting. Intergenerational communities are becoming a hot topic as evidenced, for example, by the December/January issue of Seniors Housing Business in which the last article is called “Mixing it Up is the Future of Senior Living”. Among other things, the authors, Diane Dooley and Phillipe Saad, refer to mixed use communities as a great place for intergenerational housing. In fact, we are seeing an increasing number of apartment buildings where amenities include common living areas like a gym, party room and library and seniors who are downsizing and living with a variety of ages. Living in the city, addressed in my last blog, is by definition intergenerational. As we age and are able, we will continue to make a contribution to the community around us, whether as a volunteer or a part or full time employee. We’re not finished and inspirations for what might be next can definitely arise from living in a community that enjoys a mixed age population.
Why do I love the City? Let me count the ways. First of all, a city is walkable and while a trainer once told me “walking isn’t exercise, it’s a form of transportation”, I say it’s both. One of the easiest and healthiest ways to stay fit is to walk every day if you can. Even if that means on some days you just get up from your desk and walk around your office as frequently as possible, it’s a start. One of the great benefits of urban living is that you can get to so many things by foot – restaurants, the gym, the movies, theater, concerts, book stores – you name it and its right at your finger-tips, or should I say “toe-tips”. Exposure to a diverse population of all ages, colors and ethnic backgrounds provides the opportunity to get to know folks who are different from you which will broaden your horizons. And you don’t really need a car. There’s public transportation not to mention taxis, Uber and Lyft that can get you wherever you need to be, and I guarantee you will spend less than your annual car payments and car insurance. I know it isn’t for everyone, but you may be surprised and delighted to find out it’s for you.
This is an expression that has been used in many ways for many years. Fundamentally, it reflects the desire of a senior to remain in their home whether that is a house, a condo or an apartment. It represents a declaration of their independence and their ability to continue to take care of themselves without the formal help that would be available in a LifePlan or assisted living community, let alone a skilled nursing facility. Older consumers today are generally well educated about what their options are and they include not just retirement communities but some of the new non-age restricted rental products which include amazing amenities. As we Boomers age, I believe we may be even more stubborn about maintaining our independence and “aging in place”. I’ve heard another way of expressing this – “aging in community”. There is actually a website – agingincommunity.com and it reflects the Village movement with connections to the directory of Village Networks. Today there are over 200 open Villages and more than 150 in development in 45 states and the District of Columbia. Their plan is to add intergenerational cohousing neighborhoods, EcoVillages and intentional communities. So the concept of obtaining help through others in the community enabling people to remain where they are is gaining great traction, significantly broadening the options for seniors.
Happy New Year to all of our friends, clients and colleagues. 2018 was a great year for us and I hope it was for you as well. We consider ourselves to be very fortunate to have had the opportunity to collaborate with you, provide you with consulting services and to learn from you as well. Every client and colleague grows our experience and our heartfelt thanks to every one of you for making us even better. You all have contributed to our ability to build and sustain a great reputation in a field to which we at Brecht Associates are so committed. We are all fortunate here to be able to honestly say that we love what we do.
Our best wishes to you all for a healthy and prosperous 2019.
Words frequently take on new or enhanced meanings as they relate to business and innovation. One of the most popular of those words currently is “disruption”. What does this really mean? The dictionary defines a disruption as to break apart, to throw into disorder. But of late disruption has also been defined as “a radical change in an industry, business strategy, etc., especially involving the introduction of a new product or service that creates a new market”. But considering the latest definition, what has that meant to the senior housing industry? Back in the 1990’s the emergence of assisted living was definitely a disruptor since it represented a new product resulting in fewer moves into the continuum of care (known as the Continuing Care Retirement Community or CCRC or Life Plan community). More recently, the increased availability and use of home care has caused many seniors to remain at home until much later, entering senior housing not only older but frailer as well. Traditional non-profit organizations might refer to for-profit players as disruptors given their propensity to focus on assisted living and memory care and to enter the market more swiftly than non-profits due to more streamlined decision making processes. And what might be called “senior housing lite”, independent living communities offering only minimal services may become a disruptor. Successful responses to disruptors requires the ability to be flexible, nimble, and to review and respond in a positive and productive way while strengthening your product and your brand identity. It also may require implementing new technologies that support staff, residents and family members. One of the great features associated with serving seniors has been the changes we’ve made to adapt to ”disruptors” as we continue to grow and improve.
The aging process does not necessarily mean that older adults won’t continue to contribute to the world around them, however they define that. Some may think of this as the “last hurrah”, but I believe it can be the best one. We live our adult lives encumbered by responsibilities. We go to college and graduate school and pay back loans. We get married, joyfully raise a family with all that entails. We work hard at our jobs and careers, climbing the ladder of success. We often have little time for self-expression, volunteering, giving back to the community, taking on a cause that has meaning. But for the older generation, time may open up to an array of possibilities. As Barbara Kleger wrote in her most recent blog “baby boomers aren’t retiring, they’re ‘rewiring.”’. They’re re-arranging their lives, homes, and plans in order to create purposeful years. Or, as Robert Kramer, the founder of NIC, describes it, a time of “the 4 e’s: engagement, enrichment, experience, and enjoyment.”
The limits are largely in your own imagination and, of course, the capacity to take things on. I’m reminded of Marc Freedman, the author of Prime Time: How Baby Boomers will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America as I write this blog. Freedman contends that because older adults will have time, a precious commodity, they can “get involved in ways that have both personal meaning and make a significant difference to others.” Through his organization, Encore, Freedman was Founder of the Purpose Prize which transitioned over to AARP in 2016. The AARP® Purpose Prize® award honors extraordinary individuals who use their life experience to make a better future for all. You may not become a prize winner but there is so much you can do.
We are all customers when we go to the supermarket, the department store, a restaurant, you name it. We expect to be treated with attention and courtesy. When this is not the case, we can choose never to return to the place. Repeat business is a sign that an organization is doing something right. For example, my husband goes to the same Starbucks for the same latte every day and when he gets there, the staff greets him warmly and someone is already reaching out for his Starbucks mug and readying his beverage. He rewards them by not only tipping well but always returning. At Brecht Associates, we pride ourselves on customer service. We listen carefully to what our client is looking for, we ask probing questions at the start of the engagement and we interact with them throughout making certain that we reach concensus on assumptions like the market area definition and the age, income and market area draw to be used in the demand analysis. We deliver our reports on time and are always prepared to discuss the results of the analysis. As such, we enjoy a tremendous proportion of clients who return to us whenever they need our services. And they refer other clients which helps us grow our practice. Thanks to all of you who have contributed to our growth and success. We honor and appreciate you.
Of course, we all think we know what is meant by Independent Living (IL). The major trade associations have defined it for us as has industry practice over the decades. But is it what it once was and if not, what is it now? We think of independent living as being residential units of varying types that offer services such as meals, transportation, housekeeping and activities and that it is designed to serve those who do not really need assistance to enjoy the activities of their daily life. But increasingly, we are finding that a measurable proportion (as much as 25-35%) of those who reside in IL are receiving varying degrees of assistance in activities of daily living (ADLs). They may need anything from medication reminders to help with more substantial things such as bathing and dressing. Yet they remain in their IL unit since they are not considered a danger to themselves or others and they are able to independently vacate their unit if needed. Over the years the age of entry has increased from the mid-70’s to the early 80’s which explains the rapidly increasing frailty of IL residents. On the other hand, we see an emerging IL product type in which virtually no services are provided. The latter are typically structured as rental communities. Tracking and understanding the changing product types known as Independent Living will be important for many reasons ranging from how markets are analyzed when considering a development opportunity to shaping plans for what to offer that will be attractive and competitive.
I have been involved in the senior housing industry for well over 30 years. There are two expressions from consumers that I’ve heard throughout those decades. The first is “I’m Not Ready Yet”. This reflects the belief that you have to be old and frail to move to senior housing. And we’ve created that impression in some ways, including the term “continuing care retirement communities”. The word “care” is a clear signal that you need care, so why move there if you don’t! Leading Age has addressed that by relabeling these communities “Life Plan Communities” which puts the consumer in charge. A much needed modification. But there is more to it than a name change. An increasing number of communities are learning that they can offer residents opportunities to do things they have always wanted to do, but never found the time. My sister-in-law who I wrote about in my last blog is a great example. After I published the blog and shared it with her she wrote to me and said “I forgot to mention one really important thing – opportunities!” She is in the choir, performing comedy routines and to use her word, having a “blast”! This is an important message that may not be presented in marketing communications and positioning. Delivering this message can help shift the perception of retirement communities. It starts with the website and should be reinforced by other collateral materials. And staff training is key. It may feel like you are turning the course of a major vessel that is steaming ahead in a tried and true direction, but I think it’s worth it! With success, more and more residents will utter the other expression I mentioned at the beginning of this blog “Why did I wait so long”!
I admit that I have a personal connection to the couple I’m writing about in this blog, but I think their story is a great illustration of making decisions to move to senior housing. My sister-in-law and her husband live in a Life Plan Community in the Philadelphia suburbs. They actually began thinking about this move when they were in their mid-60’s/early 70’s. They are eight years apart in their ages.
They spent 10 happy and healthy years living in what had been their second home at the Jersey shore. But recognizing that they couldn’t assume they would remain healthy they began the search for their next move. They did their research and narrowed the search down to three Life Plan communities. Two were under the same non-profit ownership and the third was too far away and way too expensive. So they visited the other two. One was ruled out for some very practical reasons: very narrow hallways, smaller apartments, an unattractive through-the-wall h/vac system and the fact that reaching the dining room and other common amenities required a walk outside!
Their ultimate choice was a community closest to their son (who they gave the shore house to so the family could still enjoy time together). It also had the advantage of being close to plenty of shopping. When they visited this community they had a very positive experience. First they attended a general meeting for future prospective residents in the auditorium where the sales rep gave a speech and answered questions. A lovely luncheon was followed by a tour of vacant apartments given by a resident of the community. They moved when she was 74 and her husband 82. And she says with great joy “it’s the best thing we’ve ever done”!