How to Discover the Unmet Wellness Needs of Senior Living Residents and Uncover Growth Opportunities
The world’s population is changing at a pace we’ve never experienced in recorded history. From 2015 to 2050, the global population of older adults is expected to more than double, growing from 901 million to 2.1 billion. One of the biggest reasons for the shift is quite simply that people are living longer. In most developed countries, living to 70 is commonplace, an age that was considered extraordinarily old in the not so distant past. This population shift is changing our economy in extraordinary ways, and many businesses are using the aging market as a lens through which they create a business strategy for the future.
One of the most important implications for US businesses to understand about the population shift is that more and more older adults are not only expecting to live longer– they’re expecting to live well. This means that for organizations offering products and services related to the health and wellness of older adults, business growth and sustainability is directly tied to fulfilling a demand for a niche that hasn’t always existed – Active Aging.
What is Active Aging?
Active aging has been defined by the World Health Organization as “the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age.” The term is used to describe the idea of supporting holistic well-being – good physical, social, and mental health and remaining active within one’s family and community.
For businesses offering products and services to older adults, the term is more than a description of how people are aging. It’s an entire industry. Meeting the needs, wants and desires of such a large, diverse population is changing business models and having a profound effect on our entire economy.
Many businesses – especially those focused on senior living – are embracing the idea of active aging as a foundation on which they build an organization-wide culture of wellness. This means creating lifestyle opportunities rooted in physical fitness, mental and cognitive health, enjoyment, social connections, and lifelong learning. Across the US, senior living communities are rebuilding or remodeling small gyms into robust fitness centers equipped with state-of-the-art machines, areas for social activities, rooms for fitness classes, and even coffee and juice bars.
Having a small gym on campus with a few machines and free weights for residents to work out from time to time is the “old” way of thinking. Today’s senior living facilities are creating fitness centers that are the hub of the lifestyle of the community, meeting social needs and the desire to spend time engaged in fun, interesting activities, not just physical fitness.
The very idea of a “Senior Living Community” is changing.
Parker, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization in Piscataway NJ, offers inclusive aging services that go far beyond traditional senior living communities. Their mission is "to discover ways to make aging manageable, relatable, and enriching for all of society", and their vision is to "make aging part of life." They are accomplishing these goals through a variety of living situations and levels of care for community residents as well as rehabilitation services, adult day services, education and research, and an intergenerational child development center.
Their commitment to active aging is more than just a set of programs – it’s the foundation for everything they do. Their culinary services team is focused on “balanced nutrition for optimum health” for residents and day visitors and on creating a friendly and welcoming environment that fulfills social and emotional needs. Their newly renovated fitness center incorporates progressive technology into a robust wellness program to make fitness more fun and accessible than ever before for older adults of all ages and ability levels.
Peconic Landing, a continuing care retirement community in Greenport, New York boasts a 40,000 square-foot Community Center that includes a newly expanded state-of-the-art fitness center that is the heart of the community. In addition to a swimming pool, gym, and massage studio, they offer members more than 50 exercise classes with a variety of options and have a fitness desk staffed with a trainer to assist as members arrive or are new to the space. The center meets a variety of needs for residents, including fitness, social, cognitive, and a desire to spend time every day doing something fun!
Parker and Peconic Landing are just two examples out of many senior living communities recognizing that throughout the aging process, people can maintain and improve health and wellbeing through consistent physical activity, healthy behaviors, meaningful work, social interaction, and the ongoing development of skills, interests, and talents. They are shaping their community to be a place where older adults can continue their life rather than simply provide a place for them to live out the rest of their days.
The Rise of “Life Plan” Communities.
Parker is a great example of a “Life Plan Community”, a term that didn’t even exist a decade ago, but that is indicative of how active aging is changing the industry. The idea is to position continuum-of-care communities as places to embrace “old age” as the next opportunity to live and grow. The concept is contrary to what’s been referred to as “warehousing” seniors, with Life Plan Communities offering plenty of amenities and a robust lineup of classes, activities, and lifestyle programs.
Many older senior living communities are undertaking renovations and re-branding in an effort to re-positioning themselves as a Life Plan Community deeply rooted in health and wellness. This strategy is proving successful in attracting the next generation of residents, many of whom are turned off by more traditional senior living options.
This is good for seniors and good for the long-term success and sustainability of the community itself. If a community can attract younger and more active residents able to maintain their health and independence for many years, they will experience a longer stay, supporting the business for a longer period of time.
Some Life Plan Communities are also offering services for those outside the residences. Those with large wellness centers are opening their doors to the public for paid daytime use. Like Parker, they might offer adult day services, child care, and preschools on campus. Many also offer services that support non-residents who need some assistance but aren’t yet ready to leave their homes.
Fitness and Wellness: The driving force behind industry change.
Perhaps the most common goal among seniors of all backgrounds, cultures, interests, and walks of life, is to remain healthy and independent right up to the time of death. This means that senior living communities offering access to experienced trainers and wellness professionals, age-friendly exercise equipment, and an active aging culture, is naturally going to be attractive to many seniors.
Today’s seniors are also embracing technology to support their health goals. However, there is a strong social element to how they want to utilize that technology. Even though new fitness trackers, online programs and mobile apps pop up every day, most of today’s seniors prefer brick and mortar wellness facilities staffed with professionals and filled with their peers.
The Boomer generation’s attitudes and expectations around wellness and active aging is, of course, driving these industry changes. Most Boomers are familiar with at least a few fitness gurus and have a good understanding of how physical activity and lifestyle choices can impact their health and happiness. They are living in a world with more options for remaining physically fit than ever before. Yoga, Pilates, strength-training, Thai Chi, meditative walking, flexibility and balance training… the options are as varied as the seniors seeking them out.