Thanks to our rapidly aging population, a lot of “senior” services are changing. Senior housing is one of them. Senior housing is fairly standardized as of now, but changes are coming quickly. Where is senior housing going? Are there any roadblocks in the way of this progress?
Baby boomers, most of whom are approaching or are in their 70s, have vastly different expectations for senior housing than earlier generations. These expectations are likely to bring about changes such as:
- No More Senior – One of the first changes will be to abandon the word “senior” and its negative connotations. A new term will maybe be retirement housing.
- Developers Will Develop – Retirement housing developers will need to develop their industry ideas to meet the new customers’ expectations about what makes a good life in retirement. Retirement used to mean an ending from societal engagement. Now, it more often means more of an engagement with creativity and socializing. Industry leaders are expecting 40% to 50% of retirement housing residents to be working on their second or even third careers.
- The 4 E’s – Soon to be retirees will be focusing on the 4 E’s: engagement, enrichment, experience and enjoyment. Housing will need to reflect that.
- Intergenerational – Segregated retirement communities will soon be a thing of the past. While it’s not expected for young and old to live in the same apartment or even building, it is expected for there to be definite intergenerational contact and cohabitation. For example, Merrill Gardens at the University of Seattle. This housing complex has retired residents living in a building adjacent to the University of Washington, and allows students and younger residents access to the retirement dining room.
- Access to Medical Care – As lifetimes get longer, medical care will have to adapt. One big way it will change is making care more accessible to where the elderly live. In fact, most elders and their supporting adult children will expect onsite medical care. This will cause a shift from retirement housing providing medical interventions to offering quality of life treatments and maintenance.
While these potential changes towards retirement housing are amazing, it’s not all going to be easy. There are a few challenges that stand in the way of this advancement. The first is the workforce. Currently, senior housing facilities employ mostly lower-skill, lower-wage workers. As residents start to expect different and better services, the facilities will have to employ more qualified, talented and trained staff members. There is a great need for skilled workers like these, and a great need to be able to pay them higher wages.
The second challenge is the money. Not everyone that’s aging is going to be able to afford this new, advanced housing. Even now, the private senior housing sector favors the more wealthy aging population. There are foundations that offer money to low-income elders like the housing voucher program or supportive housing for the elderly campaign, but where do the middle income elders come in? These middle class elders want and deserve the same good services, but often can’t pay for them or qualify for aid.
Senior, or retirement, housing is changing for the better, but it still needs a little help.
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