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What Will Senior Housing Look Like in 2028?

Experts in aging, technology and senior living communities weigh in


Part of the Transforming Life as We Age Special Report

(This article appeared previously on the website of A Place for Mom, Inc.)

The first of the boomers — the population born between 1946 and 1964 — turned 65 in 2011, and the last will turn 65 in 2029. By 2030, boomers over 65 will make up 20 percent of the U.S. population, numbering around 60 million people, according to a report from the U.S Census Bureau.

“Significant changes are coming as we move out of the World War II generation to the baby boomer generation,” says Steve Maag, director, residential communities, at LeadingAge, a national association dedicated to advocacy, education and research on aging. That’s because boomers have higher expectations as consumers and a history of having those expectations met, Maag says.

Senior Housing in 2028

With that in mind, what will senior housing look like in 10 years? A Place for Mom checked with experts on aging, senior living communities and technology to find out.

Here are some significant changes you’re likely to see by 2028 and beyond:

Boomer Consumers Transform Senior Housing

The baby boomer generation has never been one to accept the status quo, and that won’t change when it comes to senior living communities, says Maag.

“Historically, we’ve had a pretty trusted delivery system because customers of the past accepted it and weren’t as demanding,” says Maag. “Customers of the future are going to push to do things more the way they want to do it.”

According to Maag, retirement and senior living communities will have to respond to consumer demand by providing greater diversification of services that include:

  • Dining options and restaurant-menu meal variety with more choices, including gluten-free, vegetarian and even Japanese, Thai and other culturally diverse foods
  • Greater emphasis on lifestyle and wellness programs
  • More choices in apartment fixtures, designs and furnishings
  • More variety in payment structures

“Baby boomers want to have a voice in decisions in things like financial structure and payment systems and will push back and be assertive if they have questions and concerns,” says Maag.

Technology Will Improve Senior Living

Whether older people of the future plan to age in place at home or move to a senior living community, technological advances will enable them to live healthier, richer lives. One big factor is advances in telehealth, a technology that enables health care providers to diagnose and interact with patients via computer screen.

“Telehealth will obviously grow” over the next decade, says Robyn Stone, senior vice president for research at LeadingAge. Telehealth, already in place in many rural communities, breaks down transportation barriers for older adults, mitigates health care costs such as emergency room visits and helps older adults remain in their homes longer.

“You also have the potential for actually seeing a person’s environment and seeing their meds instead of having the person bring them in or having to reconcile through health records,” says Stone.

We’ll also see more senior-focused computer systems aimed at keeping long-term care residents happy and engaged, says Tom Bang, CEO of It’s Never 2 Late, a Colorado company that’s developed a picture-based, touchscreen computer interface system and installed the intuitive technology at approximately 2,300 senior living communities in the United States.

The communities use the technology to allow residents to connect by webcam to family and friends, but also to access engaging, personalized content and mind-stimulating activities. The system is also used by staff for memory care and rehabilitation programs.

Sensing technology that goes beyond today’s fitness monitors will also play a part in tracking heart rates and other vital signs. “Those are very natural technologies to be adapted in the right way in caring for seniors,” Bang says.

A Shift in Family Caregiving

In the future, family members will likely have less availability to provide caregiving for aging loved ones, says Stone.

A few reasons for the coming shift include:

  • Disruptive effects of divorce on family support networks among middle-aged and older people
  • More women remaining in the labor force longer, restricting their family caregiving roles
  • Tremendous growth in the childless population of older adults

“When you combine all of these factors, it’s unlikely that family caregivers will be able to continue the level of caregiving performed by past generations,” says Stone. “It’s clear that a decline in family caregivers will put more pressure on formal care providers.”

Changing Price Points and More Cost Transparency

Not all boomers will have the same level of financial resources, such as pensions and paid-off mortgages, as previous generations, says Maribeth Bersani, COO of Argentum, a national trade association for senior living providers.

“We’re going to have to see some different price points for different people’s incomes and price levels,” says Bersani. Because senior living prices vary greatly by state, more people who can’t afford assisted living in their own state may even consider a cross-country move in their retirement planning.

For example, someone living in Massachusetts, where the current monthly median cost for assisted living is $5,600, might get their friends together and say, “Hey, let’s retire in Nebraska,” where the current median cost is about $2,000 less per month, says Bersani.

With unknown changes in health care and Medicaid ahead, aging boomers shouldn’t necessarily rely on Medicaid and other state assistance, either. “The established payment systems to meet their needs could present tremendous challenges,” says Maag. “People will have to move away from traditional government payment sources because those are not going to be adequate.”

Wherever they may choose to live, boomers who have grown accustomed to the ubiquity of online comparison shopping will expect senior living providers to list more information about pricing on their websites as they evaluate their options.

“More and more, senior living consumers expect to obtain pricing information online as a critical part of their search and decision process,” says Dan Willis, senior vice president of partner services at A Place for Mom. “Senior living providers who present this information in a way that is easy to access and understand will see increasing benefits.”

Appealing to the ‘Young Old’

Older adult communities of the future will trend toward becoming more attractive to the “young old,” boomers who’ve reached their late 60s or early 70s by 2028 and want to move into senior communities while they’re still healthy enough to enjoy the amenities, says Bersani.

“We hear a lot of people say they wish they would have moved in sooner so they could have participated more in activities,” she says.

It looks like the generation at the helm of a more health-conscious society, rock ‘n’ roll music and war protests is now well on its way to bringing about societal change in senior living.

By Deb Hipp
Deb Hipp is a Kansas City, Mo.-based freelance writer who covers elder and caregiving issues, personal finance and popular culture. Her work can be found at www.debhipp.com.

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