There’s no doubt about it, baby boomers are changing the face of retirement living. Andrew Carle, of George Mason University’s senior housing administration program, says the generation now coming of retirement age has revolutionized “virtually every product and service in the American marketplace.” He says it stands to reason that the generation responsible for “a hundred flavors of baby food” isn’t going to be satisfied with the status quo when it comes to retirement options.
Specifically in high-end senior housing, “there is growing resistance to anything that looks like, smells like, or smacks of an institution,” says John McIlwain, of the Urban Land Institute. Luxurious amenities and a homelike environment are top of the list for those who can afford it, regardless of the level of care required. In response, senior housing industry leaders are watching certain luxury trends to guide development in independent living, assisted living, and memory care.
Here are five trends currently gathering steam.
Kitchens in assisted living and CCRCs increasingly take their cues from other hospitality sectors. Brian Hughes, Director of Dining Services at The Clare, a luxury CCRC on Chicago’s Gold Coast, sees his competition, not in other retirement communities, but in Chicago’s most coveted fine dining destinations. “Just like a fine dining restaurant, we call purveyors to find out what is fresh and new,” says Hughes. “It’s a captive audience, and if you’re not staying fresh, the residents are going to lose interest in you.”
According to Senior Housing News, hundreds of communities across the country this month will embark on an “immersive experience that goes beyond the food on the plate.” This initiative, dubbed “A Meal In the Life,” was launched by Morrison Community Group and takes residents on “a year-long cultural journey to explore various foods, traditions, and customs from around the globe.”
Cross-pollination doesn’t end at the dining room door. Many senior housing communities are looking to the hospitality industry to drive change in all areas, from transportation to technology. Growing numbers of well-heeled retirees, wary of spending years in an assisted-living facility or at home, are seeking resort-style living in the form of co-housing arrangements, exotic destination communities, or even serial cruises.
For those staying put, services like Salon PS partner with communities to provide luxury spa and salon services. Salon PS offers additional services in skilled nursing and assisted living specific to their clientele.
When the novelty of retirement wears off, Boomers are looking for communities with like-minded interests where they can stay active and connected as they age. This trend is giving rise to the development of “niche communities,” senior living spaces where those with common interests can gather to share their chosen passions. This focus on shared interest (rather than age demographics) is also spurring an increase in intergenerational living in the form of co-housing communities or UBRCs (University-based Retirement Communities) where seniors have special access to campus amenities.
For those with the means, sometimes the more specialized the better. Stargazers, aviators, even retired military, postal workers, or musicians can all find friends to age with who share their interests and background.
While up-front pricing may be prohibitive for many retirees, a luxury community may be a smart investment for those who can swing a seven-figure entry fee. Move-in rates at Edgemere, a Dallas CCRC, range from $339,000 to $1,150,000, which may feel like a shock up front, but 90 percent of entry fees are returned to residents when they move out or returned to their estate when they die.
According to Bankrate, amenities in luxury communities like Vi include a state-of-the-art pool, fitness center, library and computer lab, salon, spa, and wellness center staffed daily by a registered nurse. Healthy meals are planned by a nutritionist to meet the individual needs of residents, with nightly specials and desserts prepared by a pastry chef.
Monthly costs after move-in range from $3,150 to $6,734 and include all necessary services residents may require as they age. When compared with a national median of $7,300 per month for a private nursing home room, the offerings at places like Edgemere or Vi may result in major savings over time, with the added benefit of preserving an individual’s asset base.
Increasingly, luxury retirement living comes hand-in-hand with skilled nursing care. Communities like Tradition-Prestonwood in Dallas are expanding their independent living offerings to include assisted living and memory care units to keep residents in place as their needs change. Those who prefer the luxury of their own homes can access services like Honor or Home Hero for the assistance they need with minimal disruption to their lives.
Integration into the larger community is another way to provide comprehensive amenities that serve residents without isolating them. Open facilities encourage multigenerational interaction and improve overall quality of living. Situating a community close to urban amenities can raise its value for prospective residents. For many aging adults, contact with a diverse community is a luxury they want to continue to enjoy, even as their physical needs change.
Perhaps due to the Extreme Home Makeover revolution, retirees now see possibilities for changing their spaces to fit their personal tastes, and some luxury living providers are letting them do it. A Senior Housing News article explains how The Clare in Chicago is allowing residents to upgrade their rooms, even if they want to spend thousands of dollars. Renovations can be as small as replacing floors or wallpaper, or as large as removing walls or installing custom closets. “In nearly all cases, residents are upgrading the unit, and we believe the changes increase the value,” says Executive Director Kyle Exline.
For industry leaders or those entering the market, luxury trends and tastes will continue to drive development at every level. There are many ways to win in the senior housing market. Regardless of setting, the trend is toward integration rather than institutionalization. This new generation of retirees wants to live into old age with the same flexibility and freedoms they’ve enjoyed their whole lives. For those who can afford it, the options are there.