Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Future of Assisted Living

New Study Sheds Light on Future of Assisted Living
by Berry Brunk

“The [seniors] housing industry needs to change its sales and marketing message to place more emphasis on these communities as places that enable residents to get more from life, rather than places to receive care. It is not being suggested that grandiose promises of entertainment and excitement be made, but rather the elements that provide a sense of community, friendship, belonging, enjoyment, fun, education and continuing life need to be stressed more.”

That’s one of the conclusions from a new study of the opinions, attitudes, perceptions and behaviors of seniors recently published by the National Investment Center (NIC). This survey updates two earlier waves (in 1997 and in 1998) and so has a historical perspective often sorely lacking in such studies. Based on telephone interviews with 4,511 households headed by someone 60 years of age or older, the survey looks at everything from seniors Internet usage (28%) to what proportion of seniors expect to move into which type of senior housing.

The survey’s data shows that there has been a significant increase in the percentage of seniors who are aware of the different types of housing options open to them. At the same time, there has been a decrease in the perceived desirability of moving into a senior-focused housing community. With one exception: active adult communities.

The data indicates that seniors clearly prefer to age in place—and the average time in their current residence keeps going up. In fact, one of the report’s conclusions is that: “the proportion of households moving to seniors housing communities (particularly the market-rate, non-rent-subsidized seniors housing communities that predominated in serving the 60+ households who participated in this study) appears to be growing more slowly—and in almost all likelihood no faster—than the growth of households in the target age group.”

That’s not totally bad considering that Census Bureau projections show the 85+ population (the most likely consumer of assisted living) growing 21% over the next five years. Yet that’s still less than 4% annual compound growth on a comparatively small base of 1.4 million Americans 85+.

Looking at data from all three survey waves shows that, compared to years past, significantly more 60+ seniors are thinking about “some time” moving to a retirement community but the decision to move is being postponed in favor of aging in place.

The Editorial published in the previous issue of Technology for Senior Housing talked about ways aging consumers will use technology to support aging in place—smart houses, “carebots,” expanded home care services and telemedicine opportunities etc. Clearly, as the NIC study documents, moving to service-intense congregate living communities are not at the top of the preference. What is at the top of the list is “independent living communities.”

First challenge: Stop trying to bring consumers to the care and focus on developing independent living housing that is also smart in both technology and design so it can support the owner/renter’s desire to age in place as long as humanly possible.

Second challenge: Market the social and personal growth opportunities, rather than the care opportunities, made possible by senior congregate living.

[Note on the NIC study: Unfortunately, this excellent study is not available on-line. Copies of the survey and other research conducted by NIC can be ordered through the NIC web site, www.nic.org. The full name of the study is: NIC National Housing Survey of Adults Age 60+, Volume III. NIC, founded in 1991, “facilitates efficient capital formation for the seniors housing and care industries through research, networking, and providing business and financial information.”- Ed.]

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