Angel Rogers: Are you ready for the New Reality of Senior Housing?

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Ask anyone who works on a Senior Living Community how they like their job and I can almost guarantee that they will tell you they have a love-hate relationship with it. Most employees will tell you that they love working with seniors; that they are a nice group of people, and they have a bond with them that they have never experienced while working on a multi-family community. They will also tell you of the heartaches and troubles of a senior community; and this is not just the obvious complications of dealing with an aging resident population. You will hear about the vast disparity between "the new senior" and "the elderly", the trends seniors are setting, the financial issues many seniors are facing, the troubling issue of increasing mental illness in seniors, and the demands seniors are making on staff. How does all this affect not only the senior market, but how will it affect the market at large? How do we stay on top of trends, and how do we assist the employees in this highly specialized market segment?

Let's start with the Baby Boomers vs. the Elderly. Senior citizens are now at the top of the heap in U.S. Census numbers. The Baby Boomers are now officially "seniors" as they started turning 65 in 2011. In fact, 10,000 people turn 65 every day! The 85 to 94 year-olds experienced the fastest growth between 2000 and 2010. The senior age group is now, for the first time, the largest in terms of size and percent of the population in the US. While the overall senior population has increased, there are major social and financial differences within the group. For example, the Baby Boomers were young adults during the 1960's and are therefore a more "free thinking" group than their parents, the 85-94 group. While the Baby Boomers generally are not cookie baking grandmothers, they still require specific attention to their needs. Socialization is a key component for any successful senior living community program, but Baby Boomers are not interested in Bingo. The Boomer generation is driven and "self' centered. They want control and believe in personal gratification. In contrast, the Elderly group is concerned about being a burden to their families and how long they will be able to maintain any independent living status. Boomers have the greatest percentage of wealth in our society, where the elderly group is amongst the poorest.

Senior Trends are definitive, and developers and builders need to get ahead of the trends seniors are demanding. Will the product we build today be desirable or outdated in 5, 10, 15 years? Why do we insist that seniors should live in small apartments with no dishwashers? Why do we expect seniors to dispose of all their possessions to live in one of our units with 600 square feet? My sister turned 55 last year, and if she were to move into a typical senior community, she would expect the amenities she has always had. Senior housing is not just for little old ladies anymore! The rules of the past may not apply to this new generation of seniors. Boomers have already shown signs of not following their predecessors in the products and services they desire. They will work longer (don't skimp on parking places) prefer to age in place (smart floor plans, upgraded interior appointments, green features), 89% of seniors are on-line at least once a day (think Wi-Fi, not computer classes), and desire more active retirement scenarios (think wine tasting rather than a quilting bee). For example, on site movie theatres, a concierge (not "activities director"), opportunities that reflect current social trends (golf, gardening, cooking, decorating), concerts with varied options, a technology driven entertainment center (think XBox, not shuffle board) are just some ideas of how to attract the new generation of seniors. Remember, "Oldies" are not just Frank Sinatra and Doris Day, but the Beatles and The Stones!

Financial IssuesWe are living a decade longer than our parent's generation due to healthy aging and increased access to healthcare. Although this would seem to be a welcome fact, there are many seniors who live with the very real threat of running out of financial resources to sustain this longevity. Nearly half a million elderly living alone in California cannot make ends meet. These seniors lack sufficient income to pay for a minimum level of housing, food, health care, transportation and other basic expenses. "As the economy wipes out retirement savings and destroys home equity, our parents and grandparents will find paying for a roof over their heads and affording basic necessities even more of a struggle", said Steven P. Wallace, Ph.D, Center of Human Policy Research. This research shows that elder economic insecurity is problematic in both more and less affluent counties. A majority of all single elders aged 75 or older are economically insecure. The numbers of affected seniors are likely to be even higher as the current recession deepens. So what do we do? It may be a reasonable accommodation to change the rent due date to allow for the changing dynamic with assistance payments. All resources should be explored in order to keep the senior in their housing with eviction as a last resort.

Mental Illness affects one out of every five seniors in America. Just a handful of significant mental health problems that may occur are delirium, dementia, depression, and schizophrenia. Older adults who suffer with mental health conditions often have very abnormal behavior and patterns that create a decreased capacity for them to function independently. In many cases, mental health problems in seniors are too often ignored by health care professionals and attributed to "old age". Traditionally, our culture does not show any type of respect or dignity for those suffering from mental health disease. As our population ages, this challenge will become more prevalent. Many of our residents relocated to California and left their families to pursue the "golden dream". This has left them alone in their elderly years, and they look at us to fill that role for them. Our roles as rental housing professionals will need to evolve into a position of being able to locate resources that can provide assistance to our aging residents. This is why partnering with various social service agencies is such a vital component to add to our amenities on senior communities.

So, how do we support the staff? I believe that there is a special place in property management heaven for our staff members that contribute to the success of our senior communities! We depend on these employees to provide customer service on a completely different level. The demands of the senior resident are wide and varied... ."why does that animal live here?" "I do not like the looks of my neighbor"; "She is looking at my husband?" "Why can't you take me to the store? '_.etc. Our responses must be kind but firm, and conversations must be conducted in terminology that seniors understand. Many seniors believe that the management of our communities have a greater responsibility to them - this makes sense if we keep in mind that they have owned their own homes for many years and probably had some resistance to moving into a "retirement home" that they may think is Assisted Living. Their sense of entitlement runs deep after so many years of being valued and contributing members of our society. Employees are challenged with understanding the perspective of the senior resident. We need to provide major support to these employees and provide continual education on how to interact with seniors. A little pampering and wide shoulders to cry on wouldn't hurt either!

Professionals in the senior housing industry provide a vital service that goes beyond housing. We provide care, comfort, and a sense of family to our residents. This population segment will only increase so as an industry we need to get ahead of the trends and prepare for the influx of senior residents that will come our way. Our senior consumer wants reasons to believe, not empty facts. They want an emotional connection that goes beyond the walls and floors. Will you be ready for them?

For more information on training topics, including newly developed curriculum devoted to Senior Housing, contact Angel Rogers at (909)725-2700 or

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