As the average age of independent living residents trends upward, some providers are searching for ways to reposition communities to attract younger residents, and renovating properties or introducing programming that incorporates the outside community are some ways to do so.
At Gold Medallion, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Tulsa, Okla., the median age in independent living has risen about three to four years, estimates company president Diane Hambric.
Each year, the community holds a “Mighty 90s” party for its independent living residents, Hambric says. At the last party, she says she walked into the party room—and it was full. “We had 30, 35 residents in Broadmoor, our retirement community, that were 90+,” she says. “And I thought, in order for us to remain viable, we need to get that age younger so we can have our residents live longer in independent living before traveling through the continuum of care.”
That prompted Hambric and her team to look into developing something similar to a senior center, offering education, wellness, and exercise classes, along with guest lectures—the sorts of activities that regularly take place at senior centers, but not necessarily at retirement communities, she says. Gold Medallion hired someone whose responsibility it is to manage community relations and organize classes and wellness opportunities for the independent living community.
“We’re trying to bring the outside community inside,” she says. “We’re trying to solicit and endear ourselves to those seniors who are still living at home, doing their own thing.”
The hope is that after a while, when “outside” residents become comfortable in Gold Medallion’s senior living environment, they eventually move in. “It’s a forward-thinking proposition; it might take a couple of years before we see a younger incoming population,” Hambric says.
Similar to Gold Medallion, Greystone Communities also believes in establishing a program coordinator who does nothing but organize wellness events. When someone moves into a Greystone community, the program coordinator will work with them for the first 60 days to establish a wellness routine.
Another focus is to facilitate interactions for community residents and those living in the surrounding area. At some communities, this could be coordinating volunteer opportunities allowing residents to tutor children at local schools, mentor neighborhood children, or coach recreational and youth sports.
Adjusting or adding services
It’s also important to adjust services to what younger residents might want.
“There’s an overarching message that the younger the person is, the more they want self-directed care,” says Brian Schiff, senior vice president at Greystone Communities. “We have to establish more programming that allows residents to choose what they want. Some of that involves pricing, while another thing is unbundling services.”
When considering a move into independent living, some people might be looking solely at real estate, he says, and not be interested in meals or housekeeping and healthcare services. At one Greystone community that began offering a select-services plan, the average age of a move-in shifted down to an average 72, from 78.
“It’s been very effective in getting the younger people and the couples,” Schiff says. “We ask, How can we dimensionalize their experience? It’s not like there’s one golden arrow, but we’re trying a lot of things across pricing, programming, and services.”
Greystone is also adding barbershops to communities in addition to beauty salons. “If you’re going to attract younger people, you have to attract younger men,” he says.
Some communities are putting in office spaces with shared receptionists so resident can continue to work without having to go off-campus. Other campuses are getting dog parks or playgrounds for children.
Repositioning through remodeling & renovating
Remodeling is another way to reposition a community, and the Gold Medallion community recently underwent a $600,000 remodel. “We rethought all of our common spaces to make it more user-friendly and more available for audiences gathering for lectures or other educational classes,” says Hambric.
The remodeling was completed in early 2012, and since January, Hambric says her community has gotten 28 move-ins. For them, those numbers are “pretty unbelievable,” she says, adding that the renovations were “huge.”
Renovations, additions, and remodelings can do a lot to change a community’s atmosphere, says Don Lloyd, director of business development for general contractor Rushforth Construction, based in the Greater Seattle Area.
Lloyd says he’s seeing a lot of demand for reconfigurations. His company is helping some West Coast providers effect overhauls by repositioning their communities, with some adding transitional care, putting in wellness centers, or doing something as simple as relocating an entrance from a property’s skilled nursing center to its activities room.
“We’re going in to a lot of older facilities and doing $2-3 million worth of renovations and reconfigurations to clean them up,” he says.
Another aspect for attracting younger residents has to do with apartment units themselves.
“We look at our physical plant, and what’s going to be attractive to them,” says Schiff. Bathrooms are often a large concern, he says. “The ability to have at least one-and-a-half baths, sometimes two, can help; they don’t share bathrooms well.”
Each community’s characteristics and resident mix are different, but there are a variety of ways to reposition a community, whether it’s through renovations and reconfigurations, or by adding a variety of classes and other types of programming that both interest residents and attract the community at large.
For Hambric, it’s been “a perfect storm,” and she adds that ultimately “Choice is important: residents want to have options.”