What Senior Consumers Want: Demands, Expectations in CCRC Search

Reaching out to aging Americans early—as early as their 60s—and offering amenities that promote an active lifestyle could help continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) attract seniors and then keep them as residents for the duration of their retirement, according to a new study by a mature market research firm.

Access to technology and the availability of mentally stimulating activities were the top demands by seniors, found researcher Cheryl Slavinsky in a month-long study conducted by Harrisburg, Pa.-based research firm Varsity for Project Looking Glass II (PLGII).

Over the course of a month, Slavinsky lived in Frasier Meadows, a Boulder, Colo. CCRC, and observed the mindsets and needs of the community’s residents through dining, socializing and holding meetings with them.

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As an 80-million-strong generation, boomers are expected to control 70% of the country’s disposable income in five years and inherit $15 trillion over the next 20 years, according to a Nielsen report. Boomers make the most money and spend much of what they make, says Nielsen, and because of their financial stability, many expect more out of their retirement years, even before they reach their 80s (the average age of CCRC residents).

By recruiting seniors even before they turn 65, CCRCs can offer residents programs to help live an active lifestyle from an early retirement age, Slavinsky suggests.

“Our job as marketers should not just be about the amenities, but getting people into the community at an earlier age so they can take advantage of wellness programs, build social networks and stay healthier long,” Slavinsky told SHN.

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Seniors are becoming increasingly computer savvy and are using the Internet to conduct research on topics of their choice, the research found. With boomers now accounting for 33% of Internet users and 40% of customers paying for wireless internet connection, according to Nielsen, nearly one-third of boomers use the internet so often that they consider themselves “heavy users.”

“They expect Wi-Fi to be everywhere, and they’re not just using it to email kids; they’re doing research,” Slavinskly notes in her study.

Their savvy also spans health and wellness: Seniors are not afraid to speak up and demand more access to programs that will help them maintain their physical and social health.

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“Personal health and wellness is a number one priority. Communities are going to have to respond to those needs,” says Slavinsky.

One way to respond to the increasing demand for health and wellness amenities is through dining options, she says.

Seniors are seeking communities that follow trends in foodservice and offer a variety of high quality options when it comes to dining. Frasier Meadows includes many fresh and locally grown ingredients on its menu.

“The menus are all marked with icons for gluten free, organic, vegetarian, no dairy, low sodium, etc.,” says Slavinksy of the menu at Frasier Meadows. “The dining room staff know people and what their diets are.”

Moving into the future alongside residents—and not simply expecting them to follow—helps build a successful community, she says.

The strong community creates a home-like atmosphere, according to the researcher, and the option to move from independent living up through receiving skilled nursing without leaving the community contributes to the ability to aging in place.

“One woman [who had only lived there for a year] said she hurt her shoulder at some point and she didn’t have to go somewhere else to get rehab; she could stay in independent living and go to the skilled nursing building to get taken care of at no extra costs,” says Slavinksy. “Everything is in one building: dining rooms, activity rooms, wellness, chapel, lecture rooms, assisted living, skilled nursing facility, and an enclosed courtyard for gardening.”

Seniors are also seeking communities that offer shuttle vans or public transportation options that allow them to run errands and take care of needs outside of the community on their own.

It is imperative that today’s CCRCs listen to their residents in developing new programs and amenities that appeal to them early, Slavinsky says.

“The people who are going to succeed in the future are those who listen to their residents, and get their input—especially when they’re building or renovating,” she concludes.

Written by Erin Hegarty

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