Senior Living Industry Prepping for Most Disruptive Generation Yet: The Boomers

‘The boomers are coming! The boomers are coming!’ The senior living industry’s cry echoes Paul Revere’s from long ago, and the warning may be no less important: The boomers are, indeed, coming, and while their ranks aren’t flooding communities quite yet, they will—and it will be revolutionary, aging experts say.

With the recent release of the iPhone 5, a model has been introduced to consumers of rapid, ongoing change, and if communities don’t exhibit similar traits, suggests Dr. Joseph Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, at Life Care Services’ summit held this week in Indianapolis, Ind., they won’t catch—and keep—boomers’ interest.

Have no doubt about it: the incoming boomer generation is disruptive, and their vision for their twilight years will be far different than that of their parents, said Coughlin during his presentation.

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Many senior living providers tout a strong sense of community at their establishments, but for boomers, that might not be a selling point, Coughlin warns. “The notion of community, beginning with boomers, is profoundly changed,” he says.

What the industry needs to realize, he says, is that the new age to be considered “old”—when companies need to begin targeting future customers—is actually young: 45 years old. That’s the age when people begin caring for their parents and forming relationships with brands or services while simultaneously forming ideas and plans for their own futures.

The question, says Coughlin, is this: How do providers create lifestyles for consumers that may start in their 40s and go all the way into their 80s and 90s?

Real innovation, real strategic thinking, real change—that’s all going to come from somebody who, according to Coughlin, is nuts.

It may come from someone in the senior living industry, he says, but chances are, it won’t.

“If you’re all benchmarking off of each other, that’s not really learning. That’s just keeping up with the Joneses,” he says. And, he continues, providers need to get a move on. “You don’t have 5 or even 10 years—it’s happening now,” he says.

Coughlin stressed the idea of partnerships with other entities, whether they’re in the senior living sector or just encroaching on it as demographics become highly favorable.

“Aging is the new strategic target for all businesses,” he says. But those already in the industry have an advantage: “You know aging. You’ve got a lot of people crowding into the aging space that don’t know squat.”

The nation is aging, and everyone’s going to want a piece of the pie, but instead of viewing others—from retailers, to telecommunications providers to branded service providers—as the competition, think of them as partners, Coughlin recommends.

Joining forces with others and utilizing their resources can enable senior living providers to deliver services either within their walls or outside of them, effectively expanding their footprint.

“Do not build your structures around the iPhone 5 or the iPad,” Coughlin concludes. “That’s the “new normal”—but it’s only been here for three years. If you build around a given technology, you’ll be left behind. Think about what you want to provide, then bring on technology providers, architects, and developers to help you provide that.”

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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