Real estate developers, investors, health care providers and others are recognizing that the number of seniors who want to live in cities will continue to grow as the senior population expands, industry experts say, adding that many associate city living with entertainment and ongoing education.
Yet, “most senior housing is located instead in low-density suburbs or in small towns, where land is cheap and development costs are lower,” Roger K. Lewis, architect and professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, tells The Washington Post in a recent article, noting that resources in such locations are often limited.
However, senior living providers in rural and suburban areas can implement tools to compete with city-based senior living properties.
Traci Bild, founder of healthcare consulting business Bild & Company, sees many providers in small towns seeking innovative ways to compete with city- or university-based providers, Bild says.
“Programs in many of these [senior living communities] are in major need of an overhaul,” Bild tells SHN. “If nobody’s coming to a program, it’s because it’s not that good. If there is a barrier to filling the building, you need better programming and great events to draw perspective residents in.”
Here are four ways providers can give residents not only what they need, but also what they want.
1. Offer Educational Opportunities
“Seniors crave life-long learning,” Bild says, adding that there are many inexpensive ways to offer ongoing education opportunities, such as featuring online lectures.
“There are a lot of free ivy league courses on the Internet,” she says. “Directors need to look at what types of things can excite the resident — astronomy, health and wellness… Residents can watch commencement speeches — it ties into both city and university living.”
Many seniors enjoyed learning before entering the senior living community, so it’s no surprise their appetite for knowledge is still intact, she says.
2. Embrace the Surrounding Community
Most providers have a city within an hour’s distance, but don’t utilize their proximity to engage residents outside of community walls, she says.
“Many have museums, casinos, shopping, dining — seniors want to feel like they’re independent,” she says.
As for restaurants, Bild says rather than take an entire group to one location, choose a few different restaurants and let seniors decide ahead of time where they’d like to eat. Splitting up among eateries makes it easier on the restaurant, and helps seniors feel independent.
“You don’t want a busload of seniors to take over one restaurant,” she says.
Bild says such excursions will not only make residents happier, but will add to a site’s marketability.
“It will give a better selling point to the community,” she says.
And most residents are willing to pay a little extra for added fun, she says.
“You can charge a monthly fee, or concierge fee for activities outside community walls,” she says. “Seniors don’t want to feel like they can never leave.”
Other area amenities can be tapped for excursions as well, such as community college performances, movie theaters and more. Planning ahead can also mean discounted rates when traveling in a large group, she says.
To make a theatre performance extra exiting, offer backstage tickets to a few seniors.
“Turn it into a media event,” she says. “Call the press when the residents meet the stars of the show.”
And, if seniors are unable to leave the premises, bring the entertainment to them.
“Can you bring a theater troupe or comedian in? Musicians? Authors?,” she says. “What can we do to bring the city in? Think outside of the box.”
3. Ask Questions
It’s important not to underestimate what residents can do, Bild says.
While surveys can be helpful, sit down with residents and ask them what they would like to do to increase the success of planned events and activities.
“Human interaction is even better than surveys,” she says. “Ask what they did before they came to the community. What stimulated their mind?
“Remember, they’re adults who lived rich lives before entering the community. They want to continue those experiences.”
4. Recruit Outside Talent
While it’s important to hire staff with senior living expertise, when it comes to activity leader-type positions the best candidates may come from more diversified backgrounds.
“Get a former carnival cruise director in there — pull someone from outside of senior housing,” she says.
“The corporate office needs a total reinvention,” she says, adding that updated technology can help attracted younger employees. “Modernize your business.”
Written by Cassandra Dowell