How Americans Living Longer Will Shape the Future of CCRCs

Americans are living longer than ever, and that trend just might be the tipping point continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) need to be Baby Boomers’ No. 1 senior housing choice in the years to come.

But first, Baby Boomers and those who assist them with retirement planning need to know what a CCRC is, which means providers must go beyond traditional avenues of marketing to both educate and attract tomorrow’s resident.

“The education surrounding CCRCs is poor,” says Cathleen Toomey, vice president of marketing at New Hampshire-based CCRC RiverWoods, noting that the CCRC model is a perfect “sell” for Americans who are planning ahead. “My challenge is to first explain to people what a CCRC is and why it’s the perfect community for the person intending to live a longer, more vibrant life.”

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Life expectancy in the United States rose to 78.8 in 2012 — setting a record high. That number is an increase of 0.1 year from 78.7 years in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics.

“It’s hitting everybody that we’re living longer,” Toomey says. “People have to let go of one major prejudice, which is in order to be independent you have to live in your home by yourself. That is very limiting. What happens when you have to stop driving at night? Or you can’t use the steps to get to the second floor or attic in your home? Your world becomes very small. But in a CCRC, you could be having dinner with somebody at a different restaurant every night.”

Riverwoods, a nonprofit Type A contract CCRC, reaches prospective residents by speaking with their financial planners, attorneys and others who play a role in their decision making.

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“The need for education is tremendous around professional consultants,” she says. “Whereas five or six years ago prospects would come in and make their own decision, now every other person wants to consult with their financial advisor. And not every financial advisor understands the nonprofit CCRC. We say, ‘If you have clients 70 plus who are doing real estate planning and thinking about how they want to live their life you should know about CCRCs.’”

In addition, Riverwoods hosts education sessions in the evenings for prospective residents themselves, who are often juggling a number of responsibilities.

“Baby Boomers are a challenging demographic to reach,” she says. “They’ve married later, had kids later and their parents are aging. They’re busy.”

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The majority of new CCRC residents live in independent living, with the typical move-in age being between 80 and 84. However, as providers adapt their marketing strategies to attract the aging Baby Boomer generation — which is expected to double by 2030 — such communities will likely see “the planners” of that generation move in at a younger age.

In fact, it’s a trend already being seen at Riverwoods, which also boasts a higher occupancy than the national average for CCRCs, at 98.5% versus 89.4% respectively, according to the latest data from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).

Since opening Riverwoods’ newest campus in 2010, Toomey says residents are younger than those who moved in when its first campus opened in 1994. The CCRC operates three separate campuses with duplicated amenities spanning 200 acres.

“The people that moved in [to our newest campus] were significantly younger — in their mid-70s — than what we typically see, which is people coming in their mid-80s,” Toomey says. “We’re also seeing that people at younger ages are now looking into CCRC living. We’re tapping the planners and appealing to people who are doing their research.”

CCRC residents are attracted to the continuum of care environment because it makes sense from a health, social and financial perspective, Toomey says. In addition, Baby Boomers and younger generations don’t often have the same hang ups about aging in place as older generations.

“In a Type A CCRC you can come in and get excellent health care and know you can live here for the rest of your days even if you outlive your assets,” she says. “[CCRCs] are going to awaken a new group of consumers. They’ve bought and sold homes. They want someone who will do their housekeeping, cook meals for them. Boomers have broken many traditions, and the need to hold on to home is one more tradition that boomers will break.”

However, the challenges facing CCRCs still loom. Market factors over the last 10 to 20 years spanning technology changes, traditional innovation, consumer preference and financing vehicles are all leading to a turning point that many CCRCs today are facing.

About half of the nation’s 2,000 CCRCs were developed in the last 30 years. The 1980s saw the highest level of development, with 24% of existing units in CCRCs delivered during that decade, NIC data show.

Riverwoods is positioning itself for the future, along with a growing number of CCRCs, through significant upgrades to its oldest campus, which turns 20 this year.

“We are reimagining the front entrance, updating the look and functionality of our new café, and positioning it in a more central location; changing the colors and lighting, and upgrading the art and music studios, among other efforts,” Toomey says. “It is important to realize that we are not only appealing to our current residents, but also the residents of the future. Tastes change and expectations change over time, and it is important to respond to that.

Technology is at the forefront of renovations as well, she says.

“We are installing wifi in our flagship campus – something no one imagined we would need 20 years ago.”

Written by Cassandra Dowell

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