Let Them Go Skydiving: Evolving the Senior Living Experience

Senior living communities can no longer just give great care to residents. Providers now must go above and beyond to make sure residents feel supported and are also having a great time, company leaders said at the annual Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference in Nashville last week.

Twenty years ago, if a service delivery failed, senior living residents wouldn’t necessarily move out. Today however, people will move out and go to another community in a heartbeat, Aaron D’Costa, chief operating officer of Florida-based Symerica Senior Living (formerly Symphony Senior Living) explained.

“It’s our residents realizing they don’t have to put up with anything they don’t want to,” D’Costa said. “We need to do consistently better as an industry. On the hotel side, we see consistency in brands but on the senior living side we don’t see that as much.”


Seniors Are More Informed

Higher expectations today are related to seniors being more informed, said Charlie Trefzger, president and CEO of North Carolina-based Affinity Living Group, which came out of a recent split with Meridian Senior Living.

“I’m seeing higher expectations especially when it comes to accountability. We have much more informed consumers now,” Trefzger explained. “They can go online and compare and contrast different communities. That’s why transparency and communication have become increasingly important, whether that’s through email or web portals.”


Patricia Will, co-founder and president of Belmont Village Senior Living, based in Houston, agreed that seniors are doing their research before settling on one community. But the fact that they are the ones actually doing the research and going out to visit communities is different than in past generations as well, she explained.

“It used to be the older adult child, but today a much higher percentage of seniors are taking control of their own fates,” she said. “In Berkeley [California] we had an [informational] event and there were 180 seniors who showed up. Ten years ago it would have been the seniors’ children. The change is very welcome because seniors are the ones who we’re serving.”

Adult children of course still can pose a challenge for senior living communities. For Belmont Village, seniors are very rarely the ones who will try to file a lawsuit after a fall—the adult children are more likely, Will added.

Communities Must Adapt

Many people still confuse having parents in senior living with having them in a nursing home, said Loren Shook, president and CEO of Silverado, headquartered in Irvine, California.

To change that perception, communities must listen to what residents want, Shook explained.

“We are seeing more demanding individuals—to some degree that’s personality type—but we are definitely seeing people wanting Wi-Fi,” he said. “We have bumped up our Wi-Fi multiple times. Baby boomers and younger generations want to see tech and how we are using tech.”

Seniors are not just sitting around in these communities either—they want to get out there and live life, Shook added. Symphony’s D’Costa agreed.

“There’s a false understanding that people over 75 don’t have aspirations anymore,” D’Costa said. “We had a 91-year-old resident who said she wanted to go skydiving, so we made that happen. You have to look much further past the walker and wheelchair.”

Integrating the full resident experience is a well thought-out combination of technology and great programming, explained Will.

“We rely on formulaic structures. You can’t leave it to chance or one creative activities director to make people feel engaged and less alone,” she said. “You have to be very deliberate with engagement and respect each resident’s wants and needs.”

Written by Alana Stramowski

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