What Senior Housing Is Missing on Amenities

With recent attention to ancillary services and catering to a new, choosier, and potentially higher-acuity resident, senior living has been building “better,” in recent years. Or so most operators think.

But a 2014 survey of independent living residents conducted by ProMatura Group indicates that residents do not consider themselves any happier when they are in a newer building with more activities, services and amenities.

Independent living residents were actually less satisfied in 2012 than they were in 2001, according to ProMatura’s findings.

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“The more activities, the lower the ‘sense of home,’” said Margaret Wylde, CEO of ProMatura in sharing findings last week during a senior housing symposium held at the University of California, San Diego.

Senior housing is a valuable setting, Wylde said, highlighting ProMatura research that revealed current residents of retirement communities were significantly more likely to have been happy and to have enjoyed themselves during the week they were surveyed, and were significantly less likely to have been lonely than more than 1,000 individuals who were on lead lists for retirement communities (but who had not yet moved to one).

Yet there is more to senior housing than the building. That was the message to prospective senior housing consumers and family members, about 150 of whom attended the event.

“[Prospective residents] should determine if they could live in the apartment and feel at home in it,” Wylde says. “They should spend some time with residents and staff and determine if they seemed to be the type of people he or she would be comfortable with as neighbors and with whom he or she would like to spend time.”

The independent living survey, which included responses from 6,858 independent living residents in communities across the nation, specifically asked about satisfaction levels, finding that the biggest driver of satisfaction was a resident’s “sense of home.”

Among the aspects that impacted sense of home were the resident’s private residence, sense of control, number of friends in the community, the feeling that staff knows the resident well, the feeling that a resident knows what he or she needs to know, and relationships with other residents.

Architecture, services, amenities and real estate also were included in the analysis, with the finding that those aspects had little bearing on resident satisfaction overall.

“Our industry focuses on real estate and very little on the people,” Wylde said during her presentation.

Rather than to focus on what is shiny and new, providers will be served to focus on livability—how the storage is and what the views are, rather than square footage and amenities.

Many communities are overbuilt and are over-amenitized, Wylde said.

“The group least satisfied [were in the most expensive communities],” she said. “The place isn’t what makes ‘home.’ It’s the people and how we live our lives. It’s not the architecture.”

Wylde suggested five visions for senior housing: to end ageism; create great places to live; expand the variety of communities; serve a variety of lifestyles; and to focus on a few basic amenities.

“A high number of amenities drives the price up,” Wylde said. “We build buildings that are too much. They are too costly. We want home.”

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

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