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Is Your Retirement Community Changing With the Times?

Here’s the quiz for today. Are you familiar with the song, “The Times they are a Changin?” If you are and if you can name the person who wrote and sang the song, chances are you are either a member of the Silent Generation or the Baby Boomers, today’s new, predominant Independent Living group of residents. The question is whether your retirement community is aware of these new resident characteristics and preparing to make these necessary changes by modifying the organizational structure, program of services as well as physical plant requirements so you can successfully meet the needs and expectations of this new wave of senior residents.

The Independent Living and Assisted Living Communities were developed and successfully modeled after the needs and desires of the G.I. Generation, people born between approximately 1901 and 1924, making the G.I.’er’s approximately 94 years old and up as of 2018. Sometimes known as the Greatest Generation, as coined by Tom Brokaw’s book of the same name, this group experienced the daily struggles during the Great Depression and the perils of Pearl Harbor and World War II. Significant life altering events like these helped to define their values and personality traits most notably, the need for a strong sense of security and safety. After the World War II, working age adults sought out jobs with large companies that could provide employment up to retirement. They frugally raised their families, saved what they could and feared that they might have to relive those traumatic occurrences of youth once again. When they moved into retirement settings, they continued to desire the need to be taken care of, protected and pampered and were comfortable with routine and structure, i.e. meals at exactly 8:00, noon and 5:00 and became upset when those times varied, even by a half hour. In essence, these G.I. residents moved in and “checked out.” Their mind set was “take care of me and make me feel safe and secure.”

With the inevitable decline of the G.I. Generation residents, Silent Generation residents have become the predominant group of residents in retirement communities. Born between 1925- 1945, many of these residents also grew up with both the Great Depression and World War II. However, this generation was able to forge ahead both personally and professionally in their adult years. Silents are statistically better educated, more affluent, savvier with computers and social media and pride themselves as living a healthier lifestyle than their G.I. Generation predecessors. At retirement, Silents now seek the freedom, flexibility and fulfillment options they never had the opportunity to enjoy during their adult working years. In essence, when they move into a retirement community, they are ready to “check-in.” For the record, the average age of today’s Independent Living and Assisted Living senior resident ranges from 75 to 84 years old, falling directly in line with people born in the Silent Generation era.

Based on these new set of personality traits and characteristics, there are necessary paradigm shifts that community leaders must address and restructure, both physically and operationally to remain competitive in the marketplace;

1 - More living space- Why? Because in many cases, men are living longer (finally) and in turn, married couples comprise a greater percentage of the senior living population. Therefore, not only is there a need for more living space, there’s also a need for more closet space and even a greater number of parking spots as many residents still want their car.

2 - Wi-Fi capability- Whereas retirement facilities use to have communal computers that residents could share, today’s residents bring their own computer to their new senior living residence and expect to have Wi-Fi available 24/7.

3 - More residents today have earned college degrees and this growing percentage will increase even further with the arrival of the Baby Boomers. In fact, many residents seek their retirement years as an opportunity to continue their education by taking classes at local colleges.

4 - Along with an increased level of education, The Silent Generation residents will enter Independent Living communities with more disposable income while maintaining active financial portfolios. The new resident will want to travel, go to the theatre and continue to afford and experience more cultural events.

5 - The Food program is extremely important to senior communities and should be used by administration as a strategic marketing tool, especially in Independent Communities. With resident’s seeking more flexibility and less structure in their day-to-day lives, many perspective residents do not wish to be committed to a built-in meal package as part of their rent structure. It’s becoming more customary for Independent communities to limit meal requirements to one meal per day and a continental breakfast or even a minimum monthly dining room spend, similar to what most private clubs institute.

6 - The Food and Beverage Department will need to compete with local restaurants for resident participation, especially in those communities where there are optional meal programs in place. In turn, the dining department will be challenged to provide expanded menu selections as well as offer healthier menu selections using fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables as standard practices.

Today, along with the Silents, the Baby Boomers are also beginning to enter these senior communities as well, compounding the need to provide more sophisticated, optional community services and programs.

Yes, “The Times, They are a Changin.” (If you recognize that song title, chances are you are either a Silent Generation or Baby Boomer and are very familiar with this musical icon!)

So is your senior community ready for this new-age group of residents, along with their unique set of expectations and enrichment requirements? The answer is, you have to if you want to survive.

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