It may feel like years but just a few months back, blogs and articles were trumpeting exciting times ahead for the senior living industry. Active baby boomers would be redefining the whole concept of aging. Smart technology would offer security for residents and valuable data for their healthcare providers. Drab dining areas were out; bistros and delivery options were in.
Absent from these confident predictions? A global pandemic.
Fast forward to now and it’s tempting to think COVID-19 has upended everything we know about the senior living sector. But that’s not quite true. Treatments will become available and communities will develop best practices to mitigate the dangers associated with the disease. Little by little, the trends identified above will reassert themselves–and some will seem even more important now than they did before. Here’s what to look out for as 2020 unfolds.
Far more than previous generations, baby boomers (thousands of whom will be retiring every day over the next decade or so) are consummate consumers who will shop around for senior living communities much as they do for any other service. It’s therefore essential that communities offer the best possible customer experience for their price range, and that they differentiate themselves from their competitors.
In practice, this could mean anything from rooftop restaurants and organic vegetable gardens to versatile communal spaces that host movie nights on Thursday and philosophy class the next morning. More generally, it means doing everything possible to give residents the freedom and autonomy to live their best lives, in addition to the highest standard of care.
But how can you meet these standards in the age of social distancing? First, you’ll need to be flexible. Instead of abandoning that movie night altogether, perhaps you’ll run it over several days with fewer people in the room. And second, you’ll need to embrace innovation. For example, COVID-19 has given new impetus to telehealth, which should give an edge to communities that can facilitate these services for their residents.
The experience of COVID-19 has shot holes in the idea that most seniors are wary of new technology. Even while sheltering in place, older adults have been virtually attending Passover seders and grandchildren’s birthday parties using Zoom and other video conferencing platforms. The trend of residents using cutting-edge apps to stay connected with their friends and family is surely here to stay.
Within senior communities, technology can be used to build connections that are both practical and meaningful. Data from smartwatches, which track a wearer’s blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels, can help healthcare and senior living providers respond to residents’ specific and evolving needs. Communities can also develop phone and tablet apps that give residents easy access to activity schedules, daily menus and so on.
It would probably take more than a pandemic to stop the march of wellness culture and active aging, two of the hottest trends in senior living. In fact, physical fitness and social well-being have never seemed more important, though we may see a shift in emphasis from some activities and settings to others. Yoga, zumba, painting and even dancing are all activities that can be done outside, where the coronavirus (and other infectious diseases) is less likely to spread. And so long as participants keep their distance, pursuits such as hiking and speed walking are great ways to socialize, as well as to stay fit.
It would be wrong and foolish to understate the challenges COVID-19 presents to the senior living industry. But it’s essential we rise to those challenges. The future course of this pandemic is uncertain, but the need for safe, secure and life-enriching senior living communities has never been clearer.