KEPHART recently hosted a meeting of the minds… the senior living minds. Nearly a dozen topical experts gathered to discuss the challenges and solutions that we face surrounding the future of senior living and potential solutions. Among the attendees were owners and operators of senior living communities, developers, architects, and several industry innovators.
Here are a couple of the challenges and potential solutions that were discussed.
Challenge: People have housing. What they really need is connection. How do we ensure that opportunities to form connections and to be immersed within a community are available?
Solution: One way of looking at senior living is to divide it into two segments – “Hardware” and “Software.” In this model, “Hardware” refers to the physical environment we create while “Software” refers to the intangibles that breathe life into the community. This includes operations, management and culture. As designers of the physical space, we should be looking for ways to maximize opportunity for connection between residents, staff and visitors. And we should be listening and engaged with those developing the software to maximize well-being. This will help empower residents to be involved and create a community.
Challenge: We are currently in a hospitality mode. As operators, we tend to want to help fix things and fix relationships. We will field a complaint – “my neighbor’s dog barks too much” – and go resolve it on behalf of the resident. We don’t need to fix things for people, but rather support people.
Solution: Being aware of Boomer mentality, we need to turn residents into contributors rather than consumers. It is practical to be less hospitality oriented and to focus more on resident engagement and commitment. Boomers also seek engagement, purpose and a mission. The majority of senior living models in existence are ones striving to appeal to all. In the future, this model must shift away from a “one size fits all” mentality and instead focus on a specific demographic or brand.
Challenge: The majority of seniors fall into the disappearing middle class. There are not enough affordable options to meet the needs of these individuals.
Solution: Labor can be 60% of the operating cost of the community. Can we reduce the cost of care by encouraging the able bodied to help care for those that need assistance? Could family members be part of the care giving or students looking for housing, in return for lower rates for the residents? We could be screening future residents and their families for those that are able to support and are willing to invest in the community.
As a follow-up to this conversation, we will be touring a variety of senior living communities throughout the Denver metro area to further explore challenges and opportunities in the built environment. Stay tuned for more information to come about our findings.