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What's new: The business case for wellness programs in senior living.

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New life, new vision

On a recent visit to PBS's Next Avenue website, which bills itself as for "grownups who want to keep growing," I saw a headline that caught my attention-"Why senior housing needs to change to appeal to Boomers."

It was not the first time I've seen this kind of headline, and it will not be the last. But we had just completed the inaugural ICAA Active-Aging Industry Trends Survey, and I was curious to compare our findings with comments that Next Avenue contributor Holly Lawrence captured from an expert panel. This group discussed "Top trends defining senior living in 2019" at the recent Washington Innovation in Longevity Summit, organized by Mary Furlong & Associates.

In her article, Lawrence highlights panel sentiments that many industry professionals share. "Things are clearly not that good in the market," states moderator John Yedinak, president and cofounder of Aging Media Network, whose brands include Senior Housing News. Chuck Harry, chief of research and analytic at the National Investment Center for Senior Housing and Care, notes that occupancy rates "trended downward over the past 10 quarters," to fall beneath 88% in the second quarter of 2018. The question is, why?

"The big issue is that, as an industry, we have built product that does not align with what the consumer wants," comments Dan Hutson, chief strategy officer for HumanGood, a leading owner and operator of senior living communities. Hutson notes that "the industry has largely focused on developing the same kind of inventory that is basically a more contemporary version of what we built 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago." He also sees too little variety and choice for customers.

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Capping off all those things is the affordability challenge, which Vivian Vasallo, director of innovation and partnerships at mortgage loan company Fannie Mae, explains. As Lawrence writes, "About 70% of the market can't qualify for affordable housing, but can't afford senior living communities, either." These individuals can expect "much more limited" options.

Even people with the cash to afford senior living will potentially burn through their funds faster in the years to come given the rising costs of care. And where will that leave the industry? The de facto model of senior living will be one where communities serve wealthy individuals who are older, who have acute health conditions, and who seek care in residential environments. Individuals will stay for shorter periods, however, due to more acute illnesses or depleted funds. Is it any wonder senior living communities seek new solutions?

What the panel fails to mention is, for me, nothing less than a transformation occurring in senior living. What is it? Wellness!

According to "Visions of the future," ICAA's new trends report, almost 60% of responding staff and managers expect their senior living communities to be repositioned to a wellness community with care by 2023-a remarkable shift from the traditional model of care. And, among all organizations surveyed (including seniors/community centers and agencies for aging), 72% of respondents considered lifestyle/wellness a "high or essential priority."

Yet wellness is neither new nor a trend or a movement; it is now a way of life. In some ways, the shift taking place resembles the "overnight success" of an actor who has worked at his craft for 20 years. The reality is, by offering residents the promise of leading a better quality of life for longer, wellness has already helped stem the bleeding in senior living occupancy. Such community offerings also attract younger Boomers who seek a wellness-based lifestyle at an earlier age. Then there is the bottom line: Wellness services cost so much less than care, as do the products and services that support a wellness lifestyle. (More benefits are discussed in the 2018 "ICAA business case for wellness programs" at https://www.icaa.cc.)

ICAA's "Visions of the future" shares a picture of wellness today, including the challenges organizations face and the wellness strategies and solutions they choose. I recommend you access this report and study it closely. Wellness is already breathing new life into communities and other organizations that embrace its possibilities.

Colin Milner, CEO
International Council on Active Aging®

Connect with Colin Milner on
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Note: This information is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from research. The view expressed here are not necessarily those of the ICAA, we encourage you to make your own health and business decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified professional.

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