Senior living options evolve as America ages

 —  Article by Suchi Rudra
senior living housing in America
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The traditional notion of how and where we spend our later years is being challenged by the baby boomer generation.

By 2050, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is expected to double to 88.5 million, according to the U.S. Department of Health. But already, the aging baby boomer generation of 78 million, who are currently between 50 and 70 years old, is starting to influence different approaches toward senior housing.

Joel Mendes, Senior Vice President, Capital Markets, JLL U.S., explains that “progressive developers are building properties with greater mass appeal: larger units, more walkable spaces, and more integrated into the surrounding community.”

Because many baby boomers prefer to live close to family, developers like CalAtlantic and Taylor Morrison are building enclaves for retirees within or adjacent to regular family neighborhoods in central and eastern Florida. These age-restricted active adult communities, which offer houses for residents who are at least 55 years old, play into the desire of seniors to live in less isolated conditions than afforded by the traditional, large-scale active adult communities. “The easier it is for seniors and their adult children to spend time together, the better. Senior housing properties are often nearby large populations of affluent adult children,” Mendes says.

Different generations under a single roof

Another sign of baby boomers wanting to stay near family is the rise of multigenerational housing. Despite local building code restrictions, home builders are taking on more and more unique demands for families living with aging parents, like the construction of second kitchens, private patios, elevators and separate entrances.

Developers are also starting to create homes which cater to the differing needs of extended families. Floor plans with ‘flex space’ enable families to use unallocated but available areas as bedrooms, home offices or playrooms as required. Equally, closets can be built on the same location on each floor so they can later be turned into elevator shafts.

Mendes believes multigenerational housing is “good for all generations, and it will grow because baby boomers do not want to be segregated. We will see more and more apartment buildings with people in their 80s and people in their 20s sharing the same lobby.

“There comes a point though when the care required for an older person who has multiple health conditions becomes challenging in spaces that are not built specifically for their unique needs.”

To that end, the concept of “aging in community” has become an attractive option for seniors. From California to North Carolina, seniors are coming together to buy land and build their own self-governed cohousing communities to look after each other and share expenses, including fees to cover the cost of a caretaker’s apartment onsite.

A more structured version of cohousing, niche retirement communities are popping up around the country, centered around themes that range from astronomy to painting and retired mail carriers to ethnic groups, although Mendes points out that the “market needs to be large enough to accommodate its niche appeal to a specific subset.”

Technology supports independent living

Retirees wishing to age in place on their own are starting to find greater independence and convenience with the use of smart home devices. Sensor technology has been harnessed to create detection devices like smart medication pillboxes and products like Evermind and Lively that allow for monitoring of medical equipment, home appliances and security cameras, and can send immediate alerts to family members, caregivers or emergency facilities if there is any deviation from the resident’s normal daily routine.

“Technology will continue to play an integral role in senior housing and aging in general, and there is a lot of innovation happening now, but nothing has swept the country just yet. There is a challenge here too: how much monitoring is too much? We don’t want technology to infringe on privacy.”

As senior housing options continue to expand and the notion itself is transformed, Mendes also thinks that the word “senior” will disappear. “The word has garnered a connotation that is negative in the eyes of baby boomers. It’s a word that references your parents and not yourself, no matter how old you are,” Mendes says.

Indeed, America may be aging but its citizens haven’t lost the drive to live their lives in their own way. The baby boomers have challenged the status quo at every stage of their lives, and seniors housing will be no different.

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