Development: Baby Boomers

Through technology and independence, this demographic will reshape senior living for years to come.

By Joshua Ayers, Senior Editor

The generation that strove to bring social equality to minorities, coined the term “free love,” and provided American culture with a new groovy outlook on life may just have a few more tricks up its sleeve before turning in. The time of Baby Boomer retirement has arrived and a major question facing the multi-housing industry, specifically with regards to senior communities, is how to keep up with the demands of a generation that has continually refused to accept a traditional institutionalized way of life.

“I call it the Peter Pan syndrome; they never want to grow old,” says Dan Cinelli, principal and executive director at Perkins Eastman, an international design and planning firm.
Cinelli, who specializes in senior living and has worked with more than 100 senior living organizations, sponsors and associations, noted that Boomers are looking for independence in senior living, saying that “[Boomers] don’t mind being with older people, but again, [they] want to make sure that [they] don’t move to the next level of the continuum; that it is really brought to [them].”

So what does that mean for communities starting to target the aging Boomers? In a nutshell, changing the stigma of retirement communities to something more in-line with real-world life and incorporating new technologies into the lives of the retired so they can live an independent lifestyle, while making sure not to limit the functionality and appeal of a community to one specific generation.

The C.C. Young model

Dallas’ C.C. Young Senior Living campus has proven to be a great example of how to incorporate independent, residential living into a continuum-model senior care center. The not-for-profit senior care organization was created in 1922 and after several moves within the Dallas area it landed in its current location in the Lakewood area near the banks of White Rock Lake.

While the campus offers residences for assisted living and memory care, the organization’s most recent additions, The Point, an inward-facing, stand-alone 20,000 square-foot building that serves as a non-age segregated community and arts center, and The Overlook, a six-story independent-living community that boasts more than 200,000-square-feet of space, are excellent examples of what comes out of thorough market research and world class design. Both structures were designed by Perkins Eastman, which took gold in the Independent Living Community Project category at the National Association of Home Builders’ Best of 50+ Housing Awards in 2013 for its project, The Overlook.

“We call it residential living as opposed to independent living,” says Ken Durand, former president of C.C. Young who served until 2010 and now lives at The Overlook.
While overseeing C.C. Young in the 1990s, Durand worked with Perkins Eastman’s’ Cinelli to develop a master plan that would attract clientele ready for retirement then, as well as generations to come.

“We saw at C.C. Young a special mission to the community as a result of that planning process, and that was that we wanted to recognize older people in a way that was a new perspective, and that was that aging is really a part of development,” Durand says. “It’s a part of lifelong development. It’s a stage of life and, as such, is still a period that is subject to creativity. ‘Creativity is Ageless’ is the tagline of C.C. Young and that grew out of that planning process.”

Though the Baby Boomers were still on the horizon at that point, Durand’s ultimate idea for the planning of The Point and The Overlook was to develop additions to the campus that would be flexible enough to cater to evolving demands of each successive generation.

By grouping seniors into a set of categories that he calls Go-Go, Slow-Go and No-Go, as opposed to grouping them generationally, Durand felt they were better able to accomplish those goals with regards to planning and design. He attributed today’s retiring Boomers to the Go-Go category meaning that the age group is still very active, just entering retirement age and is probably least likely to seek retirement communities. Seniors who tend to be in the mid-to-late 70s in age were the basis for the Slow-Go category, which is characterized by the onset of chronic illness and the potential for needing some assistance. The No-Go category is comprised of the oldest seniors who tend to be the least mobile, frailer and most susceptible to illnesses, thus requiring the most attention.

“Recognizing that you’re going to be dealing with all three of these at some point, particularly the second and third group, you need to develop facilities that are complementary to those individuals,” he says. “That’s what drove us—knowing that the Baby Boomers were not our present target, but that they would soon be our target and that they would bring different expectations to retirement living. They would come with expectations of Internet access, for example, and other sort of things that were unheard of 10 years ago.”

Creating timeless communities

Planning for The Point, which was financed entirely by fundraising and donations, and The Overlook, which was financed by non-profit investment banking group Ziegler via not-for-profit bonds, involved focus groups and market research. This included population-based market analysis for the Dallas area in order to get a handle on what was going on in the Metroplex at the time with respect to development, both with numbers and ratios, as well as with what residents were looking for at the communities. The research collected helped to present a case for the appropriate permitting for the projects.

Learning from competitors’ mistakes also played a large role in the design of the community. Cinelli mentioned a mistake made by a “really big competitor” that had built a community six or seven years prior to The Overlook and was having issues selling due to some design oversights.

“They didn’t have anything opening up to the outside community,” he says. “They had units that were 350 feet from the dining room, and so they had major issues with travel distance and selling those units that were farthest away.”

Perhaps one of the best ways new developments will cater to Boomers seeking senior living communities is by taking advantage of common areas to incorporate the greater community into the location and help residents maintain a sense of independence and connection with the world.

After the assisted living component of C.C. Young was completed, the organization saw a need to establish an outreach program that involved other community agencies and organizations within the campus. C.C. Young established partnerships with more than a dozen organizations such as Baylor Medical Center, the University of Texas at Dallas Brain Health Center and the local Chamber of Commerce. By utilizing common spaces within the community, mainly The Point, these partnerships allowed for the opportunity to bring an influx of non-residents to the campus for various seminars and entertainment events.

“One of the greater things that happen to older people who move to an institution is that the institution insulates them from the greater community so they become estranged and isolated,” Durand says. “The efforts to minimize that are critical to a successful operation.

The future

The Boomers will likely make their mark on the senior housing industry with the incorporation of emerging medical technologies and a desire for active lifestyles that will allow them to maintain their independent living status much longer than previous generations.

Cinelli noted a Kaiser health program in Florida that’s using telemedicine to work with about 800 patients in their own homes. Through in-home robotic devices, medical professionals are able to remotely monitor vitals such as blood pressure and heart rate. Through the Internet, those professionals are then able to work with the residents to discuss any potential issues that come up.

Cinelli thinks this sort of program will become a norm in senior living in the future. He likened the telemedicine integration of technology to what is developing with Apple’s Siri product on iPhones. “I think we’re all going to have someone that’s going to be our personal Siri,” he says, “and that person’s going to handle healthcare issues and a whole bunch of other stuff.”

The trend to create more independent living options at already-established continuing care facilities, which is what The Overlook is to C.C. Young, will help to garner interest from a younger age of seniors.

Perkins Eastman recently completed a similar project in Milwaukee called Saint John’s on the Lake, which is a 22-story building that was built next to an older 1960s-era building. Though the community is still a continuing care facility, bringing the new concepts into the campus made it easier to market it as an active living facility.

Cinelli said that the average move-in age at Saint John’s on the Lake prior to the construction of the new building was 79 to 82. After completion, the average age of residents at move-in had dropped to 73-76.

“That doesn’t sound like big numbers, but those four or five years makes a major difference in the number of people you can go and tap on a demographic side,” he says.
Ultimately, though, the future of the Boomers with regards to senior communities will be how well those communities are able to help the generation age on its own terms.
“I think one of the things we’ve seen early on from our conversations with Boomers is that they don’t want to move through the continuum,” Cinelli says. “They want everything brought to them so that they’re not going to go from independent living, to assisted living, to skilled care. They basically want to age in place however that is, whether through technology, through telemedicine, to being able to make sure that the toilet seat goes up and down, so that if they are in a wheel chair, they don’t have to move to the next level.”

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