Last week, I gave the closing keynote at SMASH, the senior housing summit in Las Vegas. My job was to inform the audience about the person who is often the decision-maker in senior housing: the adult child. In other words, people like us helping to make decisions for our parents. It was a wonderful opportunity to speak in front of an audience that really does want to do the best they can for their customers. Despite some bad press a small number of operators get, this was an audience of people who really cared about their residents and how to best serve them.
This industry will be undergoing a tremendous amount of change and disruption in the next few years as people like us move up the age ladder. We are moving from an environment of needs-based decisions to aspiration-based decisions. Some of our parents may be from a generation that is accustomed to settling; we may not be.
This is an Underserved, Underestimated Population
The senior housing industry currently serves only 10% of the qualified and eligible population. Not a particularly auspicious stat. Without some serious changes in how their model is set up, that number may actually fall. Rather than address people’s desire to actualize the best version of themselves, to stay engaged and impactful in their lives, so often the opposite is done. Granted, there are medical issues for many people, and they must be regarded with the utmost respect, but what about all those people who are looking for an alternative to the big houses they live in now, for community, for meaning, for a fully engaging experience?
Our Biggest Fear is Not Death, It’s Irrelevance
We did a study recently and we found that the biggest fear is not death, it is irrelevance. If senior living communities could address this (in even a small way, as the bar is pretty low now) they would have an opportunity not only to delight their current people but also lay the groundwork for a way forward. As Steve Moran of Senior Living Foresight wrote to me, “I think senior living mostly accelerates this problem.” I agree.
Where Can We Become the Best Versions of Ourselves?
Sure, there will always be the customer for the cruise ship in the desert model of senior living, an advanced age amusement park. But where have we ever seen a community marketed as ‘We will help you become the best version of yourself”? Are the current offerings really going to cut it? Some people may enjoy ma jong, but maybe there is something more profound than can be offered.
This is an industry that we have our eye on, and are working with several partners on new offerings. Not just for the 85-year-old average age currently in the industry, but for people our age who would like a place and a community for the long haul.