At the $500 million Mather life plan community currently under construction in the D.C. metro area, 80% of the units are pre-sold and two-thirds of the depositors are of the baby boomer or Generation X ages. On top of that, a third of the community’s future residents are part of minority demographic groups.
Having such a young and diverse resident population is “rare” for senior living, Mather CEO Mary Leary said this week at the Senior Housing News WELLNESS/DISHED conference in Orlando.
She credits Mather’s new wellness model, formally launched last year, with helping to attract these next generations to senior living.
The new approach goes beyond the six-dimensional model for wellness, a well-established standard in the industry dating back to the 1970s.
Mather contends that while the six dimensions are helpful, the model suggests that wellness can only be achieved by pursuing all of the dimensions, without regard for an individual’s unique needs and wants. Furthermore, the six-dimensional model neglects to address environmental factors related to wellness.
“It doesn’t talk about the conditions that need to exist for wellness to occur, so it talks about what but not how,” Leary said.
Today’s consumers in particular have a more sophisticated understanding of wellness and higher expectations for how a senior living community can and should support and promote wellness.
“Residents in senior living communities in 1976 were born before women were given the right to vote, as well as people who were at the tail end of the generation born immediately following the Civil War,” Leary observed. “So wellness was certainly not top of mind for these folks.”
Leary is heartened not only by the pre-sale trends at the Tysons community but by how residents at Mather’s communities in the Chicago and Tucson markets have embraced the person-centric wellness model. And the senior living industry as a whole also is showing an increasing commitment to person-centered wellness, while Mather is pushing forward to build upon the framework.
A promising launch
The person-centered wellness model put forward by Mather, based largely in work done by research arm The Mather Institute, focuses on the “Three A’s”: autonomy, achievement and affiliation; with autonomy providing self-determination, achievement driving purpose and affiliation offering meaningful social interactions with others.
“People want to benefit from a wellness program that’s of their own choosing,” Leary said. “They feel like they can succeed and their efforts involve engagement with others.”
Leary added that 2022 was “our wellness incubator year.” One example of how Mather is operationalizing the new model is in using those three guiding principles to incorporate open studio concepts that position creative arts as a vehicle for wellness on the journey of learning, self-discovery and expression. Leary said the impetus came out of a study by the National Endowment for the Arts and National Institute for Mental Health that found older adults who engage with art will have better, healthier lives.
Further building on this idea, Mather partnered with the Kennedy Center and Georgetown University and hosted symposiums with speakers from various organizations, including the Kennedy Center the Smithsonian and Chautauqua. The discussions centered on how creativity can advance successful aging, with the data still pending review to be released later this summer.
“I will say that one idea that has come out of this is to position senior living communities as creative hubs … that offer intergenerational opportunities for creative arts,” she said. “The Mather in Evanston, as one example, is hosting an annual plein air painting event … So it’s an outdoor painting event in downtown Evanston that involves people of all ages, and we found a lot of receptivity to that.”
The shift in wellness also brought changes in dining.
Leary offered 10 examples of wellness-related dining trends, half-joking that she had whittled down a list of 100 such trends. These trends touch on every aspect of the dining experience, which Leary broke down according to “venue, menu and crew.”
Global diets with wellness benefits are a major trend, propelled by the fact that 50% of the depositors at the Mather in Tysons have lived abroad. The Mediterranean diet — encompassing cuisines from a wide variety of countries and regions, including North Africa and Portugal — is particularly prominent. But Leary also singled out Japan’s shojin ryori vegetarian cuisine.
“This employs two rules of five: Five colors and five flavors to support mind, body and spirit,” she said.
Executing the new model
Mather is in the process of implementing five projects to execute and advance its new wellness framework, including a nine-week wellness coaching program developed in conjunction with Wake Forest University and Virginia Tech.
Mather also worked with partners inthe senior living nonprofit Novare consortium for a wellness assessment tool, while also working with educational nonprofit Chautauqua Institution to easily share findings online with providers. The fourth area is production of wellness education videos for staff and residents focused on a wide range of topics followed by an additional study of older adults.
“We’re going to be implementing a new national longitudinal study in 2023, that will be focused on Gen Xers, so that we can learn more about the needs and desires of these upcoming cohorts,” Leary said.
With the new model, Mather also is incorporating wellness into The Mather development in Virginia, specifically biophilic design to improve mood and cognitive performance of residents.
Leary described plans for the new community’s spa in particular detail, to illustrate how the design is informed by wellness goals. The spa will incorporate:
- A live herb wall, allowing residents to pick herbs to be infused into teas
- Spa lounge with Himalayan sea salt wall
- Zero-gravity seating to reduce pain and increase circulation
- Holistic therapy rooted in Chinese medicine or ayurveda, focused on mind, body and spirit
- Vibro-acoustic soundwave therapy
- Chromalight therapy steam showers
Not every aspect of the project has gone smoothly, Leary acknowledged, and lessons have been learned along the way. Mather provided gas ranges, in an effort to appeal to younger consumers, but reports then highlighted that gas ranges are not good for indoor air quality and the environment. Most depositors have requested induction cooktops, and Mather is now facing the challenge of sourcing 36-inch induction cooktops.
Still, this preference highlights how attuned younger consumers are to matters of wellness.
Data driving decisions
The Age Well study, longitudinal study encompassing 6,000 senior living residents and 122 senior living communities that was started five years ago by the Mather Institute is also paying off.
The first year focused on residents in life plan communities versus living outside of a community. In that first year, residents rated themselves higher on nearly every dimension of wellness compared to those living outside senior living communities, Leary said. Year two showed residents said moving into a life plan community improved social and physical wellness. The third year of the study tested the “Three As” model and found “greater happiness and life satisfaction.”
“Again, I think that’s huge for our industry,” Leary said.
Additionally, 92% of residents said they were “highly satisfied” with the life plan community where they live even as the study was done amid the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The company will compare resident responses among people who participated in all years of the study to determine the impact of living in a life plan community and effects on health and well-being, Leary noted.
To make a community stand out, Leary urged providers to move beyond the status quo to attract new generations of older adults. While the industry faces many challenges, she said that moving toward person-centered wellness does not have to be expensive and will bear positive results.
Looking forward, Leary said wellness and culinary combined are the “two most exciting aspects of the senior living industry.”
“It’s just a really exciting time to experiment and try new things,” she added. “My sense is everyone wants to be ahead of the curve … We are all in this together.”