Senior living operators have long developed communities catering to specific groups with niche and affinity-based offerings. But as a new generation of senior living residents approaches the industry, they are adapting that model to meet the changing habits of prospective residents.
From changing habits to evolving social needs, operators are keeping up with new trends by catering to resident desires on a more personalized basis. One way to do that is to market communities that exemplify various lifestyles, from an emphasis on activism and volunteerism to more representation among cultural, social and religious groups.
In the past, senior living communities have catered to a wide number of groups, including former military members, artists and former professors. And that practice will continue into the future, especially as more baby boomers move into senior housing.
One of the concept’s biggest backers over the years has been Bob Kramer, founder and fellow of senior living consulting firm Nexus Insights and founder of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC). And as he looks into the future, Kramer sees more desire for these kinds of communities, even after the Covid-19 pandemic and all of its disruption.
“I think in the future you’re going to see communities with a focus on lifestyle,”Kramer told Senior Housing News. “You want people who have similar passions or people that are motivated by similar things.”
What has changed in recent years are the ways in which senior living operators are catering to those groups — and to which groups they are catering. One such example is Living Out, a senior living community designed for LGBTQ+ older adults.
Though Living Out is still coming together, it joins a growing number of communities in the U.S. geared toward queer seniors. And CEO Loren Ostrow believes the trend of catering to specific groups of people in senior living is only gaining momentum.
“Niche communities are the way of the future,” Ostrow told SHN. “Whether they be ethnic, religious, cultural or service-driven, there’s a real market for that.”
Another example lies in a to-be-named community from Garden Spot Communities in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Instead of luxury amenities or programming, the community is focusing on intergenerational connections and ties to the local community as its biggest draw for residents. But beyond that, the organization has always seen service-minded residents as its core base, and regularly gives them opportunities to give back.
“It gives people an opportunity to continue to use what their skills and life experiences were before coming here while using them to benefit others,” Garden Spot Communities CEO Steve Lindsey told SHN.
And yet another way operators are catering to specific groups of people is by their health care or safety needs. Such is the case for Iowa-based Via Health Services, which operates a 32-bed memory care community specifically for women.
All three of these models offer a glimpse of the product type’s future, and exemplify how senior living operators are looking to break the mold to cater to different groups and affinities.
Community with purpose
One of the more powerful ways senior living operators cater to specific groups of people is by appealing to their sense of purpose. The value proposition of these communities is that, at least in theory, they attract like-minded people who share a common vision for life and the world in general.
When done well, these approaches are a source of new residents, and can help keep a community full. Take Wake Robin, for example. The life plan community in Shelburne, Vermont, promotes environmental stewardship as a core value and offers meat-free menu items on the regular.
Kramer highlighted the community’s census and the fact that many of its residents are from out of state to show the power of marketing a certain lifestyle.
“They’re drawn to the special brand that they have,” Kramer added.
Garden Spot Communities, which is affiliated with the Mennonite Church, takes a similar approach. The organization promotes community service and volunteerism as one of its biggest draws for new residents, according to Lindsey.
“The question became not so much, how can I be entertained for the rest of my life but what can I do to live with a sense of purpose, meaning and how I make a difference in the world around me,” Lindsey said. “We just started really to pick up on some of those questions.”
Garden Spot Communities operates two continuing care retirement communities (CCRC) in Pennsylvania.
One way Garden Spot residents give back is by taking international service trips. Residents have traveled to Honduras on charitable missions six times since 2019 through Garden Spot Village’s Travel with Purpose program. In 2020, the organization partnered with a Kenya-based nonprofit Missions of Hope International for future service trips in Africa.
Garden Spot Communities also has residents who tutor youth and work to end food insecurity locally by hosting community meals.
“These kinds of things all make a difference,” Lindsey said. “There’s all sorts of these things happening all the time that show how important service is to our residents.”
Garden Spot is also developing an intergenerational senior living community, Lindsey said. The to-be-named project is planned to include 150 residential units as part of a 250,000 square-foot building, with a 5,000 square-foot interior courtyard.
But where it really will shine is in its intergenerational components. Lindsey said the project’s overarching goal is to bring all walks of life together to build a sense of community. And as he looks ahead, he sees a need for more communities catering to these types of community-oriented residents.
“This was a shift in perspective,” Lindsey said. “As we look at new projects, we wanted to look beyond how we could create new, engaging environments where older adults can thrive.”
Representation in senior living
Another way senior living operators are embracing the niche community trend in 2022 is by building communities that serve as a hub for specific groups of people. For example, past projects have looked to build features geared toward South Asian and Indian older adults.
Living Out takes a slightly different approach. Instead of angling for people from different parts of the world, the community is looking to attract queer older adults, who have in the past had to “navigate a world that wasn’t built for us,” the community’s website reads.
The in-progress active adult community is marketing specifically to LGBTQ+ older adults and their loved ones.
“Palm Springs is also known for its Mid-Century Modern architecture, its support of the arts, and its vibrant cultural scene,” reads marketing copy on the community’s website. “Add the fact that more than 50% of the town’s population is gay and you can guarantee that, for a Living Out resident, every experience in Palm Springs is just a little more exciting.”
Seniors in the LGBTQ+ community currently have limited options for welcoming and inclusive senior living environments, Ostrow said, which is one of the main reasons he championed the idea for Living Out. The project is currently under construction with a planned opening for April of next year.
“One of the things Living Out does that a lot of affinity projects don’t necessarily need to do is this comfort of being in a place where people accept you for who you are,” Ostrow said.
Nine months ahead of its opening, the 122-unit community has received over 50 deposits on one and two-bedroom units. Additionally, Ostrow said Living Out has so far received 70 requests for more information once resident rates and other project components are finalized.
The Palm Springs project is the first “flagship” in the line of similar developments that Ostrow is planning. And he is confident the concept will take hold down the line as more LGBTQ+ older adults move into senior housing. .
“There’s comfort with people who understand the same things you do and celebrate the same things you do,” Ostrow said. “There’s demand for affinity-based projects across the industry and that’s not going away.”
Affinity based on safety, needs
In some cases niche communities cater not to groups, but to specific care needs. For example, there are communities that cater to residents who have experienced a traumatic brain injury or who are Deaf, hard of hearing or DeafBlind. .
Iowa-based Via Health Services, a family-owned skilled nursing company, recently opened a 32-unit memory care community. But what makes the project unique is that it is the first all-women Alzheimer’s and dementia care unit in the state, according to Via Health Services CEO Jennifer Conner.
The 14,000 square-foot community, known as Iris at Fleur, was conceived in response to a need to seperate men and women in memory care to prevent interactions that would harm residents or their wellbeing.
“We found that there would be behaviors when we had men and women together that can be uncomfortable,” Conner said.
With the memory care space being tightly regulated due to the frail state of many residents, minimizing those problematic instances is vital to smooth operations and maintaining the highest level of resident care. The Fleur project also made sense due to a majority of the dementia patients served by Via were women, Conner added.
With the concept in mind, Conner said families were more comfortable with putting a loved one in memory care after learning about the intentional separation concept.
“The niche community is a very important thing and I only see it growing from where it is,” Conner said. “We have this aging population that’s living longer than ever before, so there are going to be a lot of things that can’t meet those needs as robustly as a specialized unit like we can.”
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