- Jul 29 2016
Just two decades ago, the average life expectancy topped off at 64 years old. Today it reaches 70 years old and by 2050, on average, men and women alike will live to celebrate their 80th birthday. This extended life expectancy has caused experts to make a distinction between “younger” seniors and “older” seniors. But the distinction doesn’t stop there, social and cultural changes have also created sub-groups. In the US for example, one in five seniors are “non-white,” 10 percent are foreign born – a figure that will rise to 20 percent by 2050 – and 3 million belong to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community – a figure that is expected to double in the next 20 years.
Each one of these differences that foster a rich and diverse senior population also contributes to a growing multiplicity of expectations. In order to be successful, it is imperative that senior living providers go beyond understanding the basic needs of their customers; they will need to understand the new normal in senior living – which means taking into account customer expectations and accommodating needs and preferences of sub-groups.
With this diversity in mind, senior living facilities have been focused on bolstering their roster of sports and physical activities for senior residents. Beyond access to a gymnasium or outdoor activity space, seniors are looking for fitness training tailored to their specific health problems, wellness centers with Pilates, yoga and aerobics classes and advanced classes for residents who strive to maintain a high level of fitness.
But staying active doesn’t necessarily mean taking a class or walking around the neighborhood. Seniors are finding other purposeful ways to keep up their heart rates such as gardening. Tending to plots and harvesting crops gets seniors up on their feet and also gives them the opportunity to engage with fellow gardeners. Overall, seniors are catching on to the importance of staying active. The number of seniors who exercise at least for 30 minutes a day increased from 26 percent in 2013 to 37 percent in 2014.
As the senior marketplace becomes more and more diverse, so, too, do the palates, dining restrictions and preferences of senior residents. Today, dining facilities must accommodate not only health-related food needs, but also those associated with various cultures, religions and lifestyles.
The next generation of seniors expects more choice. Whether serving kosher or halal meals, gluten-free options or simply adding foods that will be familiar and appetizing to residents from Asian or Hispanic backgrounds, care facilities must spice up their approach to dining for the sake of residents’ quality of life.
The new wave of “younger” seniors tends to seek out and be more at ease with technology than their older counterparts. Access to Wi-Fi, tablets and smart TVs for example can improve the every day life of seniors living within facilities, just as it does for the rest of us on the outside. While younger residents may use technology to keep in touch with family and friends or to catch up on the latest headlines, technology can be an essential tool for older residents as well. In some facilities staff rely on tablets to display photos of food to help residents with dementia order dinner. No matter the function, a facility’s ability to incorporate technology into the mix will also be a key contributor to resident quality of life.
In the years to come senior expectations will continue to evolve and diversify – and the services available to them must follow suit.
As seniors today live longer and healthier lives, the retirement community demographic shifts considerably. And so do their expectations.
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