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An influx of single women, smart home technologies, environmental design, and the myriad demands of the boomer generation were among the rapid responses from industry thought leaders to the following question posed at 2017’s Senior Living Innovation Forum (SLIF):

"What do you think will be the biggest disruptor in Seniors Housing over the next 10-15 years?"

Bob Kramer, Founder & CEO of NIC, is bracing for senior living’s Baby Boomer influx. “We’re going to have a very different customer—the boomer. And the boomer doesn’t think like the ‘greatest generation.’ The boomer wants engagement. They want to be ‘integrated with,’ not ‘separated from’ (society),” he says.

“They want things to be customized. I believe technology will enable us to respond to what the boomers want.”

And a large number of the boomers making those demands will be single women, “not married boomer women,” stresses Dr. Bill Thomas, Founder of the Eden Alternative.

Tech Effect

It’s no panacea, but technology might help ease the effect of senior living’s potential boomer population boom. “The technology people have in their own homes will be the greatest disruptor,” says Denise B. Scott, President of Drive. “The ability to stay home and still be social and, have the medical care they need…, and receive services in their own homes.”

“However, once they do move into senior facilities, the integration of new technology into senior housing will improve the quality of care and allow families to be more involved in seniors’ lives,” says Marjorie Todd, COO of Highgate Senior Living.

Edgar Kalns, Director of Studio on Aging at SRI International adds, “I think this offers an amazing opportunity to holistically understand what is happening with seniors. Artificial intelligence (AI) and predictive analytics will help seniors stay independent.”

Real Estate Reality

From a development perspective, Silverado’s Paul Mullin believes senior living will transition from a “real estate-based industry” into one that’s more “experience-based.”

“Where it’s going, nobody knows, but it will be an experience.”

Without making a clear prediction, Mullin also wonders if there will be a “resort-type club that people come into for one day to get their healthcare needs met and then go back to wherever they live? What is that business model going to look like?”

For retiring boomers, Thrive Senior Living’s Les Stretch sees a growing pool of available housing, shifting power to the people. “As supply starts to catch up with demand, people will make (housing) decisions based on the way we view them,” he says. “The disruptor will be a culture that embraces (residents) as people, not a number and bed count.”

We Need Good People!

While responses to our disruptor question were varied – often based on the responder’s area of focus, several SLIF participants offered similar answers to a second question:

“What keeps you up at night?”

The response: a shortage of a qualified, motivated workforce to serve the growing senior population – “To make sure we create really good jobs that people want,” in the words of Bill Thomas.

“That we don’t have enough good people to do the work we need to get done in this field. So, we have a shortage already, over the next 10 years we’re going to have a shortage of 1.3 million direct care workers,” says Drive’s Scott. “We need to figure out ways to make this field much more attractive for people to come work in.”

Taking an altruistic stance, Jodi Guffee, COO of Radiant Senior Living, and Lori Alford, COO of Avanti Senior Living, worry not only about filling positions but also the ways in which their companies will be able to provide exciting career paths.

“I’m really invested not just in the resident, but in the staff. And if I can’t make a positive difference in all of their lives then I’m not doing this for the right reasons,” Guffee says. “So I’m constantly trying to figure out how we engage our residents, staff and family members to want to participate together for the betterment of everybody.”

Optimistic Alford envisions senior communities providing both quality care and satisfying careers, posing the question, “How do we create a work environment that is healthy, energetic, and fun to continue to recruit top talent?”

These are just a few of the thoughtful responses to our “pop quiz.” The two accompanying videos, each about five minutes in length, feature more fast, incisive responses to our challenging questions. For a more in-depth look at the future of senior living, download our report Senior Living: 2030

Michael P. Owens

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Michael P. Owens is Co-Founder + Managing Partner of influence group, a leading producer of content and events in real estate, design, construction and technology.

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