New trends in retirement residences: nature, well-being and community

In 2008, Janice Barton was vacationing in Serenbe, a biophilic or nature-centric community in the Chattahoochee Hills about 30 miles outside of Atlanta. She fell in love with the village’s English-style cottages, outdoor artist’s studio, nature trails, local shops and cafe all within walking distance, and decided to buy him a forever home. .

“In a typical suburb, you walk into your garage, close the door and that’s it,” explained Barton, who at 73 is a solo. “You may know your neighbors on each side or across the street but you have nothing in common so you don’t want to invest time and energy. At Serenbe, I feel younger because I’m engaged and living a more dynamic life.”

Serenbe and other new amenity-laden retirement communities illustrate how the retirement home industry is going through a transformation that has accelerated since the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, Americans 65 and older expressed a desire to stay home as long as possible; pandemic-enforced social isolation is causing solo seniors — the 12% of the population who AARP says are widowed, divorced, or without adult children to care for them — to rethink the desire to grow old alone at home.

Change design, change your mind

Meanwhile, families have become more concerned about community life after pandemic-related health threats and the mandatory isolation of loved ones in most long-term care communities.

Additionally, the interests and needs of residents over the age of 55 are changing, forcing existing communities for seniors to resurrect their appeal to increasingly younger potential residents.

It will be difficult to overcome ageist perceptions of retirement residence and assisted living developments. Many people think of these communities as destinations for physical decay, disability, devastating disease, and death rather than communities that support a fulfilling and better quality of life into the residents’ 80s and 90s.

According to James Balda, President and CEO of Argentum, the leading national trade association for what the industry calls “senior living” communities, seven out of 10 people will need assisted living care in their lifetime. The number of people in assisted living facilities should now exceed double to about 2 million by 2040.

However, most seniors only opt for seniors for the last five years of their lives, making amenities more about medical care than quality of life. Active 55+ communities and independent living cater to an older demographic, but many baby boomers are looking for universally designed amenities and homes within multigenerational neighborhoods.

Bob Kramer, co-founder and strategic advisor of the National Investment Center for Senior Housing and Care, wrote in an article for Boston Hospitality Review: “Innovative housing communities that focus on engagement and provide quality lifestyle experiences will attract millions of seniors many years before they need them. today’s skincare-oriented products, which they actively avoid.”

The first hurdle is that 42% of senior living communities are over the age of 25 and need improvements in infrastructure and design aesthetics, as well as reconfiguration of dormitory living. After the economic realities of the pandemic on how to keep residents and staff healthy and safe, many operators are realizing that they need to invest significant capital into creating even smaller buildings that also have a more indoor/outdoor and open floor design.

Wellness is now the biggest trend and number one selling point for seniors and their caregivers considering a 55+ community. The Global Wellness Institute 2022 Report estimates the North American wellness real estate market at $118 billion and states that “people are increasingly aware of the impact of lifestyle and external environmental factors on their well-being and are looking for solutions that improve health and well-being in their daily lives”.

This is why many communities are looking to incorporate biophilic design into their marketing efforts. Proponents of biophilia-designed communities claim that they help promote the physical and emotional health of older adults by creating environments that meet humans’ neuroscientific need for contact with nature (biophilia means “love of life or nature”).

The Call of the Wild

A study found that patients in hospital rooms with A sight trees and greenery were unloaded twice as fast and required fewer painkillers than those in windowless hospital rooms. Another one study found a decreased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in adults over 60 who lived in environments designed for biophilia.

“Wellness has always been part of the lifestyle pattern for older adults with a focus on nutrition, fitness, and social health,” Balda noted. “But it’s the baby boomers who are driving the need for a broader definition of well-being.”

Steven Nygren, founder of Serenbe, describes his community as willfully biophilic and said it has also been called “agrihood”. This farm life movement includes more than 150 neighborhoods across the United States, according to the Urban Land Institute. The call to escape the traffic, noise and stress of cities and to live more simply within walking distance of community gardens and orchards drives older people to these nature-centered communities.

After the housing market crash of 2008, “the first communities to emerge from the recession were walkable communities and those with a focus on environmental or biophilic design,” Nygren said. “Suddenly people started showing up to see what Serenbe was.”

Additional agrihoods designed to draw older residents into multigenerational living are being developed, including Kallimos in Colorado and Texas, developed by aging pioneer Bill Thomas.

Create communities with cultural ties

“A lot of assisted living models are broken, mostly because we’ve taken away the purpose of people,” said Dwayne Clark, Founder and CEO of Living Aegiswho uses fragrance diffusers and reminiscence therapy to evoke pleasant memories in residents and reconnect them to their past.

Clark said Aegis intends to integrate wellness design into the more than 35 assisted living and memory care communities it operates in three states. The company also operates properties tailored to the cultural backgrounds of residents. For example, Aegis Gardens near San Francisco is designed according to feng shui principles, serves authentic Asian cuisine and offers activities such as mah-jongg, calligraphy and tai chi.

“I’m a mommy’s boy and didn’t want to do this at first,” said Ed Weissberg, 58, who lives in Washington state and moved his 91-year-old mother, Isonio, to an Aegis Gardens near from Seattle. when she started showing signs of dementia and started speaking in her native Japanese again. “But putting her in this community was the smartest thing I’ve ever done because she’s happy.”

Other companies create lifestyle-based communities. Latitude Margaritaville More than 55 communities in Florida and South Carolina are built around the lyrics, music and laid-back island culture of singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett.

Not to be outdone, the Walt Disney Co. is planning active 55+ neighborhoods within the larger Storyliving community, designed to appeal in the same way as its theme parks and cruise ships. “We’re expanding beyond guests to residents and bringing the joy of this vacation to everyday life,” said Michael Hundgen, portfolio creative lead for Disney’s Imagineering team.

At what price ?

Affordability is a concern in all of these communities, where homes can cost between $250,000 and $1 million, depending on the size of the home, the type of community, and the local real estate market. The Genworth Cost of Care Survey reports that the national average monthly cost for an assisted living bed is $4,500.

That exceeds the median income of people 65 or older in the United States, according to Census Bureau data. Some multigenerational communities are trying to solve this problem. Houses on a farm in a depressed Detroit neighborhood cost an average of $25,000 and offer a solution to the food insecurity that has long been a problem in the area. Building homes for the lowest-income retirees is uneconomical, developers say, although some see an opening in the middle of the market.

“The biggest opportunity for growth in retirement homes is the middle market which can afford $3,000 a month, but not $4,500 a month for the better equipped communities,” Balda said. “By 2050, 27 million older people will need care with a variety of needs and wants; it’s our job to provide those choices, from active living for older people to memory care.”

This article originally appeared on NextAvenue.org.

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