Retirement Communities Go With The Flow

July 13, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Generation Y may be a natural progression from Generation X, but the “baby boomer generation” and “the silent generation” couldn’t be further apart.

The names speak to their differences: The generation born roughly between 1920 and 1933 — “the silents” — have tended to refrain from expressing their needs and wants. The baby boomers on the other hand, born from 1946 to 1964, are both more affluent and more vocal.

And with the first wave of baby boomers reaching 62 years of age, it is no surprise that retirement homes will need to reinvent themselves over the next 10 years, changing their amenities and style of care to match the wants of a new generation.

“The baby boomers that are coming behind (the silents) were more of an entitlement generation. They had more affluence — they didn’t live through the war, they didn’t have to suffer through the Depression,” said Larry Yachcik, president and CEO of Porter Hills Retirement Community.

“They’re saying, ‘Look, I don’t have to buy what you tell me I want. I’m going to tell you what I want, and you’d better produce it … and I will share my participation with you if you bring what I want.’”

Yachcik said there hasn’t been a “tsunami shift” in retirement communities, but there has been a noticeable “trending.”

He noted that there are two basic types of people who enter retirement communities: those who have stayed at home until health reasons forced them out, and those who enter at a younger age while they are still well and healthy.

“You have, in the one sense, if you’re coming for health (reasons), people that are about 83, 84, 85 years of age. Whereas in the wellness model, if you want to call it that, people enter earlier — usually 75, 76 — and have a townhome or an apartment here, but still maybe have travel plans which take them to various points either for the winter or travel plans abroad,” said Yachcik.

“Individuals use this as a continuation of an opportunity to enjoy life, because their health allows for it and they use this as a staging place. Instead of keeping a home, they have their meals and they have their theater, and they have all of the cultural things they want, but they still travel and do some of the things they did when they were living in their own home.”

This group often enjoys having everyday tasks such as housekeeping and meal preparation taken care of, Yachcik said. And some are attracted to retirement communities because it puts them in touch with others in their age group with similar interests and needs.

Retirement communities are starting to connect with organizations such as hospitals or universities to create specialized programs, Yachcik said.

“There are specific retirement communities that are tying themselves to various partners that heretofore you have never seen before, and they have a niche or boutique idea to their wellness or retirement community,” said Yachcik.

“The university level, in some cases, caters mostly to professors and their families and their wives, and individuals who want to continue to take classes or continue to, limitedly, provide teaching opportunities, research opportunities. It’s amazing how we’re finding these little niche kinds of things out there.”

Yachcik said that those entering niche communities account for a very small portion of the population — 10 to 15 percent — as such communities tend to be very expensive.

Even in mid-level retirement communities, Yachcik said, health and wellness is an emphasis. Waterford Place, located in Jenison, is a retirement community that tries to embrace the wellness model to meet the needs of a more active generation.

“They’re very involved in family life; they’re involved in volunteering activities. Many of them are still gainfully employed, where retirement is no longer retiring from work, but shifting work to something more part-time or something that’s more of a hobby,” said Chad Tuttle, executive director of Waterford Place.

“We try to follow with a design that would allow for maximum flexibility, and really the way we market ourselves to seniors is that we can free them up to do the things that they enjoy most in life.”

Waterford Place is still under construction and set to open in October 2009. It has more than 100 individuals committed to moving in, accounting for 59 of the 84 homes that will be built in the first phase. Waterford Place refer to these individuals as “charter members” and utilizes their insight to decide what types of amenities and activities it should implement.

“We will have a lit and paved walking path all the way around our eight-acre lake, connected to a county trail system and a township trail system, as well,” said Tuttle. “In a lot of the activities rooms, we’re putting in things like a woodworking shop, art studios, crafting rooms — things that allow them to continue to enjoy hobbies they have or learn a new hobby.”

The average age of Waterford Place’s charter members, Tuttle said, is around 73, with a few being 62, the minimum age requirement.

“We’re designing a community that gears us up to be prepared for that population because we see higher expectations from them,” said Tuttle. “The populations moving into these communities — they live very active lifestyles or are involved in a lot of exercises and want to maintain that when they move in.”

Yachcik remarked that even with all the improvements in retirement communities, research shows that moving to such a community is still not the first choice of many baby boomers, who want to stay put.

“In the face of all this development that is occurring or is planned to occur or stated to occur is that the research says that individuals who are of the baby boomer era who are now going to start retiring through 2010, 2020, 2030 — in which 77 million folks will be over the age of 65 — most of those folks are saying they want to stay in their suburban communities. We’ve got a proving ground going on,” said Yachcik.

“Not only are they going to have the money, but they’re going to say, ‘Why you? Why there? Why not have my services at home?’ … The literature suggests they want to stay in their own communities and get those services as a continuing care or wellness community without walls where there are services in their home. That’s our belief — that we’ve got to position ourselves for a little bit of that, as we still look at occupancy as a part of the continuum as well.”

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