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Who Will Define Senior Living in the Future?

Over the last few months, I’ve seen the “age wave” chart in half a dozen presentations – and for good reason. The leading edge of the tsunami-sized demographic wave that will wash over our country in the next two decades has hit the beach, with the oldest boomers turning 67 next year. This will impact senior living in myriad ways, and discussion of how to respond should be occurring in every senior living organization.

But as I sat through one particular presentation that focused on how cities, counties and states are preparing for an aging population, I realized much of the discussion related to boomers was inwardly focused – how will communities need to change, what services will this next generation of seniors want – but I’ve heard little about how changes in the infrastructure serving this boomer group will impact senior living.

For a moment, think about all the elements a governing body will need to consider when addressing the livability of their area for a senior population – transportation, the presence of needed services, accessibility, integration of technology and, of course, availability and suitability of housing. Some cities are already addressing these needs through visionary planning projects, and some are reaching out to senior living communities to discuss how their campuses and services can be integrated with broader planning. Could communities be service hubs? Could they create satellite locations to deliver services? Could they partner to explore and pioneer senior-friendly housing design? Do they have expertise that can be built on and expanded?

Reports suggest that most cities are well behind in their planning; the recession has only slowed these efforts, given a lack of government resources. But soon it won’t be a question of should we plan for the needs of our senior residents . . . it will become obvious that we must plan. With rare exception, we’re not a senior-friendly country when it comes to the ease and convenience of day-to-day living. That simple fact is one of the most compelling reasons to consider a senior living community and the services it offers. Communities expand a person’s world far more than it restricts it. But will this always be the case? What will our cities and towns look like in 20 years with the massive expansion of the senior population? Could ease and convenience be priorities in planning, building and managing our cities and towns?

That solution is yet to be identified, but it will be. The question is, as a senior living organization with a vested interest in that ultimate solution, will you be part of that conversation in your community?

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