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Raising the bar on senior living

According to the BizTimes August 7, 2017 article, Building for the silver tsunami, “Today’s senior living complexes are a hybrid of luxury apartment, four-star hotel and health care facility.” It described how “senior living operators across southeastern Wisconsin and the country are ramping up their expansion efforts.” Senior living providers are continuing to revamp communities, while mixed use developments are being planned with senior living components. The new wave of seniors is making their lists and looking for communities that can respond to their desires.

Milwaukee couple Sharon and Rod DePue had been living in a high-rent downtown Milwaukee apartment for 12 years when they began exploring housing options to suit their needs, budget and lifestyle. They toured some of the most well-known senior living communities in the market, and even made deposits on one or two, but never felt comfortable making the final commitment.

“Our observations led us to believe that people who resided in these communities seemed to turn their lives inward and engage to a large extent with the retirement community and not the outside world,” says Sharon DePue. “And in some cases, the costs for these communities were just too high. We could afford them but didn’t want to spend down our reserves in this way.”

Their search led to a modestly priced condominium in the heart of Shorewood that as Sharon would say, “Offered a lot of bang for the buck.” For this couple, the “bang” included:

  • The walkability of Shorewood
  • The accessibility to downtown Milwaukee and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
  • Bus routes to the airport, Milwaukee Rep and Milwaukee Symphony
  • A short drive or walk to church, a fitness center, the library, senior center, health and fire departments, doctor’s office, medical testing facilities, grocery store and pharmacy
  • And the bonus of close proximity to restaurants, salons and coffee shops.

While every senior will have a slightly different list of priorities to suit lifestyle needs, this couple’s decision-making process illustrates a new way of thinking about senior living. Here are four ways senior living providers across the country are positioning themselves to respond to the DePues and other like-minded cohorts:

1. Creating greater community connections

In order to support those looking for an apartment in a familiar community or to attract people who want easy access to amenities and services, housing options are being developed and designed in the heart of urban and suburban areas for connectivity on multiple levels.

2. Exploring alternative housing options/unit designs/aging in place

Multigenerational, mixed use settings are gaining traction. Developers and providers understand that while many people are downsizing, ample living space, open kitchens and plenty of storage are still priorities. They also know that savvy seniors want homes with the accessibility design features and integrated technology needed to support aging in place. The new generation of seniors is open to alternatives such as in-home assistance and will gladly use services like Uber and Lyft to keep them on the move.

3. Supporting multiple dimensions of wellness

Yoga, walking trails, putting greens, state-of-the-art fitness centers with hot tubs, saunas and swimming pools, spa access, continuing education courses, and the list of desired amenities goes on. From painting and sculpting to learning a new language, successful communities are investing in spaces and programs to support multiple dimensions of wellness.

“Communities need more activities to stimulate the brain,” says Sharon DePue. “And I am not talking about bingo and cards. We love the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute classes at UWM.”

4. Elevating dining experiences

Residents want choices, and today’s communities are delivering with a combination of casual and fine dining options, grab and go, farm to table, celebrity chefs and even food trucks.

But they also want flexibility. The DePues considered minimum dining expenditures required at communities to be a deterrent. Such a mandate seems contradictory to their idea of living independently.

Undeniably, there is a nationwide desire to age differently from previous generations. The example of the DePues’ search illustrates how the industry is learning how to respond to a new set of criteria.

To learn more about new senior living housing options and how seniors’ expectations are influencing what’s next in unit design, visit to download two recent reports.

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Gene Guszkowski is CEO of AG Architecture, an architectural engineering firm committed to the design of innovative senior living environments across the country. He is a recognized thought leader and innovator in the senior living industry who has contributed to industry publications and been a panelist and featured speaker at national conferences.

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