It's no secret there is a sea change happening in the long-term living market. With baby boomers turning long-term care (LTC), as most know it, on its ear, long-term care providers are trying to define the culture and priorities of those born between 1946 and 1964. What's interesting to Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), Vancouver, British Columbia, is not that the change is happening, but how the industry will react to it. He believes, with the general populace now embracing wellness as an integral part of life, that the long-term care industry will have to position itself uniquely offering trendsetting programs and services, especially in the area of cognitive health. Prevention of mental decline, in Milner's view, is one of those unique hooks. How a facility markets what it offers is another. “The industry is going to have to go beyond ‘wellness’ into ‘engagement’; to go beyond providing services to providing experiences,” he says.
The ICAA is dedicated to changing the way people age by uniting and working with professionals in the retirement, assisted living, recreation, fitness, rehabilitation, and wellness fields.
Through speaking engagements for the ICAA across the United States last year, Milner says he has spoken to a “few thousand” business professionals in the LTC industry. “I'm constantly looking at what research is being done in the LTC field and how that research is being applied and translated,” he says. From his anecdotal observations, Milner compiled a list of eight trends he thinks boomers are looking for in long-term living (see sidebar, page 14). “ICAA sees an aging population that is dedicated to staying engaged in life. That's why groups as diverse as government-funded social services and major real estate developers are repositioning themselves to appeal to a group of ‘new’ older adults who are not satisfied with sitting around. The research shows it and experience confirms it.”
According to Milner, the LTC market is slowly distancing itself from after-the-fact care to preventing mental and physical decline in the first place. “The masses are beginning to embrace the six dimensions of wellness, especially where cognitive health is concerned. One in eight baby boomers is expected to have Alzheimer's by 2050 and one in five adults over 50 has memory issues. Because of this understanding by the masses, this is where opportunity occurs for the long-term living market.”
That opportunity, according to Milner, is in offering ways to prevent cognitive decline before it happens. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of premature death among adults. Milner thinks current cognitive programs need “ramping up.” Many current programs are rudimentary, too scientific to be fun, and are not presented to people in the right context. This is where marketing, according to Milner, can have a huge effect. “‘Brain fitness centers’ are becoming huge across the country,” he says. “It's the ‘use it or lose it’ philosophy. Entrepreneur magazine recently rated ‘brain health’ as one of its hot business opportunities.”
Milner says he's not sure if boomers epitomize active aging. He notes boomers' parents were active, but in a different way—manual labor. “What boomers have access to is very different from what their parents had access to. Boomers have manufactured themselves out of manual labor and engineered physical and social activity out of their lives,” he says. The main culprit that has been both friend and foe? The computer. While the Internet provides a wealth of opportunity for cognitive health, it can also seclude people from social interaction. “Long-term living facilities have a great opportunity to teach people how to use a computer and the Internet instead of remaining static. A Georgia State University study showed most adults weren't averse to using ATM machines; they have just never been taught how to operate one. The same is true of computers,” Milner says. “Again, it boils down to marketing the fact that you provide ‘experiences,’ not just ‘services.’”
Milner says the biggest mistake the long-term living industry can make right now is to “take their business for granted. The days of ‘build it and they will come,’ are over. If long-term care facilities are not creating a community and offering experiences and re-engineering themselves to become what people want, they have a high potential of becoming irrelevant in an industry that's changing.” Milner can't predict when the need will be the greatest. “We're not even sure when the boomers will retire. Some will work into their 70s or 80s because they want to or have to. The trump card for all of this is health—people must stay healthy.”
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