There’s hardly an aspect of American life that hasn’t been altered by the current coronavirus pandemic, from how we shop to how we travel to how we live. These sweeping changes are also affecting America’s retirement communities, as this recent CNBC article explains. Written by reporter Sarah O’Brien, the article explains how operators of age-restricted retirement communities are making major adjustments in an effort to keep their residents and their families safe. These changes, however, are presenting some unique challenges.
Retirement Communities Offer Amenities and Sociability – but What About Safety?
As O’Brien states, retirement communities are attractive to seniors because of their amenities combined with their social, communal atmosphere. But from now on, “safety is going to rank as equally important, experts say.” Concern about group living will likely create some short-term economic pain for operators of retirement communities. “[They] may face a dip in occupancy rates, as would-be residents delay their decision to move or decide to age in place, in the safety of their own home.”
The CNBC article describes one retirement community in Charlottesville, Virginia, where “the last scheduled social event was a Valentine’s Day dance in February” – almost four months ago. “A few weeks later, as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised anyone 60 or older to stay home. There have been no more potluck dinners, poker games, special outings or other social activities scheduled.” What’s more, says the article, no one can predict with certainty when that may change.
Retirement Communities are “Facing a Seismic Shift” in Their Business Model
It’s widely known that the coronavirus poses a disproportionate risk to older men and women, which means that the threat of illness is huge in communities where almost every resident is considered highly vulnerable. Because of this, retirement communities “are facing a seismic shift in how they operate.” As Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Age Lab, told CNBC, “This pandemic fundamentally changes the business model.”
Residents of retirement communities are typically drawn to amenities like fitness facilities, game rooms, libraries, and communal dining rooms, along with all the social activities that are part of the package. Coughlin said residents and their families will now be asking a question they seldom asked before. “Amenities will remain at the top of list for consumers,” he told CNBC, “but will now share that spot with ‘Is it safe?’”
Retirement Communities Try to Gauge the Future of Senior Housing
According to the CNBC analysis, the challenges facing the $73 billion senior housing industry are profound, and one of the biggest puzzles is trying to predict what the future will look like. “For example, communities where residents previously ate meals in a shared dining room may be asked to eat in their rooms,” one expert told Sarah O’Brien. “Group functions have gone by the wayside and it’s uncertain when — and how or if — they’ll return.” How will prospective residents respond to these changes? No one can say.
For some, any plans to move are on hold. Questions about what the average retirement community will look like even one year from now are causing many potential residents to hold off for a while. “Researchers…expect 2020 occupancy rates to fall,” CNBC reports, “as potential residents of these properties delay making a decision to move.” Compounding their worries, seniors and their families are often unable to go and see a place for themselves. The familiar in-person tour is “being replaced by online tours and conversations” – not the same experience.
Retirement Communities Discover that Safety is Costly – and Aging in Place is Attractive
For operators of retirement communities, the coronavirus pandemic creates a double whammy: reduced demand plus rising prices. “Operators of these communities face higher expenses due to the pandemic,” CNBC reports, including costs of personal protective equipment, cleaning materials, and staff retraining. “They may also need to create larger spaces to allow for social distancing to minimize spread of the virus, and figure out how other amenities can be safely offered.” Either resident costs will rise or profits will drop, or both.
In the minds of many retirees, rising costs and worries about safety have already made staying in their own home more attractive. “One upshot of the pandemic’s impact may be an increased interest in aging in place,” says CNBC. Many experts predict a significant growth in services that help seniors and their families make their homes age-friendly, adding amenities like a walk-in tub or shower, better lighting, slip-free flooring, wider doorways, grab handles in the bathroom, and switches and door latches that are more accessible and easier for seniors to operate.
As MIT’s Joseph Coughlin put it, “There’s already a gravitational pull of aging in place. Now more will say, ‘This is what I know, and this is what I know is safe.’” Here at AgingOptions, we’ll keep a close watch on this developing story.
Two Important Retirement-Planning Announcements from AgingOptions
At AgingOptions our chief desire is to help you prepare for the kind of retirement you’ve always dreamed of having. Toward that end, we want to share two important announcements that are designed to facilitate your LifePlanning process even during this period when most of us are required to avoid gathering in groups.
First, Rajiv Nagaich has scheduled several of his popular, free LifePlanning Seminars in the form of webinars that you can watch conveniently at home. Simply visit our Events Page and register for the webinar of your choice.
Our second announcement: in cooperation with our partners at LifePoint Law, we are excited to launch a ground-breaking new service called the LifePoint Law Emergency Legal Kit. Without leaving your home, you can now consult with a LifePoint Law attorney who will work with you to prepare and sign a complete set of vitally important legal documents including both Financial and Healthcare Powers of Attorney, a Living Will/Advance Directive, a Will or Trust, and much more. Click on the link or call us at AgingOptions and we’ll explain this excellent service to you.
Reliable information has never been more important – and that’s our promise to you at AgingOptions and LifePoint Law. Age on!
(originally reported at www.cnbc.com)