Senior housing on the rise as older Americans live longer, head into retirement communities

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Marcia Fitzgerald, administrator of independent living at O’Connor Woods in Stockton, talks with resident Sue Sayles on a recent afternoon.

STOCKTON — The need for senior housing is on the rise as more Americans are aging into their golden years, and living longer.

The nation’s population is getting much older, reports the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010-2050 Population Estimates and Projections. By 2030, one in five Americans will be aged 65 or over; and America’s senior population is expected to rise from 40.2 to 88.5 million by 2050.

Leading the pack are baby boomers (born between 1946-1964). As one of the largest, and most iconic generations heads into their senior years, demand for services — like housing — are on the rise.

Marcia Fitzgerald, administrator of independent living at O’Connor Woods in Stockton, said the facility, and region at large, has experienced increased interest not only from locals, but seniors all over California.

The continuing care facility, built in 1990, is home to more than 500 residents, and more than 300 staff members on its 34-acre property. “It’s a little city in itself,” Fitzgerald said.
“More and more folks are considering moving to communities like ours [for reasons that include] the need for a sense of security or safety nets, social networks, freedom from homeowners’ headaches, and [access to] well-balanced, nutritional meals.”

For some residents, home upkeep and cooking and cleaning are too challenging to keep up, Fitzgerald added, “For others, it’s loneliness.”

“In any retirement community — there’s a built-in socialization factor: [residents] can share a meal with peers, make new friends, or reconnect with old ones,” Fitzgerald said.
William Pringle II, executive director of Paramount Court Senior Living in Turlock, said that socialization is a huge driver for seniors.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to regain your social life, often with individuals from their past, we are a small town,” Pringle said.

Paramount Court is an 85-unit assisted living facility (ALF), which also specializes in memory care services.

The community is one of the only in the region to offer such services. Pringle added, “We are one of very few communities in this area to offer a secured environment for those individuals with dementia who have a tendency to wander.”

“It’s not uncommon for us to have a waitlist for our Memory Care program,” Pringle said.
Demand for memory care services is rising due to the prevalence of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, which the World Health Organization (WHO) report are increasing.

“While baby boomers are certainly beginning to impact the amount of available apartments in assisted living, independent living is seeing some of the largest upswings in demand,” Pringle said. “Because the average age of an assisted living facility is closer to 85, the boomers are filling independent settings much more rapidly.”

Security and socialization are among the biggest benefits for residents of such communities.

“[Residents] can be as social as they like, and we offer transportation to and from appointments, so in essence, we negate the isolative effects of being widowed or alone in the home,” Pringle said.

Both Pringle and Fitzgerald explained that arranged transport is also a main perk for residents.

“Sometimes people lose their license due to health issues, or they’re unable to drive at night — which leads to isolation,” Fitzgerald said.

In addition to transport, communities like Paramount Court and O’Connor Woods, provide on- and off-campus opportunities — such as trips to the symphony, seminars, and exercise programs — for residents, and non-residents. For example, O’Connor Woods’ senior fitness program — the Wellness Connection — regularly welcomes more than 100 non-residents, said Fitzgerald. And interest is only rising.

In fact, fitness — including brain fitness — programs have become priority for older Americans, said Fitzgerald.

People want to live longer, said Fitzgerald, and they are — a fact confirmed by a 2016 Harvard study, which showed older Americans life expectancy has increased.

“As boomers are coming on board, they want to stay physically and mentally fit — [they want to know] ‘what can I do to enhance that,’” Fitzgerald said.

“[Residents] today want exercise programs with a gym, a lecture series from respected community leaders or even a bocce ball court or wine bar,” she added.

“Like every generation, the boomers are now driving the design of future developments to include amenities like some of the aforementioned. Boomers are very interested in communities which offer robust activity programs […],” Pringle said. “The bingo days are ancient history.”

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