By Jack Cumming

Have you read Ryan Frederick’s book on senior living? Perhaps not. It’s just been published. I bought a copy on Amazon on October 11, 2021, the day of publication. As a student of senior living, I like to read everything I can get my hands on. My recommendation? Take a minute away from this article to order a copy.

Buying a book is the least costly way to get management consulting advice. That’s followed by the cost to attend industry gatherings, while retaining an outside consultant to study your business and write a report is the most costly. In short, a book is a bargain, and this one is no exception. For the price of a book, an executive or student of the senior living business, even a prospective resident, can spend hours in the company of one of the most astute thinkers about the business today.

Write Your Own Story

Part of what Ryan Frederick has sought to achieve in crafting the book is to give tools to people who may be considering where they would like to live as they age. He uses the metaphor of giving people a pen with which they can write their own story. Senior living investors and operators can gain insight and wisdom from this book. Beyond that, though, this is a book that can help people of all ages to think through where they’d like to live for the rest of their years.

His sage advice: if the industry is going to give people the tools to write their own story, then it will have to change its structure to make that freedom evident. That will require questioning everything from today’s marketing approaches to whether age restrictions are needed.

A Creative Approach

Ryan Frederick is a trained engineer with a talent for writing and an eye for investing. Not surprisingly, given that background, he’s not afraid to go into the depths to understand the senior living industry and to delve into what’s investable and what is better left to others. As an MBA student at Stanford, after graduating in Engineering from Princeton, Mr. Frederick got permission from Paul Klassen, founder of Sunrise Senior Living, to live for a time at Huntcliff Summit Retirement Community near Atlanta. In short, Ryan Frederick is an extraordinary senior living industry observer.

Ryan Frederick is also a believer in congregate senior living, even as he proposes new design and operating concepts to help the industry meet the changing marketplace. In his book, he, early on, promises a “rebuke” of “aging in place.” He believes that “aging in place” is not “an optimal strategy for most people.” He builds the case for his belief around the personal satisfaction attributes of “purpose,” “social connection,” “physical well-being,” “financial well-being,” and “place.” His book also includes a tool that can help prospects evaluate these factors for their current lives compared with a move to a “retirement” community.

Ryan Frederick is a planner and design expert. Mr. Frederick uses the term “place” as it’s used in the jargon of the new urbanism, a city planning concept which emerged during the 1960s. The Project for Public Spaces describes “placemaking” as: “both an overarching idea and a hands-on approach for improving a neighborhood, city, or region, placemaking inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community. Strengthening the connection between people and the places they share, placemaking refers to a collaborative process by which we can shape our public realm in order to maximize shared value.”

“Place” as Home

In his book, Mr. Frederick brings this concept of “place” as a neighborhood to senior living. He believes that the “place” where one lives can affect well-being. My interpretation of his usage is his belief that a person, particularly an aging person, will be happiest living with neighbors who know and accept the person as an individual in a space that feels homelike.

We’ll close this reflection on Mr. Frederick’s book by delving deeper into his objections to “aging in place” since that is a core thesis of the book. To start, he says that “aging in place” makes seniors sound as though they are inflexible and stuck in a status quo from which they are reluctant to escape. Seniors ought not to be thus dismissed as passive.

He then notes that there are advantages to staying put. Taxes are one, as in California where property taxes are capped by the original purchase price of a residence. That cap can be moved to a new residence but few senior living communities offer an ownership option. As an aside, nothing strengthens the positive feeling of place as much as ownership. There is also a financial advantage of the step-up in basis that federal tax law allows for homes that are owned at death.

Rebuking “Aging in Place”

Despite these advantages, though, Mr. Frederick asks: “Is aging in place really what we want?” His answer is that it’s not and that the contrary view is a fallacy. In a compelling section titled “Aging in Place as a Fallacy”, the author offers manifold reasons to support that conclusion. He goes on to advise, “The practice of living in community – using place to thrive in the age of longevity – is not new. It’s how things were for thousands of years. What’s different now is that living in community doesn’t naturally happen. We need to cultivate it.”

If this idea of senior living resonates with you, then this is a book that you should add to your library without delay. Click here to see Ryan Frederick giving a keynote address. Click here for a discussion by Mr. Frederick of the book with Bob Kramer of Nexus Insights. You can buy the book by clicking here.