What are the things that you worry could do substantial damage to the senior living sector?

By Steve Moran

I was recently at the InterFace Seniors Housing West conference in Los Angeles where a group of operators was talking and thinking about what might come next for senior living, or, more accurately, what the future of senior living might look like. At the end of the session, they asked if anyone in the audience had questions. I asked this:

“What are the things that you worry about that could do substantial damage to the senior living sector?”

There was some talk about mental health and how senior living is not really serving this need very well. A few other things were touched on but they really never quite got to the heart of the question. That evening, I came across an article at Market Watch titled “More Americans under the age of 40 are having heart attacks” and it got me wondering.

What If . . .

What would happen if, because of the emerging problem of unhealthy lifestyles, a whole bunch of Americans under 40 or under 50 or even under 60 started having heart attacks or some other diseases that could potentially do serious damage to the senior marketplace?

It is worth spending some time thinking about this potential problem because we know life expectancy in America is decreasing, not by very much, yet . . . but going down. There seem to be two lifestyle behaviors where the blame rests: obesity and substance abuse.   

Other Factors

It is well documented and oft talked about that over the last 20 or 30 years the average age of entrance into senior living has increased substantially. We mostly assume this has happened because people are delaying the move, largely because of cost and, secondarily, lifestyle preferences until they become much frailer than in the past.

While I am sure this is part of it, I suspect it has a lot more to do with the reality that people are living healthier longer than they were 40 or 50 years ago. It is an area that deserves some serious research.

I also find myself wondering what would happen if hospital systems started developing and operating senior living communities as a way to provide care for those they serve at a much lower cost? Or what if Amazon or Richard Branson took on senior living?

A Cure for Alzheimer’s

This is the one that really piques my curiosity. Just what would happen if we actually discovered a cure? Would we be able to convert memory care communities to market rate senior living or perhaps something else? Mental health or drug rehab or maybe live-in hospice? Right now while lots of people are talking about a cure, it does not look like it is on the near-term horizon.  

Exercise in Futility

One might legitimately argue that I am engaging in a fruitless, unnecessary, even counterproductive exercise of fear mongering. That is not my intent, rather my goal is to suggest that we need to look at both close in and far out threats as a way of being very proactive. I am guessing that for each of the possibilities I have suggested there are amazing pivots that could completely eliminate the threats or even turn those threats into amazing opportunities.  

What do you see as the big threats?

What do you see as the big opportunities?