Holly Raidabaugh, director of marketing and development for Lakewood Manor, sees the few baby boomers that have moved into the retirement community as the beginning of a trend. "We are getting ready for the wave," she says, noting that the first baby boomers turned 65 in 2011.
In 2000, baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964, represented 13 percent of the total population of seniors. That number is expected to grow to 20 percent by 2030, when the U.S. Census Bureau projects there will be 57.8 million baby boomers between the ages of 66 and 84.
In the past few years, retirement communities have been marketing to the silent generation, a group that falls between the greatest generation and the baby boomers, as a kind of test run. "They are folks in their late 60s and 70s that were born into the Great Depression and during World War II," Raidabaugh says. "The silents aren't truly silent. This group came in demanding more choices. They also didn't want traditional activities and programming. They wanted more variety."
Retirement communities have taken this opportunity to not only increase services and options but also to expand their capacity before they are hit with an onslaught of boomers. What these communities have discovered is that the next generation of retirees is not looking for cookie-cutter retirement living like previous generations. "They want choices in what they are paying for," says Marti Miller, marketing director for The Hermitage at Cedarfield. "They don't want to be dictated to."
Retirement communities are making the necessary changes. Six years ago, Lakewood Manor had only one meal plan where residents had to buy a meal a day. Today, it has five, with various options for the frequency of meals. "We only had one pricing option, and now we have six," Raidabaugh says. "Instead of ‘here is your retirement option, and here's what you have to choose from,' it's ‘let's work together and create a plan that will work best for you.' I think that will increase as boomers start to retire and come into these communities."
Today's seniors want to continue their active lifestyle and are looking for communities that offer a variety of activities, everything from tai chi to continuing-education programs. "We are already starting to see that, and that will continue to grow," Raidabaugh says.
Miller believes some baby boomers will continue to stay involved in activities outside of their retirement community. She is seeing that trend start to materialize. "They will keep up with their external organizations; they'll volunteer and still belong to their country club," she says. "They want to get away from the stigma that when you move to a retirement community, your life stops."
Bill King, vice president of sales and marketing for Westminster Canterbury, has observed that some of his community's younger retirees have decided to forego the interim move from home ownership to downsized accommodations or an active-adult community and have instead decided to settle into a community with a growing number of amenities.
Westminster Canterbury offers a variety of options, including a fully equipped woodworking shop, an art studio, a professional putting green with six holes, a nature trail and a pond stocked with fish. The Sara Belle November Theater, also on campus, gives residents a cultural outlet. "We have shows from Barksdale, Richmond Ballet, Virginia Opera and SPARC, as well as touring acts," King says. "All of that is free to our residents."
Technology is also shaping how retirement communities operate. Many campuses are already equipped with Wi-Fi. "In the future, instead of calling in a doctor's order, [residents] will be doing it electronically," Raidabaugh says. "They will be scheduling day trips electronically."
Heritage Oaks Retirement Community had the impending influx of baby boomers top of mind when it added a full-time activities director. "It's a matter of having a full range of activities available," says Susan Coppage, marketing director.
"The baby-boomer generation is starting to understand that retirement communities are not like your mother's nursing home. People here can enjoy an active social life. It's something to look forward to rather than be depressed about."