They’ve lived through the eras of Elvis, Woodstock, the Civil Rights movement, bra-burning and Vietnam. They watched black-and-white TV and learned QWERTY when keyboards didn’t need charging. They discovered DNA, invented iPhones and came up with the Furby.
They’re baby boomers, and they’re hitting a retirement home near you.
And the retirement homes — or retirement communities as most are referred to as — that the boomers are seeking are a far cry from nursing homes or the places their parents retired to.
“What we’d traditionally call nursing homes is not what this generation wants,” says Chad Ulman, vice president of architecture for Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction. “If you want to survive in the marketplace, you have to compete and evolve. We’re seeing lots of renovations (of existing facilities) or new construction doing that.”
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the number of Wisconsin residents over age 65 will be 72 percent higher in 2040 than it was in 2015. That’s a lot of people who will likely need senior housing in the years to come. That population surge also is driving the current building boom of projects designed with seniors in mind. During the past couple of years, several communities have opened in the region including Eagle Point Senior Living in Appleton, Sheboygan Senior Community, Aspire Senior Living Community in Kimberly, Moraine Ridge Senior Living in Green Bay, and Primrose Retirement Community, which was built by Hoffman, and opened last month in Appleton.
While boomers have seen and made a lot of changes in their lives, they are now causing changes in retirement living, Ulman says. For example, retirees want to live in a place that’s home-like and hospitality-driven “where you don’t just go to the dining room and eat whatever’s put on your platter; you can go to different restaurants for those experiences,” he says.
In its facilities, Hoffman includes motion-sensor and LED lighting, ample windows, high-end countertops, outlets higher on the wall instead of near the floor (for wall-mounted screens) and washable surfaces.
“The big thing to remember is these are people’s homes,” Ulman says. “They’re moving from a house they may have lived in for 20 or 30 years. In the past, these places were very institutional, like hospitals, not very pleasant environments. We want to make it feel like you’re at your house — that’s where the hospitality model comes in.”
The importance of hospitality also is evident in facilities where people can rehabilitate after surgery or an injury, Ulman says. He says it feels more like a hotel than a medical facility.
“You can order food in your room, go to the dining room, or there may be a restaurant where you can go with your family,” Ulman says. “The days of the old nursing home are disappearing. They’re becoming hospitality-driven, purposeful-programming environments where you’re able to do all the things you did at home. We’re just providing more services.”
For many of today’s seniors, downsizing doesn’t mean scaling back on quality of life, but rather responsibilities. Touchmark built its Fox Pointe Homes in Appleton with that in mind.
“When I think of Fox Pointe Homes at Touchmark and its residents, one word comes to mind: freedom,” says Melissa Poulsen, a Touchmark retirement counselor.
The circular-layout neighborhood includes 36 single- and two-family houses and resembles any other subdivision. Located near Touchmark’s apartment complex in Appleton, it offers a continuum of living from independent homeownership to extra support — assisted living or memory care. A couple needing help for one of the two no longer need to separate. They live in the same home, with help just seconds away if one of them needs to attend therapy or transition into a higher need of care, Poulsen says.
Fox Pointe residents Marly and Tom Divver looked at other places to live in retirement but found them too structured.
“They didn’t offer flexibility,” says Marly Divver, adding their monthly Touchmark plan allows them 10 meals monthly in the dining room and provides the Divvers plenty of opportunity to use their kitchen.
“We fix our own breakfast, and sometimes we go to lunch, sometimes dinner,” says Divver. “We didn’t have to have a plan where every meal is prepared for you and given to you.”
Touchmark offers a variety of activities in which residents can participate. The Divvers ziplined last summer and Marly Divver belongs to a walking group.
“We like to do our own thing,” Marly Divver says. “Here, we have the freedom to do whatever.”
If the couple decides to travel, Touchmark takes care of snow removal, fixing leaks and other chores — even pet care and watering plants, Poulsen says.
“The residents are asking for full-service, maintenance-free living and more time to relish the lifestyle they’ve been looking for,” Poulsen says. “They really want to trade off some of those responsibilities of home maintenance. Not that they can’t do it, but they’d prefer more free time for things they enjoy — traveling to Europe or going south for the winter.”
Landmark Realty & Development principal Keith Garot has several condo projects underway around Green Bay designed with the amenities boomers are seeking, including granite countertops, large windows and plenty of natural lighting.
“As boomers near retirement age, the demographics favor this kind of development where people can have care-free living and not worry about snow removal and that type of thing,” he says. “They don’t need the big square footage. They’re going south in the winter. There’s a pent-up demand for this type of development.”
With a condo, residents have less maintenance work to do, which is appealing, Garot says.
“Open concept is also a big thing as are hard-surface flooring and high ceilings,” he says.
Fox Pointe homes have wider doorways, easy-turn knobs and well-thought-out details, Poulsen says. They have different levels of construction — hardwood floors, granite countertops, stainless appliances and more moderate homes — so there’s a range to fit taste and budget.
“Your home should never be the reason you have to move out,” Poulsen says.
What they’re looking for
According to the National Association of Home Builders, boomers want places that include:
- Home offices
- Technology and/or media centers
- Better/natural lighting
- Wider doorways
- Easy-to-maintain exteriors and landscaping
- Flexible spaces