Hedonism isn’t necessarily the first term that comes to mind when thinking of senior care communities. Yet the word occasionally appears in research articles that relate to residential and community satisfaction, weaving in psychology, sociology and behavioral sciences.
Let me reflect on two foremost dimensions of satisfaction: “pleasantness” (hedonic), “practicality” (utilitarian) and thirdly on “probability” — the governing influence on future changes being considered at and for institutions involved in senior care.
Hundreds of research articles discuss the impediments CCRCs and smaller communities face in attracting seniors from their beloved homes. Five reasons identified by AARP are fairly universal: Physical stress in moving; fear of losing one’s independence; anxiety over leaving a community; emotional attachment to a family home; and fear of the unknown.
Depending on the source, 85-90% of seniors wish to remain in their own home. In the U.S., 10,000 people turn age 65 daily. We’re lucky, my years in China tell me there the figure there is estimated at 50,000 a day.
That gerontology data influences both older institutions and planning for new senior stand-alone facilities.
But to what degree do we understand the hedonic paradigm as part of a strategy when proposing senior care platforms?
Let me be up front: Disparity in income has been a part of civilization since walking the dusty streets in an ancient Agora. Even socialism cannot diminish that difference.
But today’s financially capable middle-aged people seek in retirement the amenities held prior to their senior days. Moving from that desirable environment, for whatever reason, should contain for new elders similar or improved amenities — yet not neglect effort given to less financially able seniors.
Altering quickly an older residential structure to include modern touches is not done lightly or rapidly. Few in-place senior institutions have freedom to yearly expand their pleasantness (or hedonism).
Consistently present are encroaching and ever-present impediments. Impelling geographical, economic, governmental, licensing and other factors influence the choice of changing residential options.
Increasingly new senior structures proclaim faultless assurances in structure, physical and programs via marketing announcements. But which sectors within the continuum should be major vectors for the future?
I’m undecided; aging and past experiences intrude. Which option? When? Where? What percentage? That is not a cop out. It’s my bias, and there is no perfect answer.
Regardless of board decisions and corporate oversight, there must be a degree of new and continuing hedonism linked with minimal savings held by potential residents.
Studies aver there is a correlation between wealth and residing in a continuum of care institution, yet the lack of sufficient funding for many persons is the major detriment for joining a senior-care facility.
Additionally, reading and tallying only online marketing ploys, creature comforts meant as supplements become more dominant than pragmatic services.
Emerging statistics suggest that by their early 70’s, 10-15% of today’s younger middle-aged Americans will seek residential facilities highly comparable to their current lifestyle. In other words, hedonism and elegance must co-mingle with economically successful private lives of individuals, and the reverse.
There is no doubt that pragmatic economic factors have always been a major influencer of senior care development. But other dominant influences on elder senior residences have multiplied precipitously since I served on the board of a senior care enterprise in the 1960s.
Today, a duality of exterior national, state, county and city factors joins the human internal causes and effects senior residents and future residents. Extensive research on senior communities and people who live in them also has increased and shaped better understanding.
If one accepts today’s increasing concern for the hedonic, that desire suggests pragmatic and utilitarian outside criteria should merge in individual residences. Whereas exterior influences affect future senior planning, interior planning criteria are narrower.
A city, for example, determines which criteria its commissions, planners, and other officials consider when approving housing and public residential facilities. Most of these macro criteria may be background noise to interior planning and individual residential units.
Integrating conceptual dimensions of “home” is a key to creating increasingly important resident satisfaction. What are the semantic parameters that suggest the criteria for a home? Of course any concept of ‘home’ involves a physical space, a utilitarian structure, and my concept of hedonism subsumed under an environmental platform with which the resident has an attachment. Oversimplified are touchstones as physical, spatial, societal dimensions. In other words, everyone is more comfortable within their national and local culture.
Space, safety and a sense of neighborhood increase loyalty to an institution. While the mission statements of in-place and future residential facilities may not overtly include value-driven terms such as “friendliness,” their existence matters and should be imbued in future strategies. All wish a retirement complex to be as close to a home ambience as possible.
I support programmatic change, but the impetus for a more home-like feeling could receive added prominence. There must be an improved visual, emotional, hedonic attractiveness as a key part of any utilitarian effort. There should be a mutual intertwining of options, never losing sight of a continuum of care, but with determined support for hedonic inclusion in senior facilities.
Probability is part of simply two dynamics in planning and meeting future senior care trends. Suffice it to say that in the healthcare industry, the onrush of the need for increasing care for seniors will not abate.
Many communities are land-locked, facing rejection of enlarging their horizontal footprints. Four major options exist then for accommodating new needs:
- Renovate an existing structure
- Demolish an in-place structure and build a new one
- Sell a current location
- Relocate and rebuild elsewhere
The theory of probabilities affirms no decision will be perfect. But hope that ends with a successful reality is the result of employing confident visions, giving probability a chance at success.
Herbert Hildebrandt Ph.D., Hl.D. is Emeritus Professor of the Ross School of Business, Emeritus Professor of Communion Studies (international) and former VP/Secretary of the University of Michigan. He is one of the founders in 1962 of Glacier Hills, Ann Arbor, MI.