Bryan Fuhr

At 40.3 million, the senior population is larger than ever before. It is also the fastest growing population sector, increasing by 15.1% since the 2000 Census, compared to a 9.7% increase for the U.S. population as a whole.  But instead of being a boon for the long-term care market, the rapidly growing aging population is creating a unique challenge: lower-acuity care settings are struggling with occupancy surpluses while skyrocketing demand for higher-acuity Alzheimer’s and memory care is creating a shortage.

As current residents “age out” of independent living and ALF settings, they are not being replaced by the next generation of seniors. Retiring baby boomers are simply not flocking to senior living communities at the same rate as their predecessors, for multiple economic and lifestyle reasons.

As a result, the industry is experiencing a shortage in locally available memory care facilities despite a nationwide building boom — a shortage that impacts not only the communities but also the residents who much often move to another town to access the higher-acuity care they require. It is a huge stress, one that can impact a senior’s cognitive, emotional and physical well-being.

For communities, it creates occupancy — and revenue — headaches as independent living apartments stand empty while waiting lists for memory care grow longer.

There is a workable solution. A modest capital investment into advanced aging services technologies enables senior living communities to meet the higher acuity needs of the majority of the aging population without forcing their residents to move away from their homes, families and friends to access necessary care.

By retrofitting independent and assisted living facilities with remote monitoring, communications and other technologies and bundling them with support services, communities can offer “virtual care plans” that can be scaled to a resident’s evolving needs. As care needs escalate, acuity-specific bundles can be turned on to provide enhanced monitoring and support services.

For example, a basic plan may include an emergency response pendant that is activated by the senior when help is needed or remote monitoring services that automatically detect when help is needed. A higher tier may add to that automated reminders to take medications or vital signs, the results of which are transmitted to clinical staff. The next tier may include prognostic care that identifies changes in health status and alerts clinical staff when interventions are needed.

In exchange for a modest capital investment—often just 1% of the cost of new construction—the typical senior living community can see a significant year-over-year return on investment while maintaining full occupancy. In the case of one community, this investment in technology resulted in a five-year ROI of 575%.  Virtual care services also help “right size” use, ensuring that those who truly need the higher levels of care have more options available to them.

Ultimately, virtual care plans create a win-win-win for communities, residents and their loved ones by addressing the special needs of a rapidly growing aging population with higher acuity care requirements.

Bryan Fuhr is co-founder and vice president of marketing and business development of Healthsense, Inc. He can be reached at [email protected].