As we wave goodbye to 2023, we can take a moment to reflect on the progress I predicted for 2023, and to predict the six industry advancements for 2024.
Health of the Industry
The assisted living industry is experiencing robust growth, presenting opportunities for businesses focused on serving the community. Recent trends suggest that occupancy rates in senior living facilities are on the rise and may return to the levels seen before the pandemic by 2024. Data from NIC MAP Vision and the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care shows that occupancy rates have been increasing steadily over the past nine quarters. Thus, the industry is approaching pre-pandemic figures. That is good news for residents and the industry. Especially now.
The industry stands on the cusp of accelerated evolution, spurred by several key factors. Firstly, health services are advancing at an unprecedented pace, courtesy of rapid technological innovation, leading to heightened expectations among residents and their families for superior care.
This demand is pushing the envelope for larger facilities who struggle to adapt quickly to the wide array of care needs and far wider demand for personalized service and accommodations. Niche services are the order of the day, and residential assisted living is poised to provide those niche service homes. Secondly, there appears to be a generational shift in ownership; numerous care home owners are themselves transitioning into retirement and passing the torch to the next generation of owners. These new owners bring a fresh understanding of technologies, and perspective, driven by a commitment to elevate service quality and to innovate in ways that resonate with today’s residents and those of the foreseeable future.
Let’s take a look at what I predicted for 2023, and what you can expect to see in 2024.
Increased focus on person-centered care
Last year I predicted the increased demand for person centered care. I predicted more choices in living arrangements, activities, and care options. That prediction was on target but we will see that demand and options to meet that demand expand across every aspect of senior living and assisted living in 2024, and beyond and residents and assisted living providers explore a wide range of areas that can be personalized.
Today’s seniors are health-conscious and enjoy a variety of dining styles, much like college students. They appreciate diverse menus that offer plant-based meals, flexible dining times, and quick, healthy options like smoothies and salads.
Entertainment is also part of the dining experience, with themed meals and interactive concepts becoming popular. For example, some communities host burger nights with unique presentations and crepe evenings, emphasizing enjoyment over formality.
Transforming social spaces is another trend. Lobbies in senior living are being redesigned into lively cafés, reflecting the shift towards more relaxed and communal environments. This approach not only modernizes the space but also encourages interaction and a sense of community among residents.
In RALS that may mean some redesign of spaces to meet these aspects of personalized care.
As the number of seniors who enjoy occasional drinks has increased, assisted living communities are introducing bars. These bars are designed with the preferences of the residents in mind, featuring a welcoming ambiance, easy-to-use seating, and lighting that creates a comfortable environment. Even the service is streamlined, using machines that can quickly mix a wide range of drinks, from cocktails to non-alcoholic options, catering to all tastes and fostering a social atmosphere.
Greater Use of Technology.
The importance of staying ahead in technological advancements cannot be overstated. Regular attendees of the RALNA monthly meetups are well aware of the urgency in this matter. Without early adoption, facilities risk obsolescence in a sector of the health care industry that is increasingly driven by innovation. Well, except for fax machines.
Looking ahead to 2024, the assisted living industry is poised for a transformative leap forward, with technology at the forefront of enhancing the quality of life for seniors and individuals with disabilities. We’re set to witness a range of advancements aimed at enriching the care and independence of residents.
Smart technology will see wider application in everyday monitoring with devices providing real-time health data and environmental conditions, thereby heightening safety and responsiveness to emergencies. Artificial intelligence (AI) is here and will be used to make things better. There is no doubt AI will refine caregiving, offering solutions for medication management and fall prevention, as well as fostering companionship with conversational AI and virtual assistants. People are already using AI for relationships outside of the assisted living environment.
Predictive analytics will leverage data from an array of sensors to anticipate health issues, enabling proactive care. This will, in turn, lead to more privacy related issues for all of us to handle.
These same technologies will improve smart home automation into living spaces that offer residents control over their environment with simple voice commands, enhancing their autonomy and comfort.
Imagine a reactive system that can detect changes in voice patterns to a level to identify a health issue and notify staff.
Naturally, telehealth will continue its expansion, granting residents, and all of us in society, the convenience of receiving medical care without leaving the home. This will undoubtedly provide benefits for those with limited mobility.
Robotics is not yet an area that we will see providing useful support in assisted living homes. But we will see promising developments that may be integrated into the care environment within 10 years.
Similarly, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will begin to offer novel therapeutic and recreational experiences, supporting cognitive health and emotional well-being. We will see some advances in these areas in 2024, but nothing with technology that will be placed in the RALs for a few more years.
Voice-activated assistants are set to become a staple in the assisted living environment, streamlining access to information and facilitating communication. Lastly, mobility aids are slated for innovation, with smart wheelchairs and exoskeletons promising to afford residents greater freedom of movement.
While I have my doubts about Siri’s ability to understand me, I have no doubt that the AI and Voice Recognition technology will get stronger, more accurate, and more useful in 2024 and beyond.
More Emphasis on Memory Care:
RALS typically carry a higher percentage of residents with dementia and memory care needs than larger facilities. Thus, I had predicted that 2023 would show a gradual rise in memory care residents in RALs and the larger facilities were often not the right fit.
Moreover, with the number of people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease on the rise, RALs can expect an increased demand for memory care and they should be prepared to provide specialized programs and staffing to meet the unique needs of individuals with memory impairment.
Despite being a billion dollar industry, Big Pharma does not have solution worked out and people like RALNA Advisory Board Member, Dr. Dale Bredesen, seem to have the only workable solutions. Dr. Bredesen, has been helping people recover from dementias.
That right. I said “recover.”
RALNA members will have the opportunity to get involved with Dr. Bredesen and offer real help to a growing number of people. RALS that get involved with his programs can have an edge.
Unfortunately, due to costs, these types of enhanced memory care services may be restricted to private pay homes for some time.
Growing Interest in Green and Sustainable Assisted Living.
I predicted that there would be increasing interest in assisted living communities that are designed to be environmentally friendly and sustainable. And that has borne out. In fact, Dr. Bredesen now includes testing for molds and funguses in the homes of his patients because of the increasing evidence that it may negatively affect brain health.
Residents and families . . . all of us, want to live in environmentally friendly homes and have been increasingly expecting this from assisted living residents. Clean and disease free air is a starting point, not a bonus for residents and their families. Additional expectations can often include the use of energy-efficient systems, green building materials, and sustainable practices such as recycling and composting.
Expect to see more focus on these environmental factors in care homes during 2024.
Expansion of the Residential Assisted Living Model
In the past, assisted living was typically viewed as a bridge between independent living and nursing homes. However, in recent years, the assisted living model has been expanded to include a wider range of services and care options. This includes a greater emphasis on home-like environments, and more personalized care services, that are built around increasingly niche characteristics such as ethnicity, language, and lifestyle choices.
It is also true that there is more demand for nursing home care. Nursing homes, of course, receive considerably more money from residents and the government for the care they provide and might want to grow the pool of residents for whom they provide care. While that may be attractive to some in government and some politicians, people do not like nursing homes and generally prefer to get care in homelike environments.
The number of residential assisted living homes will increase because RALS provide niche and personalized care – bespoke care. That may include providing additional services with higher qualified staff.
The nursing home industry will continue to use its powerful lobbying tools to limit options for the provision of care.
In the end, consumer preferences point to a growing consumer demand for smaller, homier assisted living communities that offer a more personalized experience. Boutique assisted living communities offer a more intimate setting, with fewer residents and a homier atmosphere.
Lastly, we can expect that staffing will continue to be effected by fact that immigration is a part of the political contest for the next few years or more. However, as RALS and other industries suffer from lack of staff and raise their prices to attract qualified and reliable team members, the issue may work itself out.
What do you think 2024 will bring for the RAL industry?
How well do you think RALs will handle these issues compared to big facilities and nursing homes?
Which of these issues do you think is most important in 2024?We love to hear from you and want to hear your opinions as well as suggestions for what we should discuss in future RALNA Monthly Meetings. Write to me as: [email protected].