Spokane Journal of Business

More seniors to repurpose; caregivers should prepare

Workforce training needs to recognize lifestyle shifts

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Did you know there’s an estimated 75 million baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, that are winding down their careers and approaching retirement in the United States? 

That means today’s 40 million senior citizens will swell to roughly 89 million by 2050, according to U.S. News. On top of this, seniors are living longer, healthier lives, and thus their lifestyle needs and expectations are also shifting. 

Looking ahead, we can expect to see numerous changes in the industry. Based on my experience working in the field and educating the future workforce, I predict the retirement of “retirement” and the rise of new technologies will be among the biggest drivers to spur change in the senior living industry. 


The average life expectancy in the U.S. is nearly 79 years old. The typical senior living resident today is between 70 and 90 years old, socially active, and still has a desire to engage in meaningful programming. The concept of “repurposement” illustrates how many seniors aren’t stopping just because they’re retiring or living in senior housing. 

Rather, they’re using that opportunity to transition to a new phase in their lives, pursuing other interests, hobbies, and passions. As such, senior care providers will need to move beyond providing care to providing experiences, services, and related opportunities, such as coordinating excursions, social outings, volunteer activities, and educational opportunities. 

Additionally, seniors today have a strong appetite to engage with younger generations. According to a study by the University of California San Francisco, 43 percent of surveyed older adults felt lonely, yet only 18 percent lived alone. The rise of technology might have something to do with that as—for younger people, in particular—it has become the primary means of staying connected with others. 

But there are easy ways to facilitate face-to-face interactions with seniors and younger generations simply by bringing them together—from having a local dance troupe perform at the senior center, to facilitating a Skype session with a resident’s grandchildren who live across the country. Those interactions enrich the lives of both parties, as younger generations also benefit from the stories and life lessons of the elderly. 

Improving efficiency

Advances in technology, as with most other industries, are paving the way for more efficient and effective services in the senior living industry. Not only can technology save time and resources for caregivers, but it can help keep aging seniors healthy longer. 

For example, sensor technology fixed on a patient’s toilet can analyze their urine and detect some problems before they become a serious issue. 

That type of technology could help elderly residents avoid becoming forgetful or disoriented after contracting a urinary tract infection, thus helping avoid falls, medication errors and other common dementia-related incidents. Other wearable and non-wearable technology enables families to turn their house into a smart home with connected lights, speakers, and motion detectors that can monitor and assist aging loved ones. Someday, driverless cars may even benefit seniors who can no longer drive. 

While those technologies exist, they can be expensive. As they become more accessible, they might enable seniors to live independently longer while also assuring their families that they’re safe. Accessibility and adoption of technology also will permit senior housing operators to continue to incorporate the technological options into their operations, become better at implementation and operationalization, and better understand the return on investment as well as the improvement in resident outcomes.

Attracting leaders

As the senior population continues to boom during the next few decades, the senior living industry must actively recruit and prepare the next generation of leaders, managers, and caregivers who will serve it. Colleges, universities, and technical education programs are primed to help bridge this workforce gap. 

Millennials, and even those of Generation Z in the next five to 10 years, will play important roles in meeting the need for succession planning and developing future leaders, as they continue to replace older generations in the workplace. 

At Washington State University’s (WSU) Carson College of Business, the School of Hospitality Business Management is actively expanding its senior living management program by offering classes across the state and implementing an online certificate option. Interest in the program has nearly quadrupled over the last three years. Through classroom settings, experiential learning, and partnerships with senior living companies, the school is showing students that senior housing is not what it used to be—it has actually evolved to become more comparable to hospitality businesses, such as hotels. 

To further expand its offerings, the program also plans to establish the Granger Cobb Institute for Senior Living, which will serve as an education hub for executives, managers, and other service providers in the industry while growing the future workforce and generating excitement about its prospects.

In the coming years, many who have followed a more traditional hospitality career path might find they are also interested in senior living management, given the purpose-driven and entrepreneurial spirit in the industry, as well as ample opportunity for quick advancement. In fact, many students who have found jobs in the industry say their education in hospitality business management serves them well—even more so than traditional medical backgrounds. 

Managers today tend to require less technical expertise on the care side but need more expertise in management, operations, sales, and programming to cater to clients’ shifting lifestyle requirements and to maintain high-quality services. 

One thing is certain: A huge wave is coming, and the senior living industry is not ready for it yet. While the workforce gap won’t be filled in one semester of college, educators and practitioners can begin to change the conversation around senior living management to make it a stronger part of student career considerations. As we head into the era of “repurposement,” those currently in the industry as well as those considering a career switch would be wise to bear in mind the changes that lie ahead. From the retirement of retirement to the rise of technologies that will keep people healthier longer, the next generation of senior living management professionals has much to look forward to. 


Scott Eckstein is a clinical assistant professor and senior living executive-In-residence for the Hospitality Business Management program at Washington State University, in Pullman. He also is a partner in the international senior living and real estate advisory firm of Active Living International LLC. 

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