In early September, the New York Times published an article about aging and assisted living that elicited some very strong and negative responses. In the original article, the author called the concept that American adults might be capable of aging independently while retaining the maximum amount of self-reliance possible was “a lie” in which “we are all complicit in keeping alive.”
Not surprisingly, the author of the article, who is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and a reporter “specializing in health care, education, and environmental challenges in India” according to her Amazon bio, leaps into vilifying the assisted-living industry within about 200 words of the opening. Soon, we discover the reason. The author herself is dealing with the complications that come with a parent’s aging and is finding that for her family, a large assisted-living facility (which she describes as an option she considered to “offer our mother better care and relieve the pressure on my sister” by enabling the mother to move out of the sister’s apartment) is not the answer.
Apparently, this makes the entire assisted living industry a lie because, she continues, “The irony of assisted living is, it’s great if you don’t need too much assistance” before going on to describe “spa-like facilities” that are no good to people who might have dementia or trouble walking. Then, she quotes another individual who runs three of her own small group homes for the elderly as saying that facilities that offer 24-hour monitoring “may not have sufficient staff to actually monitor and assist the large number of residents.” I feel like there may be a little bit of bias here. To me, it reads like a sales pitch for her facilities versus the others. The same source then described assisted living as a situation in which independence is used mainly as a defense for poor care: “Yes, he did walk up the stairs with his walker and fall down and die, but he had a right to do that,” was her example.
Whoa. So, did this happen, or is this just a hypothetical? The article doesn’t make it clear.
The rest of the article continues much in the same vein, basically insisting that residents who need some assistance automatically need too much assistance to live independently even in an environment dedicated to this very thing and staffed by professionals. She does not allow for middle ground. Either you are able to live completely alone or you are 85-plus and might get eaten by an alligator. Yes, that was another example, and it’s a very sad one. It’s also very extreme, and it’s very misleading. Ultimately, this reporter concludes that there is very little hope for the American senior population because, unlike Japan, Americans do not have a national long-term-care insurance program. She concludes, “We need to let go of the ideal of being self-sufficient until death,” predicting, that, in the words of another source, “’There’s going to be lots and lots of old people dying left and right with nobody attending to them.”
You’re Not Getting the Whole Story
This type of article is incredibly frustrating to me.
There are so many problems with this piece, including that it focuses on a very narrow portion of the population that might be using assisted living and it defines the concept far too narrowly so as to create (possibly inadvertently, but nevertheless very problematically) the impression that assisted-living owners and investors are negligent, most Americans refuse to accept help as they age, and there is basically no solution for the problem except much higher taxes and intense government involvement in the healthcare sector. Let’s talk about some facts and figures that are a little more inclusive, shall we?
- There are roughly 77 million Baby Boomers in the United States
- 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day
- 4,000 Americans turn 85 every day
- The average cost of a private room in a traditional assisted living facility can be $4,000 or more
- You can easily generate $10,000 a month (or more) in a residential assisted living facility while providing a more affordable alternative for people who legitimately value their independence and are not yet seeking (nor do they need) comprehensive assisted living
That is a little more like the real big picture than that doom-and-gloom article in the NYT, and it brings to light some very important ways that real estate investors and small-business owners can take real steps toward solving problems and improving the lives of seniors and their families while also shoring up their own financial situation and retirement prospects.
Aging Americans are Seeking Solutions, Not Doom and Gloom
According to the AARP, among Americans age 50 to 64, nearly three-quarters want to age in place (meaning continue to live in their own home as they age). At 65 and older, that number rises to 87 percent. However, more than half of non-drivers over 65 do not leave their homes most days because they do not have transportation options, so the reality of not having to make adjustments clearly will begin to sink in around that age if not sooner. The truth is that most Americans do not have the finances to remain in their homes permanently as they age, but most do not want to live with grown children either. They value their independence not just in terms of being fully independent in their living arrangements, but also in the area of arranging and controlling their lives! It’s a natural way to feel, particularly in our culture.
There is a solution, but first you have to see through the lies.
If you believe the loudest rhetoric in the business, you think there is no hope for you, your aging parents, or the aging American population. We are so stubborn we will not compromise, and we can’t afford our own age-related care anyway, the lie goes. Well, the truth is very different. As we age, we seek solutions to our problems, and residential assisted living is a very real solution and option for many people. Most Americans will not need comprehensive care or deal with dementia or other age-related issues at 65 – especially not the Baby Boomers, who are arguably the healthiest generation living at this moment. For some, those “spa-like facilities” may be a great option – at least for the next 10 to 15 years.
But what about those who cannot necessarily afford a spa-like retreat in retirement or don’t want one? What about those who want to live in a small community where they can cultivate friendships and also enjoy the many benefits that come with living in a private home? For those people, residential assisted living facilities offer an incredible solution: independence with community and a basic level of care. The owners of these facilities also possess an incredible solution for their futures as they are in possession of a product in high demand that serves a truly great purpose.
Don’t listen to the lies we are being told about ourselves and our aging parents. Do not buy into the lie that says we need more government in our lives managing our aging process for us! And please, please do not let yourself be vilified or accept the story line that says if you do not offer skilled dementia care in your assisted living facility you are somehow failing your residents! It’s an unkind, unfair, lazy route to treat all aging Americans as if they are a single person with a single, unilateral, sweeping diagnosis. Every senior is different, and every senior deserves the opportunity to live, to the greatest degree possible, in the situation that rewards them and helps them continue to live happy, productive lives.
Real Estate Investors Play a Key Role in Nationwide Solutions
Real estate investors know that every home is different, and we are the best population for the job when it comes to treating our senior population as unique individuals because we know that every resident, homeowner or otherwise, is unique as well. That is why I am so proud to be speaking at the Residential Assisted Living National Convention on October 3-5, 2019, in Phoenix, Arizona. I and more than 30 other speakers, including Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad Poor Dad, will speaking at this exciting event.
Assisted living and senior housing are not just relevant and timely for our country; they are incredibly relevant and timely for real estate investors. This event is designed to help you cut through the noise and chatter about these topics and get to the heart of the issues in order to provide solutions. Be at the forefront of this opportunity in residential assisted living, and be part of one of the best, biggest, most positive and most profitable solutions available to Americans today.