Senior Living: The Wellness Effect

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the senior living industry was evolving from a care-based business model to one that is wellness-based, with care.

By Colin Milner
From the June 2020 Issue

Over the past two decades, the senior living industry has embraced wellness as a means to address shifting expectations and mindsets toward aging. But as the societal focus on wellness has intensified, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve also come to a tipping point—and we’re well-positioned for more rapid acceleration.

In fact, International Council on Active Aging’s (ICAA) research suggests that prior to the pandemic the industry was well on its way to reinventing itself―from operating on a care-based business model to one that is wellness-based, with care. ICAA’s research showed that more than half (59%) of senior living community staff and managers said their business model will be wellness-based, with care, by 2023—according to “Visions of the Future,” ICAA’s 2018 Active-Aging Industry Trends Survey.

Enter COVID-19.senior living

Lockdowns have impacted the overall health and wellness of the older population, and nowhere is this more apparent than in senior living. Yet, what has emerged is the immense understanding that wellness matters. The physical, spiritual, social, emotional, and cognitive health of individuals matter. The environments that support wellness matter. The fact is this: As an industry, we’re on the brink of a watershed moment. How we move forward will dictate our future and that of the people and families who depend on the services we offer.

To guide this direction the ICAA formed a COVID-19 senior living task force. Close to 160 thought leaders from all segments of the industry came together to explore what the “next normal” is for senior living. The following are the seven major areas for improvement or adoption, now and in the future.

  • Perceptions of senior living
  • Technology to increase connections and aid efficiency
  • Model of the dimensions of wellness; focus on a holistic approach
  • Purpose-driven, caring, passionate staff
  • Establish trust by having plans to respond to future events, e.g., illness, disasters
  • Promotion of self-efficacy, lifting people up to be as independent as possible
  • Design and renovate exteriors and interiors of buildings for greater well-being

For those responsible for operating these communities the need to explore what this shift means for the types of products and services needed to fulfill this “new normal” is paramount. So, where to start? Ask yourselves the following questions for each of these areas:

  • What products are needed to support each of the above seven areas now?
  • Why is this product needed?
  • How will this product reinforce our community’s new strategy?
  • How will this product support our residents’ efforts to embrace their life potential?
  • How will people of all ages and capabilities use this product?
  • In what environments will we deliver this product?
  • How will this product create a memorable experience?
  • Is this product evidence-based or evidence-informed?
  • Who or what will deliver this product?
  • What training is needed, initially and ongoing?
  • Who will pay for this product and what is the ROI?

Organizations that embrace a wellness model will create a new normal within their communities. The focus will be on what residents can do—not their limitations. This means offering care as one of many services instead of being defined by it. This new vision for senior living will encourage residents to embrace their human potential, creating new perceptions of what it means to age. More to the point, it will create a new normal for what it means to age well. As part of the shift to a wellness-based business model, your community will need to purchase products that support a multidimensional approach to wellness.

Take the time to think about each setting and each dimension of wellness, and the products that will be needed. In your café, for example, you may wish to have long or round tables that seat six people. This would support the social dimension by creating intentional and unintentional connections.

Looking for person-centered solutions. As your organization explores products that support the wellness-based paradigm, one area you’ll want to focus heavily on is products that align with person-centered solutions.

For example, a wearable that can track food intake, calorie expenditure, activity levels, heart rate variability, and exercise duration and intensity would support efforts to deliver more person-centered recommendations for activity over a 24-hour timeframe.

The bottom line. Understanding your residents’ needs, expectations, and aspirations—as well as anticipating how the latest industry and scientific research, and prevailing conditions, might affect your organization—will help inform development of new environments, programs, and products. Together, these considerations will help ensure that your product selections support your new wellness vision.

senior livingMilner is CEO of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) and founder of the active-aging industry in North America. He is also a leading authority on the health and well-being of the older adult, and has been recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of “the most innovative and influential minds” in the world on aging-related topics. An award-winning writer, Milner has authored more than 300 articles. He has been published in such journals as Global Policy, and the Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics. He also contributed a chapter to the World Economic Forum book “Global Population Ageing: Peril or Promise?” Milner’s efforts have inspired a broad spectrum of groups to seek his counsel, included amongst these: World Health Organization; World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Aging; and the White House Conference on Aging.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below or send an e-mail to the Editor at

Want more news about COVID-19 and its impact on facilities?

Click here to read more news related to the coronavirus pandemic and facility management.


  1. Considering how vulnerable seniors are to COVID-19, efforts to enhance their quality of life like the ones mentioned in the post are very laudable.

Comments are closed.