The following is an excerpt from the revised second edition of my bestselling book, “What’s the Deal with Retirement Communities?”, available on Geared toward retirees-to-be and their adult children, the book is designed to be the first step in your senior living research process — providing answers in a simple and concise fashion.

The attitudes toward aging are quickly changing, and the next generation of retirees is not going to be attracted to a retirement community that is perceived to be institutional and restrictive. They also will not necessarily be attracted to communities that offer the glitziest amenities.

In a 2015 Senior Housing News article titled, Why Trendier Senior Living Amenities Might Not be the Answer, senior living architect Elisabeth Borden describes how the next generation of senior living residents will look for communities that best “support the kinds of lives people have always had, balanced with play, work, rest, and connection to others.”

Since housing and lifestyle are so closely linked, the most successful retirement communities will be those that not only accommodate, but also foster, these preferences in new and innovative ways. Merely having an activities coordinator and providing group transportation to local venues will not be enough to attract the next generation of older adults to retirement communities.

Based on my observations, research, and discussions, here are just some of the areas where I feel we will see the biggest changes, which are already taking place at some communities and are not necessarily mutually exclusive of one another:

Physical design

It is likely that retirement communities will become less homogeneous, and we will begin to see a divergence of designs within the industry. We will continue to see the large “campus” design that is common today, but we will likely see more boutique-style communities, offering a setting that looks more like a large home, but with many of the same services and amenities offered by other retirement communities. Some communities may offer multiple group residences or houses, each one equipped with common rooms, a kitchen, and laundry. Even within larger campuses we will likely see more “pocket-style” designs that include multiple smaller living sections or neighborhoods. We may even see differently themed neighborhoods within a larger setting.

This is a trend that will not only take place in independent living, but also in assisted living and skilled nursing care, including free-standing providers, as well as those that are part of a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, also referred to as a life plan community). Known in the industry as the “small-house” or “neighborhood” model, the intention will be to move as far away as possible from the sterile and institutional atmosphere that is typically associated with traditional nursing homes and towards a nurturing, neighborly, and healthier environment that feels more like home.

The cost structure for the small house model is quite different than it is for larger campus-style communities, but providers are already beginning to discover ways to develop this model in a cost-effective and sustainable manner.

>> Related: Senior Living Cooperatives Explained

Education and programs

As Albert Einstein once said, “When you stop learning, you start dying.” Successful retirement communities of the future will encourage and facilitate continuing education initiatives, involvement in the broader community, and intergenerational programs. This includes on-site programs, as well as joint projects and partnerships outside of the community.

Lifelong learning will continue to grow in popularity as older adults seek to continue learning and expanding their minds. An example of a community that is embracing this concept is Oak Hammock in Gainesville, Florida, which has initiated a successful partnership with the University of Florida and Elderhostel to provide Oak Hammock residents, as well as local residents of Gainesville, free on-site educational courses on a variety of topics. The courses are taught by professors at the University of Florida and other experts in particular fields of study.

Another example is Judson retirement community in Cleveland, Ohio, which has a thriving residential partnership where graduate-level students from the Cleveland Institute of Music live for free at the community in exchange for providing cultural programs and performances at each of Judson’s three locations. This program has exceeded expectations in terms of bridging intergenerational gaps as the students share their musical talents, while getting advice from residents on life, careers, relationships, and more. On its website, Judson lists over 30 additional partnerships in the broader community with which the residents are involved.

Note: This above is not a recommendation of Oak Hammock or Judson and neither provider paid to have their names mentioned in this post.

>> Related: Common Ground: Intergenerational Programs Benefit Both Children & Older Adults


The future of retirement communities will include more dining options and flexibility. Traditionally, the main dining room has been the place where residents receive most of their meals and socialize. But it is becoming more clear that fewer people want to eat each meal in the same dining area at set times, and a large dining hall can seem negatively institutional to a generation used to choice. A trend already taking place within the industry is to offer café or bistro-style options, in addition to a main dining area, with flexible meal times and carry-out. The feel of a café is less formal and more like what someone might find on Main Street, USA. The café space can also be utilized as a gathering place for happy hour or socials. This is similar to the trend toward dispersed and less formal dining options that has taken place on many college campuses.

>> Related: 5-Stars: Dining Options Evolve at Many CCRCs

Want to learn more?

To read more of my perspectives on the future of senior living, including improved outdoor spaces, implementation of more technology, and increased resident empowerment, check out the newest edition of my book, “What’s the Deal with Retirement Communities?”, available on

Or, if you’re ready to begin exploring CCRCs in your area, visit myLifeSite’s free online community search tool, which provides information on hundreds of CCRCs across the country.

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