Step into the downsized, remodeled home of an increasing number of aging baby boomers in Baton Rouge and it’s likely the place is “smarter” than where you are living.
Among the potentially eye-catching features: motion sensors that respond to a range of medical conditions, voice-activated technologies, smart thermostats, automatic lighting and senior-friendly bathroom fixtures—like zero-degree showers. Collectively, these amenities are allowing Baton Rouge’s aging population to enjoy both high living standards as well as easy access to care in their own homes. In short: A baby boomer’s home isn’t their parent’s house, and the home improvement options are only expected to improve in the coming years.
As part of a larger aging-in-place movement that’s gaining traction nationwide, a wave of incoming related technologies are expected to fetch some $1 billion in investments this year from venture capital firms and other companies—roughly double the amount investors spent just three years ago. While these investment dollars might be slower to flow to Baton Rouge, senior residents, and the organizations and businesses serving them, are nonetheless anticipating side effects of this national movement to ripple throughout the Capital Region in the near future.
“It’s broader than just an Alexa for seniors,” says Matthew Rachleff, founder and ambassador of the Baton Rouge chapter of Aging 2.0, a San Francisco-based business connection and innovation organization for those working in aging and senior care. “The opportunity in the aging space is massive.”
Fueling the trend is a belief that seniors would prefer to remain at home near their families and friends than live among others their own age or older. They’re also living longer than their generational predecessors, moving into senior living facilities at older ages.
But a noticeable preference toward these high-tech creature comforts raises a key question: Could this trend threaten to upend one of commercial real estate’s biggest bets—that aging boomers will leave their residences in droves for senior housing? If so, what would that mean for the various local independent and assisted living facilities that have been constructed in recent years?
Real estate investors have been wagering on the voluminous baby boomer generation—72 million members born between 1946 and 1964 who would require hundreds of thousands of new units, if previous demand patterns persist. However, their gamble has fallen short of expectations, the Wall Street Journal reports, and there are concerns that it could become one of the biggest real estate miscalculations in recent memory.
That being said, Baton Rouge’s senior housing market holds its own among national rankings. Coming out on top with a No. 1 rank statewide, Baton Rouge places 90th for its senior living and housing options among all U.S. cities, according to recent Caring.com statistics. With a monthly average cost of assisted living ($3,717) around the national average, the city’s average costs of independent living ($2,248) and memory care ($4,396) are both below the national average.
Consequently, senior housing isn’t going away. However, the new aging-in-place movement could undercut demand further over time, with advocates saying the innovations will make it easier for seniors living at home to be less dependent on others.
Amedisys is certainly banking on that theory. The Baton Rouge-based home health company has already invested significantly in remote monitoring, which enables Amedisys to check its 376,000 patients’ vital signs remotely and intervene proactively if they notice unusual activity.
“Our patients are saying loud and clear that they want to grow old in their own homes,” says Sandra Schrauf, the company’s senior vice president of innovation, partially attributing demand to a broader understanding of technology. “They’re comfortable with tablets, texting, and FaceTiming their grandchildren, and that’s something that’s changed a lot in the past 10 years.”
Schrauf says the company is reviewing what other technologies are coming down the pipeline, with executives showing a particular interest in home safety technology, such as motion sensors that can detect potential falls. In the meantime, Amedisys is completing the nationwide rollout of its company-branded Care Coordination Network, which will include—in addition to its signature home health and hospice services—components like meal delivery and laundry services, symptomatic of the “Amazon effect” they say is entering health care.
Health care companies aren’t the only ones preparing for this boom in local aging-in-place demand. Homebuilder Tom Ashley, Jr. changed his entire business model to capitalize on it 15 years ago, after attending a class in Houston to receive a certification to specialize in aging-in-place home design.
Today, his Denham Springs-based company, Expand Incorporated, carries out more than 30 aging-in-place projects in the greater Baton Rouge area annually, along with some 15-20 smaller related projects. The field comprises nearly 80% of all his business.
“When we first started trying to implement it, we did so almost silently. We’d just incorporate the designing methods as we went along,” Ashley says. “But that segment has probably doubled for us within the past five years. There’s much more demand now.”
Affordability, however, can remain a deterrent for many, as getting clients buy-in to spend potentially thousands of dollars on renovations poses foreseeable challenges. But an increasingly educated senior population is beginning to see the value of redesigning with aging in mind, says Ashley, who believes raising awareness about the concept is critical for it to progress.
He’s seeing early signs of such taking place. Other than spikes in business, Ashley says competition is also on the rise as more companies incorporate aging-in-place into their service offerings, which he views as a net positive for the local market.
Yet some, including Ashley, still don’t think a greater demand for aging-in-place creates any less of a need for Baton Rouge’s senior living facilities.
Seniors experiencing Alzheimer’s or dementia, for example, might need the constant attention care available in a facility environment, says Toni Phillips, who primarily works with Alzheimer’s patients through OneUp.Fit, the local startup she founded 2 1/2 years ago that aims to prevent falls among seniors.
Deeply embedded in Phillips’ program is an element of socialization, another aspect many fear could get lost in the aging-in-place era.
“The No. 1 killer of elderly adults is loneliness,” Phillips says. “If you age in place as a lonely individual, you won’t last long.”