Forever Young
With amenities and programs designed to enrich both the body and the mind, local retirement communities evolve to meet the needs of an ever-changing senior population
by Jill Lupine

The word “retirement” once conjured notions of quiet days spent lazing on a porch from sunrise to sundown, simply watching the time pass. At White Horse Village, a 25-year-old continuing care retirement community in Newtown Square, a resident who chooses to “sit still” is the exception rather than the rule.

“Our wellness center is our fitness center, where you go to stay well,” says Dottie Mallon, vice president of marketing for White Horse Village. “We do have doctors’ offices on the campus, but that’s an outpatient area. Our wellness center keeps people out of the doctor’s office. There are so many levels of classes for residents to participate in, and people see a remarkable change by utilizing the classes and equipment, or just by walking around the beautiful campus. All of a sudden, you realize you’re adding years to your life.

“We have one resident who is 106, and she works out on the elliptical [machine] three days a week,” she continues. “Some of the women here work out three times a day. I take one of the classes, and there are some women in their 90s that I can barely keep up with. It’s inspiring.”

Another example of White Horse Village residents “staying in motion” is the Friendship Games. Held this year on May 1, the biannual event featured teams from 19 retirement communities across southeastern Pennsylvania. The 2015 edition, which White Horse Village hosted on its 97-acre campus abutting Ridley Creek State Park, had seniors participating in 13 sporting events, ranging from golf putting, croquet and billiards, to horseshoes, swimming and air-rifle marksmanship.

“It’s a friendly competition, and our residents take great pride in competing and in their home,” says Mallon. “They’re excited to show off White Horse Village. … Even apart from the games, these people are fit and active. They ride their bikes, they walk, they garden, they’re very much into nature and being outdoors—it’s a very active resident population.”

White Horse Village is hardly an anomaly. At retirement communities throughout the area, residents view their post-work lives as a time not to slow down but to enrich one’s life by becoming even more active, both in body and in mind.

“Years ago it would be the staff who would create the enrichment programs—playing bingo here, maybe having a speaker come in,” says Nicole Michael, corporate director of sales and marketing for Moravian Manor, which is “a community within a community” based in Lititz. “Now it’s so resident driven, and as new people come in, it’s becoming more and more diverse. People don’t want to sit around playing bingo; they want to focus on health and wellness, they want to travel, and they want to have a sense of purpose by sharing their gifts.”

‘The New Generation’

At Pine Run Retirement Community in Doylestown, residents—or “villagers,” as they are called in the company lexicon—learn about everything from chess and history to bellydancing and motorcycles through a “Keep on Learning” initiative through Pine Run University. Villagers have a seemingly insatiable thirst for intellectual stimulation and take an active interest in sating it, according to Barbara Chierici, senior director of marketing for Pine Run, whose 43 acres cater to approximately 500 villagers.

“The new generation of residents is raising the bar on the enrichments we’re offering,” says Chierici. “Last night I had dinner with a resident in his 60s who’s making his own craft beer. We’re going to have some tastings and see if we might have some of his brews at our special events. … We have another leading-edge boomer who has turned a walk-in closet into a ceramic studio.”

At Waverly Heights in Gladwyne, seniors eagerly immerse themselves in culture, world events and education. Here, residents enjoy concerts by David Kim of the Philadelphia Orchestra, intellectual development through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in conjunction with Widener University and excursions to nearby cultural institutions such as the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square. These offerings are among the many reasons Waverly Heights has been able to maintain such a strong rate of occupancy, according to Thomas P. Garvin, president and CEO of Waverly Heights Ltd.

“We’re serving members of the Main Line community who come in with a certain expectation, and they are anxious to be active and lifelong learners, with amenities, programs and services that they have grown accustomed to,” Garvin says. “They are eager to talk about the things happening around the world, so they can debate and discuss. The programs fill up and grow to capacity, and it’s been that way since the beginning.”

“That’s indicative of seniors today,” adds Janet Thompson, Waverly Heights’ vice president of marketing. “They’re not just going to the community center and sitting in their rocking chairs. … What people want is flexibility. They don’t want to be told that they have to go the dining room at such and such a time. Clearly, what this generation wants is options.”

In addition to a greater diversity of options for intellectual, physical and spiritual involvement, today’s changing senior population increasingly wants more customization and flexible options when it comes to dining, living spaces and other aspects of their lifestyle.

“Our first inkling came a few years ago when we built the Hendricks Place townhomes, which have a larger footprint,” says Moravian Manor’s Nicole Michael. “Our largest home used to be 1,600 square feet, but these are 2,700 to 3,000 square feet, each with a two-car garage. People want to downsize and unload the maintenance, but they do not want to downsize their lifestyle. They want us to take care of the building and ground maintenance while they pursue their passions and hobbies.

“In the past, with Hendricks Place, we actually extended some of the homes by 2 or 3 feet, and the footprint [of the property] allowed us to do that, so pretty much all of those homes were custom,” she continues. “Our ability to offer home customization allows people to choose their own flooring, cabinetry, painting and countertops. Then we had people who wanted to go further, wanting us to maybe move an island 2 feet to the left, remove a door, etc. People have certain ideas about how they want to live.”

‘A Different World’
At many communities, residents are increasingly engaged in governance, often helping determine or at least influence the lineup for everything from cultural programs and dining options to living quarters and health care.

“We have residents on our board of trustees, and we have a very strong and active residents’ association,” says Garvin of Waverly Heights. “The residents get together and form their own committees—35 different groups, having to do with everything from the arts and movies to wine and spirits—that the residents self-govern and use to add value to the community. These are amenities and services in addition to what Waverly provides.”

“It’s a different world now for sure,” adds Thompson, who has been employed by Waverly Heights for 20 years. “The industry has transitioned to helping people stay active and engaged in their lives, and from a health care perspective, personal care has changed industry wide. … People are coming here later in life compared to when I first started working here. They’re also living much longer and having much better lives. Our youngest resident is 68, and our oldest is 95. One resident is an original resident [from more than 25 years ago]; she’s 95, and she still helps with the gift shop.

“The health care component is one of the reasons why someone will come here,” she continues. “No one ever wants to spend their lives in a health care setting, but if so, ours consists of doctors’ offices, memory support, personal care and more therapeutics and specialists than I believe they will find in any other community. Our goal is to give [residents] a high quality of life that is purposeful and driven, no matter where [they] are. … From a safety and security component, residents know they will have good health care all the way through, and in a safe, secure environment. Should they outlive their [financial] resources, our charitable component will cover the cost of their stay so they never have to leave.”

Although today’s senior living communities have changed a great deal over the years, and remarkably so in the past decade, they will continue to evolve as they work to cater to the needs of each incoming generation. At White Horse Village, for example, the generations that make up the community have shifted dramatically since it opened its doors in 1989. From the Greatest Generation to the Silent Generation and, most recently, the Baby Boomer Generation, each group has its own distinctive set of needs and wants, according to Mallon.

“Our youngest resident is 58, and our oldest is 106,” she says. “We’re constantly changing to attract the next generation. Anytime we’re doing an expansion it’s a balancing act, because we’re always enhancing for the next group. We’re serving the needs of the current generation, or generations, while looking to the future.”

Chierici agrees, noting that the Greatest Generation is focused more on communal space, while the Silent and Baby Boomer generations are much more focused on having spaces carved out to pursue their individual interests.

“[The boomers and silents] still enjoy camaraderie, but they definitely want to have offerings that touch all dimensions—physical, intellectual, spiritual—and personal space is much more important to them, whether it is an art studio within their own cottage or a custom kitchen design,” Chierici says. “One of the other changes in the retirement world is that retirees are now looking to extend their careers as long as possible. Whether it’s an artist who continues to sell their work through art galleries or their own individual outlets, or an attorney or a speech therapist, they’re working for a reason: to have a ‘play-check,’ or to fund their fun.

“The villagers here who are the most content and make the transition to retirement life most comfortably are those who still have a social life outside the community, through a work life or a spiritual life,” she continues. “They have all those things and a new community life that overlaps them all, so they’re not just making a sharp transition and dropping all other aspects of themselves.”