Some of the most competitive Wii Bowling in Freehold, happens where you might least expect it. The popular Nintendo video game, recommended for ages 7 and up, is just one of the programs meant to attract the new wave of younger, more active senior citizens to Applewood Estates.
The average resident move-in age at Applewood Estates' independent living community is dropping for the first time, according to its marketing department.
Before the 2008 financial crisis, the average age of resident moving into an independent living apartment or cottage at Applewood Estates was 78, said Jay Solomon, vice president of senior services for CentraState Healthcare System, which runs the community. That average had held firm for a decade.
During the housing crisis, which started in 2007, homeowners hitting retirement age had trouble selling their homes so the average move-in age at Applewood jumped to about 85.
That trend has since reversed course in a dramatic way. Over the past 12 months, Applewood's new residents tend to be couples in their late 60s to early 70s.
"We have seen the pendulum swing towards a younger age demographic," said Solomon.
Applewood is now attracting more residents such as Joyce McLoughlin, Ahead of the trend, McLoughlin moved to Applewood Estates in December 2006 at age 69. At the time, McLoughlin was one of the younger residents. She remained one of the younger seniors at the property until the recent shift.
"As [the economy] got harder, the people coming in got older and older," said McLoughlin.
Applewood and facilities like it have been forced to adapt to a changing marketplace. They were prepared by decisions made well before the market collapse.
In 2002, the Applewood Estates Board of Trustees approved a $38 million renovation and expansion project. In making its decision, the board considered the aging baby boomers and the rise in popularity of 55 and older communities, said Solomon. In response, it shifted its target market to that of a 74-year-old couple.
"In order for Applewood to compete, we needed to create that [young] atmosphere and that initiative to welcome and attract the younger residents," said Solomon.
One of the ways that Applewood has tried to appeal to the younger demographic is through the addition of a 250-seat performing arts center, which is ironically named after a 100 year-old current resident. It also added a lap pool, exercise room, and spa amenities.
Applewood Estates has partnered up with Brookdale Community College to offer on-site education for residents, which Marketing Director Sheri Van Orden believes is its most significant new program.
McLoughlin agrees. "Applewood University" is her personal favorite activity. Currently, a History of Film class is offered on Fridays to residents for a nominal fee.
But there are other factors that appeal to the new generation of residents, who Solomon sees as being more educated in their retirement financial planning.
Applewood Estates offers residents a Life Care contract option. Life Care contracts are generally for residents who do not have long-term care insurance. The concept requires a higher upfront payment for continued care down the road when the senior's health deteriorates. The senior will not see their monthly fee rise as their healthcare needs increase, said Solomon.
The majority of Applewood's residents, including McLoughlin, are on the Life Care contract, only 10 to 15 percent have long-term care insurance, said Solomon. The Life Care option was particularly important to McLoughlin because when she moved in, she had breast cancer and was told her "future is murky."
"You are aware when you come in what your financial commitment is going to be," said McLoughlin, who is healthy now. "That's important for someone to know how solvent they will be."
While it may be too early in the data collection process to analyze the lowering age of move-in to independent living communities nationally, the trend does seem sensible to political scientist Dr. Michael Gusmano. The baby boomers have not or could not save as much money as the older generation did; therefore they have to be more proactive in the market with regards to analyzing their future needs.
And perhaps choosing where they do not live is just as important for seniors as choosing where they do.
"I do think boomers who are currently or recently going through the process of aging and have seen what is going on with their own parents are probably more likely than the previous generation to think about different kinds of accommodations they want to avoid, such as nursing homes," Gusmano said.