senior couple riding bikes

Eliminating the Usage of “Active Adult”

By: Frankie J. Pane

We at Essex have in recent years struggled to understand exactly what the definition of “Active Adult” is.  It’s a new term for the industry, describing a type of senior housing that is in the headlines in recent years.  Many others in our industry share our frustration with the term, but my frustration with “Active Adult” has led me to an ironic moment in my professional career: in advance of my speaking at Interface’s Active Adult Conference in Dallas on June 2nd, 2022, I’d like to explain why our industry should consider eliminating its usage of “Active Adult” as a class of senior housing.

For as long as the senior housing industry has existed, operators and consumers have been able to easily distinguish and describe the primary types of senior housing and care based on our nomenclature practices: Skilled Nursing Facilities offer “nursing” care, Memory Care communities offer care for those suffering from the various “memory” diseases, Assisted Living communities offer “assistance” with ADLs, and Independent Living communities are for those who can live “independently” on their own or via some support.  But what is an “Active Adult” community?  Does it clearly define a class of senior housing or a person’s needs?  Are there already not “active adults” residing in each of the primary classifications of senior housing?  Is the term also not a bit offensive?  For those reasons and more I’d like to see our industry eliminate its use of “Active Adult” as a classification type.  It does not clearly define what products or services are offered, it confuses our consumers, it could be considered offensive by some, and even our own industry cannot clearly define it.  What’s the benefit of using it?

I am a firm believer in the importance of identifying a problem, and then following up by presenting a solution (or solutions) for consideration.  Keeping with that belief, I propose the industry adopts the usage of the below clearly understood classifications, which benefits both our consumers and industry alike:

  • 55+ Townhomes
  • 55+ Apartments

Those two simple yet descriptive titles clearly convey what “Active Adult” confuses.  There are sub-types for each just as there are different financial models for CCRCs, fully-bundled versus partially-unbundled ALs and MCs, and fully-bundled versus partially-unbundled ILs.  However, at the most basic level, those are the two definitive age-restricted types of senior housing that fall below “Independent Living” on the acuity scale.  While they may lack some sexiness in the eyes of marketing teams, they provide the consumer with much more clarity which in turn aids the consumer and industry in a meaningful way.

In summary, we believe describing a 55+ apartment or townhome community as “Active Adult” doesn’t offer any insights to the consumer on what the community offers, which should be our industry’s primary goal when describing a classification of senior housing.  We at Essex will no longer be using the term “Active Adult”, and we’d like to ask our industry peers to consider making this simple yet helpful change to help eliminate consumer confusion.  Let’s do this together, for the betterment of all.