Margaret Wylde is the Founder and CEO of ProMatura Group, a research and planning advisory firm that specializes in market analyses and consumer research with respect to all forms of age-qualified housing. Through the Vision Series, she talks about the issue of ageism ingrained in today’s health system and what steps the industry can take to eliminate it. She also discusses the best practices and technologies that will play a critical role in improving outcomes and transitions of care in the years to come.
Describe your vision for a healthcare system that truly is equipped to serve the aging population in America.
I envision a system that promotes independence through care guidance and accessibility. If people have to find home aides or information, they need to know where to look and what platforms exist.
When my husband fell a while back, I was able to find information online about how to turn him over and get him into the bed. We can learn so much more today because of the volume of information to which we’re connected. You can find pretty much anything you need and watch a couple of videos to find a solution to your problem.
With each generation that grows up with technology, it will become more valuable and will offer a greater number of solutions for any scenario. I think it will give people more independence and confidence through greater accessibility to information.
If you could change one thing about the experience of aging in America, what would that be?
I’d get rid of ageism because it’s rampant today. I hate to say it, but our industry is as ageist as it comes, and until we change the way we refer to our customers and our products, I don’t see ageism going anywhere. We shouldn’t be promoting it, because we begin to age the second we are born. Aging is a lifelong process, it’s not just something that happens at the end.
Not everybody ages the same way. Some are very fortunate, have good health and live in a great place. It’s not a one-size-fits-all experience, and that’s one reason why I hate the terminology or use of the word “seniors” for referring to people who are our customers. I think we should refer to them as “customers” to whom we are very grateful. They are usually great people and because of them, we make a living.
What can individual care providers do to better facilitate care transitions for the aging population, and who should be responsible for overseeing the continuity of care?
Primary care providers should be good sources of information regarding next steps and treatment options, especially at end of life. I remember asking my husband’s PCP if he thought my husband should be on hospice given the circumstances, but he didn’t make that decision. I called the hospice facility [myself] and admitted him, then he died the next day.
We’re always going to need our primary care physicians, but they need to be well networked, particularly with those who serve the 65-plus population. They need to be well in tune with the available resources because if it weren’t for the internet, the experience with my husband would’ve been a lot harder.
I did go to his primary care physician and I hired a woman to sit with him during the day and take care of him while I went to work for a while. You can’t do it yourself completely, and there are many forms of help. Does everybody have that opportunity? Do they know where to go? I think answering those questions is key.
I would like to see a system where patients don’t have to move from one place to another, particularly if they are in a retirement community. Care should be brought to the patient where they live so they don’t have to keep moving to another location.
It is already done in other countries. It is more comforting for the individual when the care can be increased where they are. They don’t have to go to a new environment. Things are brought to them. If they can’t get out and go to the dining room, the dining room is brought to them. I think that is a better solution than moving people to another building or another floor.
What role do you see technology playing in allowing individuals to age well, and are there particular technologies that excite you the most about how they might transform the aging experience?
For one, we don’t have to know how to type anymore. We could ask Siri anything and the exchange is much faster. All the technology that’s coming out now—from drones to smart refrigerators— is going to help, especially when it comes to monitoring our health.
So much is available in security, safety and communication. The pandemic brought out a lot of good technologies that are life-changing, accessible and easy to use.
Based on your research, what international best practices do you think could be adopted in the United States?
In both Australia and the UK, a higher proportion of people are satisfied or very satisfied with the living conditions in their retirement communities compared to our retirement communities. I think the predominant difference is they are more likely to do single-family homes instead of multifamily. Some do both.
One outside of London that has grown rather quickly has several buildings. They only had two residential buildings when I was there but they have several more now. It didn’t feel like a retirement community because the main building had a bar, dining room tables, and a fireplace. It promoted intergenerational socialization and even promoted walking to other community locations through its layout. There were young people using the facility as well and enjoying the environment. I think that was an incredibly well-done property.
What do you think is the biggest opportunity for providers of housing and care for the aging population in 2022?
The boomers are coming up and droves of us are looking for an opportunity to make friends across the street in an active adult community. One thing that active adult communities can do is give you friends. It gives you people that are generally like-minded, or if you’re a big enough active adult community, there’ll be clubs full of people who like to do what you do.
Getting together with friends and having fun is critical, and that’s what active adult and congregate communities promote. Not everybody is meant for that kind of environment, but it is a great opportunity for many.
What do you think are the biggest hurdles to achieving your vision for a health system truly equipped to serve America’s aging population?
We are rooted. We get used to what has been and it’s always hard to figure out what’s next. But we are evolving. We are seeing changes, and there are different models today than there used to be.
It’s always changing, and I think the pandemic accelerated inevitable changes to keep people happy. Most of the companies that participated in our research said they’re keeping those changes. They increased communication with residents, with family, and they found different ways to get people together.
What advice would you give to aging Americans looking to set themselves up for success in the years ahead? What should they expect and plan for?
I think both the individual and the family members should stand up for themselves and not just accept something that they don’t feel is right. Sometimes you see that people just obey—they don’t question. They don’t ask questions and they don’t stand up for themselves as well as they should. It’s important to understand that you do have a voice and you should use it.
People should also refrain from accepting the first thing they see. Go ahead, spend the time, and if you’re looking for a retirement community, visit more than one. Find the one that gives you a greater sense of home, not just because it’s down the street or closest to your daughter. If you don’t have a sense of home there, it will be hard to lay down your roots.
Then, finally, find your people, because camaraderie is the number one element of satisfaction. If you have camaraderie and a sense of belonging, the level of satisfaction is high. I don’t think as an industry, we’ve worked on that.
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