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Baby boomers seek new style of retirement community dining

Flexibility. Freedom.

As older Americans move to senior-living communities, they want both. Industry leaders said such traits are inspiring them as new facilities pop up across Central Florida and elsewhere.

Baby boomers don't want senior-living communities to be a blemish looming over their horizon, analysts say. Instead, the desire is for a highly customized experience that is reflective of the distinct lifestyle, accomplishments and interests of the resident — an essential consideration as facilities are moving away from the "institutional" side of the spectrum toward an end that feels more like home.

"Everyone is interested in trying to create a normalized context so that when you move into the setting, you feel in control," said Victor Regnier, a professor of architecture and gerontology at University of Southern California.

Baby boomers are expected to be more deliberate as they select the communities they choose late in life. AARP says the state's population of adults over 65 is expected to jump nearly 200 percent between 1980 and 2030.

"I think the industry is a lot more competitive," said David Bruns, a spokesperson for AARP in Florida. "Their effort to tailor is a response to the market condition."

Some residents feel a need to create a sense of home. Some facilities offer a palette of choices residents didn't have years ago — aesthetics, size, even dining options can be tailored, depending on the community. Espresso cabinetry or maple? The 1,100-square-foot floor plan, or 3,000? Seniors to live in the Baldwin Park campus of Westminster will make decisions like those before they even set foot in their door.

"Now the boomers that will be coming our way very soon, they have different expectations," said Nicole Muller, vice president of Westminster Communities. "We need to be paying attention to those changing expectations."

At Gentry Park Orlando, residents are encouraged to bring the personal furniture they feel a connection with.

"Units are bigger than they have been," Regnier said. Facilities that offer multiple floor plans hit the mark, he adds, enabling the new resident to make a decision based on more than simply financial or space limitations.

Regnier says customization should not stop at the décor: "It's not just about the environment, it's not about the wallpaper colors."


The people, as well as the creativity that unfolds in the community can serve as an anchor for residents, he said.

To that end, he said the breadth of available programs offered at some facilities have expanded to include hip topics — wine tasting, storytelling.

Facilities tap the larger communities for opportunities, engaging residents' unique skill sets. At Westminster, a partnership with Rollins College offers lifelong-learning options. Executive director of Gentry Park Orlando Leona "Lee" Tinkey, emphasized volunteering as part of a desire to incorporate Gentry Park Orlando into the area.

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