A wave of independent, assisted-living, and memory-care facilities development and expansion is sweeping Connecticut just as the oldest of this state's Baby Boomers near the age where helping hands are a lifestyle necessity.
In Greater Hartford alone, operators of a half dozen such facilities are building, or have completed in recent years, more than $120 million in ground-up construction and expansions of individual living units, common areas and amenities to cater to adults in their golden years.
Among them is Bloomfield's Seabury At Home, which is into the latest phase of its approximately $100 million expansion for the 25-year-old community at 200 Seabury Drive that has a resident waiting list.
Seabury officials say they are responding to its consultants' projections that the need for more assisted-living space is becoming acute as the U.S. population age 65 and older — its target market — is estimated to climb 70 percent by 2030, and by 94 percent by 2050.
In West Hartford, Brookdale Chatfield last year completed its more than $20 million, 75,000-square-foot expansion that added 84 more assisted-living and memory-care units for residents with Alzheimer's or dementia. Chatfield also added 40 permanent jobs.
In 2014, two Avon and South Windsor apartment complexes added 154 more units of independent, assisted-living and memory-care spaces and specialized services for aging Connecticut residents. One was the 80-unit The Residence at South Windsor Farms, 200 Deming St., whose occupancy stands at 98 percent; the other, the 74-unit The Residence at Brookside, 117 Simsbury Road, in Avon is 75 percent full.
Each cost about $13 million to develop, according to Massachusetts operator LCB Senior Living.
Overall, there are approximately 7,000 assisted-living/memory-care apartments statewide, with another 700 units in development, according to the Connecticut Assisted Living Association.
But all those may be just the tip of the development trend for assisted-living/memory-care facilities here and across the nation, experts say.
The reason is simple: The graying of America continues to accelerate. The U.S. elderly population continues to swell, with the oldest of the Baby Boomers — citizens born from 1946 to 1964 — now entering their early 70s, the typical age for most independent/assisted-living residents.
According to CNN, the latest Alzheimer's Association annual report estimates that every 66 seconds this year, an American will develop Alzheimer's disease. By the year 2050, that number is expected to double to one every 33 seconds.
Assisted-living residents distinguish themselves in key ways from occupants of skilled-nursing facilities, or nursing homes, according to Ann Melite, a Canton gerontologist and design consultant to assisted-living/memory-care developers-operators.
"Assisted-living residents can be relatively independent, but may have one or two 'activities of daily living' they need assistance with," Melite said. "This includes things we normally do in daily living for self-care such as feeding ourselves, bathing, dressing, grooming, work, homemaking, and leisure."
Nursing-home residents, on the other hand, require more full-time monitoring and medical care.
With the average age of nursing-home residents who require hands-on, round-the-clock care at 87, there will be a growing demand, experts say, for assisted-living housing to fill that gap between fully independent living and some degree of resident care.
"The surge has not yet hit,'' Melite said. "We've got another 15 to 16 years."
Senior housing has also whet investors' appetites. In 2016, for example, the acquisition price per assisted-living bed hit a record $193,650, 2 percent higher than the previous record set in 2015, according to data from Norwalk-based Irving Levin Associates.
The good news about the wave of assisted-living facilities' development comes against some sobering realities, says Ben Swett, associate editor of The SeniorCare Investor, which tracks the assisted-living/skilled-nursing care sector.
Connecticut's stiffer land-use rules and healthcare regulations compared to other states, not to mention the higher cost of land and labor, act as a brake on development of independent/assisted-living and memory-care facilities, he said.
The counter to that, Swett added, is Connecticut's rank as one of the nation's wealthiest per capita, meaning more residents can afford those levels of care.
Meantime, a shortage of healthcare workers is making it harder for operators to hire and retain talent.
Also, some communities are reluctant to host assisted-living facilities, citing their oversized footprints and design styles some neighbors complain are out of character for a residential neighborhood.
Hartford lawyer Timothy S. Hollister has encountered both open arms and resistance working with numerous assisted-living developers who have petitioned New England communities for authorization to open a facility.
"This is a developing market,'' Hollister told a Feb. 2 CREW CT/The Real Estate Exchange forum, where Melite, too, was a panelist on the outlook for assisted-living/memory-care facilities' development. "Assisted living, as we know it today, didn't exist 30 years ago."
In Wilton, a former lumberyard site amid single-family homes in an industrial zone was approved for a 93-unit assisted-living facility after neighbors embraced it as "more desirable than other development options,'' Hollister said.
However, in Fairfield, a proposal for a 64-unit memory-care facility in a commercial zone drew massive neighborhood opposition, he said.
"There's opposition,'' the Shipman & Goodwin LLP attorney said, "to the idea of tearing down four fairly small, modest homes [and replacing them] with something clearly for institutional use. It really depends on the context, the existing land use.''
Then there's the interior layout and design to consider. Melite, who runs an assisted-living design consultancy, says designing interiors — everything from lighting, carpet colors/designs, even decorated walls — can pose problems for residents.
Because many elderly have difficulty seeing in dim light, extra interior lighting — as much as a three-fold more — is a must for assisted-living facilities, Melite said.
Ted Doyle, marketing vice president for LCB Senior Living, said its Avon, South Windsor and other facilities avoid disorienting colors and patterns on walls and carpeting. In its memory-care units, exit doors are painted to look like a bookcase, to prevent residents from wandering off, Doyle said.
Dark colors for bedsheets or upholstery are avoided because they can appear as "holes'' to dementia-sufferers, he said. Blues are discouraged because they can suppress appetite.
Conversely, yellows — the color of dining plates at LCB facilities — and reds promote appetite, while the scent of pine wafting through care facilities boosts cognitive activity and focus, Doyle said.
Seabury was among the first of its kind when it opened on 68 acres in 1992. It consists of 193 independent-living units, which include 34 independent-living cottages and five villas; 154 independent- and 49 assisted-living apartments; 58 memory-care units; and 60 skilled-nursing beds.
Its latest expansion will bring about 65 new independent-living units as well as more skilled-nursing and assisted-living units, Seabury marketing chief Christine Dupont said.
"The demographics show the need'' for Seabury's expansion, Dupont said. "We have had a wait-list of five to six years for our apartments, cottages, and villas for independent living. Also, we've had a wait for our higher level of care.''
For most residents, independent/assisted-living facilities have plenty of amenities to offer, among them dining options, fitness rooms, movie theaters, hair salons, and well-decorated common areas/community rooms with fireplaces. Those are among spaces being upgraded at Seabury.
Currently, some 400 residents occupy Seabury's living spaces and beds, Dupont said. But residency doesn't come cheap.
Seabury's one-time entrance fees range from $98,706 to $740,148, plus monthly fees from $2,474 to $7,996, depending on a resident's financial plan at the time they enroll. Steep at first blush, Dupont said residents' monthly fees remain locked and don't change even as they require increased levels of care while living there.
CORRECTION: A previous version incorrectly identified a proposed assisted-living facility in which Hartford attorney Tim Hollister was involved as being in Massachusetts. The proposed facility is in Fairfield.