EXPERT OPINION: A Conversation with Maria B. Dwight

What do current and future seniors want from their retirement, in both lifestyle and health care? Maria Dwight, a leading industry consultant with 40 years of experience asking those very questions, has the answers.

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Maria B. Dwight, founder, president and CEO of Gerontological Services, Inc., has more than 40 years experience in programming and planning facilities and services for seniors, with an emphasis on the inter-relationship of housing, health and social services. She leads the strategic planning component of GSI, with broad experience in the United States and overseas. As a consultant, her firm has worked with developers, colleges and universities, hospitals, housing and long-term care providers providing strategic planning, market analysis, market segmentation, operational and space programming, marketing plans and materials. Her career includes the establishment of the first municipal geriatric authority in the United States. In recognition of her efforts, the Maria B. Dwight Geriatric and Rehabilitation Center was named in Holyoke, Mass. in 1977. Ms. Dwight was a summer faculty of the Harvard Graduate School of Design for more than 20 years. She is an active member of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA).
Contact Information:
Maria B. Dwight, Founder, President and CEO
Gerontological Services, Inc.
1237A Third Street Promenade
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 393-0332
   
Read the interview transcript:
Kate Upson, Director of Broadcasting for Irving Levin Associates, talked to Maria Dwight about her views on the state of senior living.

Kate Upson:
Welcome to the SeniorCare Investor and Senior Living Business interview with Maria Dwight, the founder, president and chief executive officer of Gerontological Services Incorporated. Maria has more than 40 years experience in programming and planning facilities and services for seniors, with an emphasis on the inter-relationship of housing, health and social services.
Maria, can you please share you views on the present state of the senior living and care market, and where you think it is headed?
Maria Dwight:
Thank you. I think the market is in transition right now, and it’s an interesting time. It’s moving from the responses of the traditional expectations of the past generations and anticipating new generations. And not necessarily the boomers, but really their parents, who are in their 70s now and will probably be the market for the next 20 years. There’s attention to achieve a balance between the past and the future, and I think we’re headed for new options and hopefully we will understand what they are and respond in a good way.
Kate Upson:
You’ve said today’s seniors are looking at retirement in a very different way, that it is no longer just health-focused, but more life-focused. Could you elaborate on that?
Maria Dwight:
Sure. It’s not focused on the loss of health, but on the maintenance of health. In other words, help me, show me, give me access to ways to be healthy in the future. And that’s mental health, which is participating actively in activities, and not just being a passive receptor … taking piano lessons, learning Spanish, traveling, that kind of thing. Physical health, good food, healthy food, organic food, huge in the older market. Exercise that gives me flexibility and balance and strength to maintain my active lifestyle. Pilates, not chair aerobics, that kind of thing. And fun. People still like to have fun. They always like to have fun. They’ll always want to have fun.
Kate Upson:
What’s the best way for providers to determine what future residents will actually want?
Maria Dwight:
Just ask them. Do not patronize them, but ask them. We’ve been doing that for 30-plus years and now we’re doing it online as well as by mail. They tell us. They tell us what they want. They are very thoughtful. And the wonderful thing that we’ve discovered over time is they do what they say they are going to do. So we have a very clear picture of what their future will be.
Kate Upson:
Given increased life expectancies and the pending onslaught of baby boomers that will be entering this market, you’ve noted that the industry will have to accommodate essentially three generations of older people. How do you see that playing out?
Maria Dwight:
A very sticky issue, I think. You’re looking at people in their 50s, their 70s and their 90s. Each group has had different life experiences and probably different value systems. And everyone is threatened by change, as we know. Change is difficult, but it is particularly difficult for people with the least options, and that is the oldest and frailest. And that is the group that I am most concerned about, meeting their needs while being able to transition. Communication is going to be huge.
Kate Upson:
In closing, you’ve cautioned that well-intentioned projects can come to a bitter end if not managed properly. Again, looking ahead, what are the key factors that a provider should consider to meet the future needs of the seniors in their particular market?
Maria Dwight:
Well, first you have to know exactly who your market is and where they are. I’m talking demographically, socio-economic, ethnic, level of care, age, all that good stuff. Whether they’re married–lots more are married than they used to be, so it’s a married market. How they’ve always lived. And encourage active participation in decision making. Options, options, options. I can’t say that enough. Provide value for the money, you still have a very thoughtful and prudent group of people who are worried about outliving their dollars. And I think the biggest issue is going to be the tussle over control, who has control in retirement communities, whether it is the management who wants to maintain it, obviously, and the resident or older person who doesn’t want to give it up.
Kate Upson:
Thank you. Those are all very salient points and sage advice. Thank you, Maria Dwight.
Maria Dwight:
Thank you very much.

Recorded May 15, 2007