Articles about the changing economy (both for the worker and consumer segments) these days seem to be all about Millennials, Gen X, Y and Zers, and whomever is coming next. It’s premature to count out the Baby Boomers, at least as a market-driving, economic force. In the interest of full disclosure, this author admits to being one of those Boomers, being born around the end of WWII. This article points out how the Boomer generation is creating new sales and marketing opportunities, and asks: Is your business ready for the challenge? Much of the market information for this article comes from a recent story in Boston Globe Magazine by Elizabeth Gehrman (the author has permission to reference it here).

According to the MIT AgeLab, the highest concentration of wealth in the United States is among the 60+ age group. The senior housing and care market is a $330 billion market and growing. Senior living operators are investing millions of dollars designing facilities to be as many things to as many people as possible. More often than not these facilities are placed in one location. I noticed this happening many years ago, but didn’t realize it was the start of a trend and something much bigger to come. This trend that has picked up steam is becoming a movement and has probably become apparent to those involved with sales and marketing our services. Investors are pouring significant dollars into developing properties catering to this market.

There are five levels of housing and care options, each with somewhat differing pest management needs and challenges. They are Active Adult, Independent Living, Assisted Living, Memory Care and Skilled Nursing.

Active Adult is like any housing development, except it comes with age limited restrictions for its residents. Residents must usually be 55 or older. These facilities can have all manner of amenities such as club rooms, pools, restaurants, golf and much more. Active adult communities are often spread out over large acreage and may involve separate and attached homes, although some developments are small.

Independent Living may have separate occupied homes, but some also may be attached. More common arrangements have apartments in buildings with shared amenities like libraries, dens and common dining areas.

Assisted Living looks like independent living, except it comes with some assistance with things like bathing, medications, laundry and cleaning.

In Memory Care facilities, doors are locked and residents receive help with dressing, personal hygiene, eating and are provided structured activities.

Skilled Nursing may include short-term rehabilitation, but for long-term residents this is usually the last stop in life.

WHAT’S IN A NAME? Trying to make these locations more appealing, retirement communities have positioned themselves as “active lifestyle” facilities. Nursing homes are becoming “skilled nursing” and dementia wards and Alzheimer facilities are becoming “memory care neighborhoods.” Activity directors are becoming “life enrichment team leaders.”

What challenges and opportunities do we have servicing these facilities? Active adult residences are much like servicing individual homes. Pest management services to common spaces and structures would be arranged through a property management company, or through resident committee management responsible for property self-management. Service to individual homes is usually the responsibility of the residents themselves who may bring in their own preferred service company.

This means adjacent owners may have different pest control service providers, or none at all. These residents are often retired executives, owners and presidents of businesses who demand a high level of service. When owners in active community developments call for a pest service need, responding 48 or 72 hours later is not acceptable. The range of potential pest issues could extend from fabric moths in Persian carpets to stored product pests in kitchen cabinets, much like any individual home.

Mark Dreiling, Bugwood.org
Small Indianmeal moths (Plodia interpunctella) may be difficult for seniors with poor eyesight to notice.

Independent living facilities can be like servicing an apartment building, but filled with seniors, rather than families with multiple generations and children. There are usually modest kitchens in these apartments which could be subject to typical kitchen pests. Part-time aides or family may come in from time to time to help clean or cook. Independent living facilities usually require residents be able to get out of bed, dress on their own and take care of their own personal hygiene. Many at this stage of life have deteriorating eyesight and limited physical flexibility, so small insects like fabric pests, stored product insects and even bed bugs may be present for some time before they are noticed. If servicing for some other pest like ants, it would be wise to peek into the kitchen cabinets (if the resident gives permission) and pay attention to the possible presence of fabric moths. Folks at this stage are often taking multiple drugs for different conditions which could contribute to “biting insect” or human itch reports. Service personnel should be schooled (and skilled) on dealing with such situations.

Assisted living is similar to independent living, except it includes aides coming in more frequently to help with bathing, laundry and medications. The potential of a caregiver bringing in pests such as cockroaches and bed bugs increases with the frequency of visits. While we shouldn’t be quick to assign blame to caregivers for bringing pests into the home, we should keep that in mind as one possibility. Kitchens may not be as clean as they should be in assisted living residences without outside help. Hearing may be deteriorating as Boomers age, so patience and sensitivity needs to be part of the service provider’s skill set when dealing with seniors.

The service provider is not likely to be dealing directly with residents in memory care facilities. Pest needs here will be driven by staff reports and service requests. Residents here may still be mobile, so care needs to be taken to never allow pest control equipment or materials out of sight and control. Leave-behind tools such as traps and pest monitors should not be visible or accessible to residents in memory care. Residents may eat in a common dining room or their own rooms. Care needs to be taken to make sure doors used for access are locked and secure when entering and exiting memory care resident areas.

Skilled nursing residents may be present for short-term rehabilitation or long-time custodial care. Residents receive assistance getting in and out of bed, with hygiene and dining. Some eat in their rooms, while some eat in a common dining space, with food prepared in a main kitchen. These residents are the most vulnerable to external, environmental hazards, so the use of pesticides around this population requires great care. As all of our work should be, observing IPM principles around skilled care residents should be our method of operating.

Servicing this segment is an opportunity to meet the needs of the Boomers and grow your business in this expanding market.

The author has more than 45 years experience in pest control and can be contacted via email at rberman@gie.net.