Forget sinking into a rocking chair and watching the world whiz past. Seniors from their early 60s through their 90s want to stay active and pursue multiple passions — be it gentle yoga or kayaking.
Developers of the area’s senior rental housing have taken note.
Last December, Mary Behnke, 75, swapped her apartment of 10 years for a spot in Forestview Active Living, a 92-unit independent living complex that opened in Wheatfield in 2010.
"The apartment I lived in before did nothing for me," said Behnke, a retired clerk with the City of Tonawanda. "I love the camaraderie here and the programs, such as yoga and game nights."
She also likes the apartment’s 9-foot ceilings, new appliances and walk-in closets.
"My last apartment had no dishwasher or central air. I thought I died and went to heaven," she said of her new digs.
Forestview, part of the North Tonawanda-based Calamar Group, joins a number of active-living residences that have sprouted up throughout Western New York within the last decade.
Eagle Crest Senior Village, also owned by Calamar, opened in West Seneca in 2011. The 99-unit Fayebrooke Senior Apartments, built by Bliss developers, opened in Williamsville in 2015.
Canterbury Woods, a continuum-of-care facility that Episcopal Church Home and Affiliates opened in Williamsville in 1999, is opening a second facility at Gates Circle, the location of the former Millard Fillmore Hospital, this fall.
"The project will allow residents the opportunity to enjoy their retirement surrounded by all of the excitement taking place in Buffalo," said Phil Pantano, Canterbury Woods spokesperson.
Meanwhile its Williamsville facility just completed a $2.3 million expansion that includes a new fitness facility and recreational area.
"A lot of the amenities and programs Canterbury Woods offers are resident-driven," Pantano said. "Baby boomers are the next generation of residents. Their demands are much different than the ones of residents who moved in 18 years ago."
Also in conjunction with the Gates Circle renovation, People Inc.’s Community Housing Development Organization is building Linwood Lafayette Apartments, a 37-unit mixed
income housing project with TM Montante Development and Long Associates Architects. Expected to be completed in fall 2018, the one and two-bedroom units are intended for residents age 55 and up within specific income ranges.
The demographics of Erie and Niagara counties clearly support the need for more senior housing. According to a study conducted by the University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning in 2012, Erie County has a higher population of seniors compared to the state or the nation. By 2030, those 75 and older in Erie County will surpass 80,000. In Niagara County 47,000 people, or 22 percent of the population, are 60 or older as of the 2010 Census.
"That number has increased as our population ages," said Ken Genewick, director of the Niagara County Office for the Aging. "I have seen projections where that number will reach more than 59,000, or approximately 28 percent, of our county’s population by 2020."
According to the UB study, demand for senior housing is anticipated to grow the most in Buffalo and in the towns of Tonawanda, Amherst, Cheektowaga and Hamburg.
While some seniors require assisted living, memory care, or skilled nursing, plenty of others stay healthy and independent well into their 90s. This is why active-living apartments are thriving. Many boast a bevy of amenities that rival those of college dormitories. Come for the apartment, stay for the plush movie room, the fitness classes, the happy hours, and the group outings.
"When people initially consider moving from a large house to a much smaller space, the thought of downsizing can be overwhelming," said Chelsea Hyla, community manager at Eagle Crest. "However, when they take a tour and see all things going on, the lifestyle is what attracts them."
Keeping residents active and social is more than just good business; it’s an investment in longtime health.
Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that memory decline among the most sociable elderly was less than half the rate among the least sociable.
"One of the most important things that you can do individually, if you retire, is to maintain social connections," wrote Ichiro Kawachi, chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard Chan School. "Connecting with other people is as important as diet and exercise."
Mary Beth MacClaren, Forestview’s community manager, said they encourage residents to be active. Residents can accumulate points for different activities, which translate into prizes. The monthly calendar is chock-full of choices, from cardio classes to crafting clubs to potluck dinners, along with outings ranging from kayaking to trips to the casino.
Likewise, giving residents a host of activities to choose from is one of the selling points of Fox Run Arbor View Apartments, part of the Fox Run Orchard Park continuum-of-care community.
"We’re like a cruise ship that never sets sail," said Mary Lou Letina-Land, Fox Run’s sales and marketing manager. Recent outings have included a trip to Canalside, a Bills tailgating party, and the Shaw Festival. On campus, residents have access to daily activities overseen by fitness and creative arts coordinators.
Of course, seniors also choose these type of communities for the convenience factor. No longer is there a house requiring upkeep, a lawn to mow, or snow to shovel.
"If they want to travel, they just go without worrying, especially that their pipes are going to burst while they’re gone," Letina-Land said.
She noted that some people move in as soon as they are age-eligible — which is 62 years old.
"The American dream is changing. It’s no longer about owning a home and staying in it forever," she said. "Now, it’s more about having freedom and enjoying life."