Options abound for seniors who may need a continuum of care as Central Ohio's robust retirement community and assisted living market evolves.

With the “silver tsunami” approaching, today’s senior housing industry is preparing for both the demands and opportunities it presents, and Columbus is a case in point. With sustained population growth, higher-than-average home values and a rapidly increasing cohort of people ages 60 and older, “this is a mecca” for development, says Rita Doherty, executive director at Friendship Village of Dublin.

The term “silver tsunami” refers to the expected surge in the senior population as baby boomers age and retire in the next three decades. A Pew Research Center report projects that the population of people 65 and older will increase by more than 50 percent by 2050, totaling more than 81 million. “The ‘silver stimulus’ presents an opportunity to transform aging services. The younger cohort (of seniors) is creating a disruption in our delivery system,” says Ohio Living CEO Laurence Gumina. Ohio Living owns and operates Westminster-Thurber and more than a dozen other retirement communities in the state.

Here's a complete guide to Columbus senior living options.

Seniors increasingly are more active, engaged and tech-savvy than those 20 years ago, Gumina says, and the industry must respond accordingly to be competitive. “There is a lot of inventory, and so many choices,” Doherty says. “The expectations of baby boomers are vastly different than those of the Greatest Generation.” Residents today want to stay more engaged on all levels, from putting former career skills to work to submitting work orders via iPad.

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“Retirement communities are evolving,” Doherty says. “They are more vibrant and programming is much more robust.” Lifelong learning programs, top-notch dining and creative outlets are among the must-haves for many, Doherty says, “and if you don’t have Wi-Fi, good luck.”

As seniors live longer, they also are working longer and are very focused on value, says Kathryn Brod, CEO of LeadingAge Ohio, a nonprofit trade association that represents more than 400 long-term care organizations throughout the state. Research suggests the next wave of seniors will want intergenerational interaction, campus walkability and technology that will allow them to age in place as long as possible, she says.

Understanding the nomenclature is critical to understanding the senior housing sector.

Independent living “lifestyle” communities cater to seniors who don’t require any assistance with daily living activities but want the socialization, convenience and other amenities the communities provide. Most require entrance fees in the range of $150,000-$300,000, plus monthly rent.

The majority of senior housing is found in “life plan” properties, once commonly known as continual care retirement communities. These encompass independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing/health care all on the same site. Many include a memory care unit as well.

For many years, retirement communities have been the bailiwick of not-for-profit and faith-based organizations, but that landscape is changing dramatically. For-profit enterprises are significantly outpacing not-for-profits in construction and development. That shift is seen most clearly in the assisted living market, says Mark Ricketts, president and CEO of National Church Residences, which owns and operates more than 300 communities, including First Community Village and the newly completed Avondale Village in Dublin. Standalone assisted living properties “are coming up on every corner,” he says.

Whether the market will bear the increased inventory remains to be seen, Ricketts says, but he does have concerns that it is being overbuilt.

“Lifestyle” communities with high-end amenities and prices to match also are riskier since they require a hefty front-end investment by potential residents. Those in the field believe that growth in life-plan communities is sustainable, as evidenced by their own expansions.

In April, National Church Residences doubled the number of units at Avondale, a mixed-income community comprising 200 one-and two-bedroom mid-rise apartments and cottages. The company is expanding First Community Village with The Fairfax, which will house an estimated 130 new residents and include a smart gym, spa and other amenities designed for independent living.

Dublin’s Friendship Village is in the midst of an $85 million expansion that includes the upscale Riverstone Apartments and eventual new memory care unit, while Westminster-Thurber recently announced plans for a fourth residential tower at its location near Downtown.

Overall, senior housing occupancy is slightly higher than it was 10 years ago but has declined somewhat in the last five years, Brod says. At the same time, “there is a huge need in the middle market. Recent research by the National Investment Center indicates that the 7.94 million middle-income seniors will nearly double in the next 10 years. More than half will not have the financial resources to pay for senior housing and care.”