When Aging Becomes Living: Evolving to Meet Boomers’ Demands
Via Alexander Stross
For the self-reliant, self-sufficient, and control-centric boomer, the thought of inhabiting one of the senior living properties in use today is a fear worse than death. While this may sound like an extreme statement, Aging in Place in America, a study commissioned by Clarity and The EAR Foundation, found that only 3% of survey respondents stated they feared death. In comparison, 26% feared loss of independence and 13% feared moving out of their home into a nursing home.
This rejection of traditional institutionalized aging isn’t unusual coming from the boomers, indicated Lindsey Connor Mosby, executive strategy director, healthcare practice lead, for frog Design, Inc. during her NIC Talks presentation. “They are ones who grew up with the Civil Rights Movement,” she said. “They renewed the Women’s Movement, they reshaped societal norms redefining the American workforce and the American family.”
So should it come as a surprise that the “innovation generation” rejects institutionalized living? Probably not. The bigger conversation is how we, as an industry, can change and create a product that will meet boomers’ needs.
What we do know from data and conversations with our own parents (many of whom are boomers) is that sense of place is extremely important. Boomers don’t want a place to grow old but a place where they can live—how, when, and with whom they want. And this place must reflect their core set of values. It’s about what they believe in, not fancy chandeliers or unauthentic scheduled social time with people they barely know.
Bestie Row is a great example of how boomers are putting a priority on value- and needs-based living. Four couples nearing retirement set out to build their unconventional forever home together. Being fans of the tiny house movement, the group built their own little compound along the Llano River, just outside Austin, Texas. The compound consists of a 1,500 sq. ft. community building and individual 400 sq. ft. cabins costing $40,000 each. Not only did building their own space provide an affordable alternative to moving into a traditional retirement community, it allowed the group to control their sense of place.
While Bestie Row is an extreme example of unconventional retirement planning, more and more we hear about alternative options to aging in place. Every day new technologies are being developed to help create smarter, more livable houses that can be programmed to help seniors age without leaving their homes. A number of companies are exploring smart-house technologies, including Nest which manufactures thermostats, smoke detectors, and security cameras that connect to the web.
The boomers have a lot to say about the aging experience in America, but one thing is clear: change is here. The boomers demand new approaches and standards of value, and we’ll have to find nontraditional partners from outside the industry who can help us deliver them. It’s time to start having conversations about how we adapt to meet the needs of a generation that will determine the direction of our industry for decades to come.