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Lisa Marsh Ryerson Previews Her NIC Talk: Imagining the New Old Age

For the 2018 NIC Fall Conference, the highly popular NIC Talks program returns with eight fresh speakers from beyond the seniors housing and care sector. As in previous years, the TED-style talks are designed to be insightful, highly relevant, and thought provoking – all in 12 minutes. This year’s speakers represent a wide range of talents and experience, all engaged in answering the question, “How am I changing the future of aging?”

In her NIC Talk, Lisa Marsh Ryerson, President of the AARP Foundation, will focus on the value of socialization and the impacts and threats of isolation and loneliness, both on seniors themselves, and on the costs involved in their care. Ryerson has a message: in the future, senior living residents will be known not just for what they did in their past, but what they are doing right now. She believes old age is entering a new era, and will illustrate how the current paradigm, in which seniors value safety, security and comfort, will be replaced as a new generation calls for engagement, connection, and purpose.

There are profound costs associated with loneliness and isolation. Prolonged isolation has been found to be equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, increasing the risk of morbidity – and the costs of care as well. In a recent AARP Public Policy Institute study, it was found that over four million Medicare recipients suffer from isolation. This population accounts for over $6.7 billion in increased spending annually, which comes to approximately $134 per month per individual.

But there is some good news. Ryerson’s work with the highly regarded Connect2Affect initiative indicates that, beyond adapting to shifting attitudes, investors, owners and operators stand to gain significant benefits by providing social engagement for tomorrow’s seniors. Not only will they achieve cost savings, but, for those that are willing to reimagine how they deliver value to residents, there is now a unique opportunity to align offerings to new demand. Ms. Ryerson says that she’s excited to address NIC’s Fall Conference, in part because she believes “this group is uniquely positioned to build the communities that will meet the demand of boomers, gen x’ers and subsequent generations. They have a real opportunity here.”

The newer generation of seniors will view aging very differently than current seniors housing and care residents. Boomers and succeeding generations will wish to live lives full of purpose, across their entire lifespan. It is possible that children today may reach average lifespans of 100 years. But they will want more than just a long life. They will want a full life, for as many of their years as possible. Rather than “retiring,” these younger seniors will want to remain connected to friends, family and community, and may do so for many more years than currently imagined. They might take up a second career or launch into new experiences that they’d deferred earlier in life. They will not be satisfied to retire and retreat from the community and are likely to demand that the place they call home enable these desires.

As communities begin to address these significant shifts in how seniors, and society, view aging, it will no longer be acceptable to separate and isolate seniors in “age-restricted communities.” Instead, look for “ageless communities” which provide for inter-generational living and plenty of access to the greater community beyond housing and care facilities. Expect these new types of communities to be viewed as assets to the greater community, full of new possibilities for residents, who will live longer and more engaged lives in the homes that they make there.

Be sure not to miss Ms. Ryerson’s NIC Talk for a more detailed and in-depth discussion on the future of aging, delivered by someone whose passion and energy are as compelling as the wealth of research and data she brings to bear on the issue.

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