A new generation of older adults has arrived and started to turn previous images of aging into stereotypes from a bygone era. Gloria Steinem (78), Jane Fonda (75) Paul McCartney (69) and Mick Jagger (68) are all vibrant, engaged and pretty hip folks. They are also members of the “Silent Generation” that started a cultural revolution later embraced and made mainstream by the larger Baby Boom generation. Now that both these groups have entered older adulthood we are poised for another cultural revolution. Once again they are bringing new attitudes, interests, values and expectations to the lifestyle they aspire to in the next stage of their lives; a stage that is now likely to last some 25 to 30 years. This time their slogan might be, “don’t trust anyone under 50”.
Here are some emerging lifestyle trends that provide clues to the environments and services that will attract this new generation of older adults as well as future generations to come.
This new generation of older adults is expressing a strong desire for community and social connections. This is a change from the rugged independence of their parents and grandparents; many of whom proudly lived alone in their homes until the end of their lives. It makes sense when you consider this generation was the first to popularized communal living. They also have significant numbers who are single and childless making them vulnerable to aging alone without the support of a spouse or children. Interest in intentional communities for older adults is on the rise. Some focus on living with or next door to close friends in their later years. Others are attracted to co-housing communities; reviving a movement that started in Denmark in the 70’s and now gaining momentum with older adults across the US. However and wherever they choose to live, they want to remain a part of the surrounding community and continue to meet and engage with people of all ages.
Health & Wellbeing
For this generation energy is key; the more they feel they have the happier they will be. Aging well means maintaining the highest possible energy level and they are eager to learn what that entails. They may not follow all the rules for healthy aging but they want to know what they are and will be attracted to environments, products and services that claim to support them in their quest. They appreciate that they must take personal responsibility for aging well. Good nutrition, physical fitness, stress management and mental stimulation are all highly valued as a means to achieving the health and well being they are striving for at this stage of life.
The number of services related to dining, travel & leisure, home design and personal care expanded and flourished as this generation focused their middle years on work and family life. This new generation of older adults is comfortable with the idea of paying others for services that add to their quality of life and will continue to do so as they age. Convenient access to services that support an active, healthy, socially connected and secure life hold particular value. These include transportation, healthy dining and prepared food options, lifelong learning programs, gyms and trainers, concierge services, local neighborhood retail and home care. The desire for supportive services will increase with time while the budgets for many older adults become more limited. They will look for good value along with the freedom and flexibility to pay for only what they want and need. By customizing services and amenities to fit their financial resources, older adults maintain more control over their quality of life experience.
This is the first generation of older adults that will come into older adulthood with the experience and confidence to use technology in their daily lives. They’ve had a number of personal computers, love the iPad’s large screen, and are the fastest growing market segment on Facebook. They are ready to engage with technology as a means of monitoring and enhancing their health, safety and quality of life as they age. These will include: telemedicine, emergency response systems, medication management systems, social networking, health service and care coordination, to name just a few.
Long Term Care at Home
This won’t be the first generation of older adults to be in denial when it comes to their future long term care needs. They’ve lived through the high costs and stress of their parents long term care but are still not financially or emotionally prepared for this aspect of aging. Few have the insurance or financial reserves to pay for future long term care which will be needed by one out of three men and one out of two women sometime after the age of 65. Assisted living facilities are financially out of reach for many older adults, however, most prefer to stay at home if and when they need care. Most care giving will be provided by spouses, children, friends and neighbors. Care needs will also be met through adult day centers, sharing of personal caregivers and the support of community volunteers.
Unlike their parents, this new generation of older adults enjoyed spending more than saving. The recent downturn in the financial and housing markets, combined with the realization that they are likely to live well into their 80’s or 90’s, has left the majority of older adults uncertain about their financial future. The result is that they will need to work more years than previously expected and many may never have the option to fully retire. With a home as their largest asset, many will access their home equity to create the financial security they want and need. For some this means selling and transforming the equity into a monthly income. In this case, renting rather than home ownership will be the preferred option when they decide to downsize.
Aging in Community
It is clear this new generation of older adults is determined to stay active and engaged in their work and community as long as possible. They want to live where their preferred lifestyle is not limited or compromised as they experience the physical and financial constraints that come with age. New Urbanism developments that offer mixed use communities for a variety of ages and incomes hold great promise for creating a new model of aging in community. By incorporating housing, retail, recreation, transportation and other services, they meet the needs and desires of new generations of older adults as well as enhance the quality of life for the surrounding community.