It’s no secret that baby boomers are officially earning dual status as senior citizens. For the next 18 years, Americans will be hitting 65 at a rate of about 8,000 per day. But as boomers rumble toward retirement, they aren’t replacing previous generations—they’re joining them. Currently, sociologists say the senior demographic spans three generations: “Leading-Edge Boomers,” who are turning 65; “The Silent Generation,” aged 67 to 85; and “The Greatest Generation,” aged 85 and older.
By Keely Stockett
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So now, there are three separate market segments, where there previously was one. As a result, the demands of this rapidly expanding senior population are more diverse than ever, particularly when it comes to long-term care and senior housing. And the industry has responded: as the 65-plus generation has ballooned, so too have their options.
That’s good news if you’re considering a senior living facility or community. Given the inherent uncertainties of the aging process, deciding where to spend your golden years can be a challenge. But more choices mean the odds of finding a perfect fit are in your favor.
Understanding Your Options
Today’s senior living models range from 24/7 care to completely self-sufficient living.
Seniors who are able to care for themselves may want to consider independent living communities. Residents typically pay a rental rate or monthly fee, and services such as housekeeping, laundry, meals and some level of healthcare are typically provided. Seniors who choose independent living often have the opportunity to participate in recreational, educational and social activities with fellow residents.
Assisted living facilities provide more personalized services for seniors who need support on a regular basis, but not necessarily around the clock. Skilled nursing facilities—more commonly called nursing homes—offer the highest level of care for seniors outside of a hospital, with constant assistance and medical attention for those who can no longer care for themselves.
Continuing-care retirement communities (CCRCs) include independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities on a single campus, allowing residents to move from one level of care to the next while staying in the same general location. Seniors often require additional support as they age and the tiered structure of CCRCs can ease those transitions.
Home care services are an option for seniors who need regular assistance but prefer to stay in their homes. Special care units (SCUs) may be the best fit for seniors who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, as they provide customized support that meets the unique mental and physical healthcare requirements of these individuals.
New Models for an Active Generation
As the senior demographic has changed, so too have senior housing preferences. More Americans now prefer community-based residential concepts that offer a neighborhood-like feel, as opposed to the institutional, medical-based model that was prevalent in the mid-twentieth century. Largely driven by Leading-Edge Boomers and their desire to maintain active, healthy, and social lifestyles, this trend has resulted in an explosion of innovative residential concepts over the past few decades.
Growing demand for CCRCs reflects that evolution. As of 2012, there were 1,979 CCRCs nationwide. Experts expect that number to rise as the housing market recovers and the senior population increases. Why? CCRCs offer a sense of permanence and peace of mind: residents can establish relationships and settle into the community, knowing that they will remain in the same location even as their needs change.
Also gaining popularity is the “villages” concept. Operated as non-profit organizations, villages bring programs and services to seniors, allowing them to age safely and healthily in their own homes and neighborhoods. Since it was pioneered in 2001, the model has expanded across the country, with 50 villages in the U.S. and another 100 in development.
Choosing a senior living option comes down to asking the right questions: “What do I want?” “What do I need?” “What can I afford?”
Generally, an honest assessment of your personal health is a good place to start. The level of care you require should be at the forefront of your decision, and it may dictate the model that’s best for you. Can you perform everyday activities, like dressing or bathing? Do you need regular medical oversight? Consider seeking input from a physician who is familiar with your healthcare history.
Your financial circumstances also may be a determining factor. Costs of senior care facilities vary, so before you start looking, know what you can afford. Here, too, professional advice can be invaluable. Consult a trusted financial advisor to ensure you have a firm grasp on your budget. You may be entitled to financial assistance: Medicare generally does not pay for long-term care, but in some cases, Medicaid does. Long-term care insurance can also offset some costs. When you start looking into specific facilities, be sure to get details on prices and fees.
While your healthcare and financial requirements can’t be ignored, neither should your happiness. Don’t neglect emotional and social needs as you enter this phase of life. Are you looking for community interaction? Do you crave structure, or do you prefer the freedom to set your own schedule? Is a single room more appealing? Reflect on personal preferences, and be aware of the lifestyle you wish to maintain.
Other important considerations include location—do you want to be close to family and friends?—as well as first impressions. Be sure to take a tour and meet the staff before signing on the dotted line. It’s also a good idea to ask about a facility’s “philosophy of care” so that you understand the care goals and culture of your potential residence.
Deciding where to go next is a process, but it doesn’t have to be a daunting one. Involving loved ones, trusted advisors, doctors or clergy can help you feel confident in the choice you make. Starting early, when the need isn’t immediate, also can relieve some stress. Take advantage of public information and tools: use online self-assessments, read facility reviews and talk to people who can give you straight facts.
Most importantly, know that you’re not alone: more Americans than ever before are facing the same decision. Fortunately, long-term care options and resources have grown in tandem with our nation’s senior population. As you approach the next phase of your life, you can find a home that provides exactly what you need—and make your transition not only smoother, but more enjoyable.