I suspect this rash of new facilities is not just a response to the growing population of elderly due to increasing life expectancies. It’s also a preemptive move on the senior living industry’s part to prepare for the aging Baby Boomers.
Not only are there a lot of Baby Boomers, but during their work lifespan, employers began phasing out company-managed retirement plans in favor of the new 401(k) plans. Retirement nest eggs went from fattening in a secure pension to becoming balls on the stock market roulette wheel. And then came the 2008/9 crash, which some financial experts claim surpassed the one of 1929 and could very well have kicked off another Great Depression.
In its wake, many Baby Boomers found their retirement sums diminished with not much time to grow it back before they left the workforce. That means many cannot/will not be able to afford luxury senior living when they transition into old age. Instead, they need basic, affordable care. And so, the industry is changing in order to accommodate them.
As I reflect on this, I begin to wonder what my elder age will look like, how the different social and economic changes I saw in my youth and the ones I’m witnessing now in my middle years will impact how I grow old.
Here’s what I’ve read about us Gen X'ers thus far:
We’ll retire later because we’ll have to work longer because Social Security is no longer a guarantee. In fact, some of us will be the first to retire exclusively on 401(k) monies. In addition, we tend to be more skeptical and cautious because our formative years were book-ended by the advent of AIDS and the terror of 9/11. But perhaps most impactful of all, a large number of us have chosen not to have children.
I think if anyone is paying attention to these trends, they’ll see that the Gen X'ers will have a very different set of needs than those of the Boomers before us. We won’t just need a place to go once our medical situation requires it. We’ll need people to provide the help children often give their parents in those years between self-sufficiency and total dependency—showing us how to use the latest technology, running errands, helping with yard work, advising on money matters, to name a few. And we won’t want to work with a revolving group of strangers. We’ll want people we know and trust, with whom we’ve built a relationship.
Many of my fellow Gen X'ers and I joke about banding together to establish our own commune-like living—buy a large piece of property, divide it up, live close enough to help each other and socialize, but far enough away that we have our privacy and peace.
We’ll hire a few younger folks to help run the property and nurses to dispense group care. It sounds a little like the inter-generational co-housing studies in Finland and Netherlands that are finding success bringing together young and old people in a single housing facility. Perhaps that will be the new approach to senior living.
Personally, I’m predicting (or perhaps hoping for) the emergence of companies that will meld the benefits of “Visiting Angels” and live-in companions to offer a new kind of customized, private, personal care. But regardless of what happens, one thing’s certain. It will all have to change when we Gen X'ers pass on and are replaced by The Millennials who come after, for they are as different from us as we are from the Boomers.