Americans are living much longer today than they did even 50 years ago. As life expectancy increases, the challenge of caring for an aging population increases as well. In order to meet this challenge, some young people are going into careers in senior living, choosing to take care of their elders in specialized settings designed specifically to cater to a wide range of needs.
Population Aging: Silent Generation vs. Baby Boomers
Not only are Americans living longer, but older Americans (ages 65 and over) are making up a greater portion of the population than they have at any time in the past. The World Health Organization identifies both the prevention of certain chronic illnesses and greater access to medical care in developed nations as driving forces behind the growing elderly population. As people are able to stave off or completely avoid diseases that were once a death sentence, they grow to live longer. Meanwhile, however, the younger population isn’t experiencing the same growth as the aging population.
Aging Population Statistics
The elderly population in the U.S. is expected to continue to rise throughout the 2000s, according to a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, from about 40 million in 2012 to almost 80 million by 2050. However, the aging population isn’t merely growing, it’s also likely to take up a greater portion of the whole population, from less than 15 percent in 2012 to over 20 percent by 2050. This means that there will simultaneously be more elderly people and fewer young people per elderly person. For aging people who need a caregiver, this means that there will be fewer young people who are able to fulfill that role, compared to the number of elderly. For young people, however, it means that entering the field of senior living management is a wise career move, as the population imbalance will mean growing demand for these services and specialists.
What Are the Challenges of an Aging Population?
As seniors begin to make up a greater portion of the overall U.S. population, this demographic shift will likely have an effect on the U.S. economy.
Impact on Healthcare
As we noted above, one of the reasons why the aging population is growing is because of increased access to medical care. Diseases that might’ve once ended someone’s life early have met their match in new treatments and preventative medical techniques, such as vaccination. As a result, today’s seniors are either completely free of disease, or otherwise able to manage conditions that might have been life-threatening in the past. The latter is possible, at least in part, because of senior living communities that offer nursing and memory care.
As this population continues to grow, we can expect that older generations will put additional strain on the healthcare system. In order to meet the demands of the aging population, more young people have growing opportunities and incentive to enter healthcare through programs such as adult-gerontology for nurse practitioners.
Impact on Housing
According to the AARP, 87 percent of people age 65 and older would prefer to continue living in their current homes and communities as they age. However, this isn’t always a possibility for aging adults who end up needing varying levels of assisted care. In order to meet the demands of the country’s aging population, housing must change to accommodate their needs. These are needs based off of conditions like impaired vision, reduced mobility, and memory loss. In order to keep seniors who suffer from some of these conditions safe, housing with safety features such as guard rails, elevators, and grab bars in showers or tubs are necessary. These features can be supplemented by trained caregivers who work in assisted living situations.
Although many seniors may want to keep their current living situations, it’s inevitable that some will need to move into special senior housing situations that are able to respond to their unique needs.
Senior Housing Options
There are a number of options for senior housing that are available. Different housing options often cater to different needs among the aging population, and feature caregivers with varying levels of training, corresponding to the healthcare and living demands of their clients.
Aging in Place
Most seniors prefer to “age in place,” or stay in their current homes while they age. While it’s desirable for many people to avoid massive changes in their living situations, choosing to age in place comes with its own set of challenges and benefits.
As many seniors age, they may need more assistance, both with medical care or just day-to-day living. Seniors who choose to age in place may find it more difficult to get this care or, if they do, it may come at a higher cost in the form of a live-in nurse or caregiver.
For seniors who can continue living on their own without difficulty, aging in place offers an incredible amount of freedom. Seniors who stay in their homes also don’t have to worry about moving, and the costs and hardships associated with it. Aging at home is ideal for seniors who are healthy and have a strong support network of friends and family who can help them when needed.
People in independent living situations can enjoy a lot of the benefits of aging in place, while still sticking with a community of their peers and enjoying easy access to activities specially designed for their health and entertainment.
Seniors who choose independent living can expect to move into a community with other members of the aging population. While this move can be beneficial in the long run, moving is often stressful. People who move into independent living communities will have to leave their old community behind and, if they’re downsizing as part of the move, they will likely have to make important decisions about what to keep and what to sell or donate.
Independent living affords a lot of the freedom that’s typically associated with aging at home. However, it also places seniors near activities and services that they may come to rely on as their bodies age. Since these communities often exist alongside other forms of senior living, independent living is best for seniors who are healthy and independent, but are concerned that there may come a day when their ability to be self-reliant is diminished, and further care is needed.
Personal Care Homes
Personal care homes offer a living space tailored to the needs of seniors alongside a small group of similarly-aged individuals. Personal care homes may also offer caregiving services to meet the needs of their members.
For people who are coming from a situation where they owned a home and enjoyed the resulting privacy, moving into a personal care home can be a pretty big change in lifestyle. Living with roommates again after having your own space for so long may require changing a lot of habits and expectations.
According to the National Institute on Aging, socializing is important for the health of older adults. By moving in with their peers, seniors can make sure that they’re getting their daily dose of social activity, all in a space that’s designed to accommodate their needs. Personal care homes are best for people who are interested in that specially tailored living situation, but don’t mind the sacrifices that have to be made surrounding privacy and at-home independence.
Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC)
Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) recognize that our living needs change as we get older and they attempt to respond to those shifting demands with a multi-level approach to care. Residents in a CCRC can expect to enter the community in an independent living situation, staying in an apartment where they mostly manage their own lives. As they develop new medical and caregiving needs, the CCRC is prepared to meet them.
Living in a CCRC can be expensive, because of the broad range of services that are available. These costs come in the form of an entrance fee just to pay for the use of the facility. Entrance fees can range between $100,000 and $1,000,000, while monthly charges vary with the living space and services that are being provided.
In a way, CCRCs offer the best of all worlds. When a person needs an independent living situation, the CCRC provides that; when they need assisted living, the CCRC has that covered as well; and, finally, when regular medical care becomes a fact of life, the CCRC has the resources to provide it. Living in a CCRC is ideal for someone who enjoys having the flexibility and is willing and able to pay the bills associated with it.
As some people age, they suffer decreased mobility, coordination, or cognition. Having diminished faculties can make it difficult to carry out ordinary tasks, such as preparing food, bathing oneself, or driving somewhere. Assisted living is designed to counter these effects of aging, and help seniors carry on an ordinary life with the help of caregivers.
Since assisted living communities offer so many services compared to independent living or aging at home situations, they can cost a lot more. Assisted living may be associated with diminished independence, as residents require assistance from a caregiver for many tasks, but this lack of relative freedom has more to do with the facts of aging than it does an assisted living community itself.
Assisted living is particularly ideal for people who find it difficult to do everyday tasks because of their age, but are otherwise healthy. By getting assistance with certain things, they may actually find themselves more free and independent to pursue their interests in retirement.
Nursing homes provide on-site medical care for seniors who need it. In order to satisfy the needs of their residents, nursing homes often hire administrators with nursing experience, along with other staff who have sufficient medical training to handle the healthcare needs of residents.
Nursing homes are rarely the first choice of living situation for many seniors. The reality of the situation is that a nursing home is somewhere that you want to be only if you need that kind of consistent medical care. In order to provide the services that they do, nursing homes can be very expensive.
In spite of their high price tag compared to other housing solutions, research has shown that Medicaid covers the majority of nursing home expenses. This government subsidy can help to mitigate the financial burden of a medically necessary stay in a nursing home, allowing seniors to get the care that they need without draining their retirement funds. A nursing home is ideal only for those people who need access to the kind of around-the-clock care and supervision that they provide. However, for these seniors and their families, nursing homes provide an invaluable service.
As some people age, they suffer from forms of dementia or Alzheimer’s. These conditions are associated with memory loss, confusion, and even personality changes in the people who have them, which can often make it difficult for them to carry on their normal lives. Memory care offers assistance to people who have become forgetful or vulnerable with age, and need specialized assistance to help them maintain their independence and safety.
Since people in memory care facilities have difficulty remembering daily occurrences, they can be more vulnerable to abuse. One study found that “a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other dementia or some type of memory loss or confusion was present at a somewhat higher rate among nursing home residents who had been sexually abused than among the average nursing home population.” Finding the right memory care facility for a loved one can be critical to ensuring that they will receive the kind of respect and care that they deserve.
Memory loss in old age can be extremely difficult for an aging person’s loved ones, as their parent or grandparent no longer recognizes them on a regular basis. However, memory care facilities can provide some relief for these family members by taking on the burdens of care related to memory loss and helping someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia to live comfortably.
Choosing a Senior Living Community
As we have seen, there are many options available for senior living. Making the right decision for between these options can help to make sure that you or your loved ones are getting the kind of care that they need without unnecessarily infringing upon their freedom or quality of life.
It’s important that any decision about a senior living community is also a decision about retirement. Many people dream of retiring to warm beaches and, while that might not be possible for everyone, it’s still important to find a senior living community that’s located in an area where you can imagine spending the rest of your life.
It’s also important to think of family members when considering location. Will they be able to visit regularly? Will they be nearby to provide help if you’re living on your own or in an independent care community?
Ultimately, health and healthcare needs play an extremely important role in the type of living facility that’s needed. It’s generally a good idea to seek out the minimum level of assistance or nursing care for your needs. However, you should always be prepared — financially and emotionally — to make a hard decision to move into a facility with more exhaustive care options.
At the end of the day, no matter your preferences, your health and medical needs will likely dictate the kind of facility and assisted living care that you need.
Depending on how much money you’ve saved for retirement, budget can be just as important as health when it comes to making decisions about a senior living facility. Cost will likely increase as the facility provides additional services — such as assisted living, medical attention, or memory care — but factors like location, space, and amenities can also drive the cost up. Sometimes, it’s wise to start off in a more modest senior living facility so that you can be sure that you’ll have the money necessary for the medical expenses which might come later.
Remember that finding the right senior living facility isn’t just about finding a place to live. It’s important to find a facility where you can thrive. Good senior living facilities will often offer a variety of fun activities and include options for off-site excursions. Make sure that you’re picking a facility and a location where you can keep yourself occupied and make plenty of new friends with similar interests to yours.
When making a final decision on a senior living facility, it’s important to do your own research. Don’t take the facility’s advertising material as beyond question. In fact, you should question it a lot. Read reviews by current and past residents and their families. If possible, you can also schedule an on-site visit to your facility of choice, where you will be able to see the kinds of care and activities that are available. This could be the place where you spend your retirement, so it’s important to check every detail before committing.
Senior Services and Programs
Retirement and aging are major life events. Fortunately, whether you’re a caregiver, a family member, or an aging person yourself, they aren’t events that you have to figure out on your own. There are plenty of resources available to explain more about aging and how seniors can continue to live fulfilling and productive lives.
Government Organizations and Services
- Federal Housing Assistance for Seniors — Housing assistance for people who are aging and need it.
- National Institute on Aging — The latest medical science about aging and health.
- Medicaid — Federal health insurance available to anyone ages 65 and older.
- AARP Foundation — Defending the interests of seniors who are in poverty.
- Alzheimer’s Foundation of American — Providing services and education related to Alzheimer’s.
- Meals on Wheels America — Providing meals for seniors, especially those who live on their own.
Caretaker and Family Resources
- Alzheimer’s Support — For family members of persons with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
- Lifeline — Providing low-cost phone services to low-income consumers. Great for keeping seniors and families connected.
CaptionCall — Free service that provides real-time captions for phone calls for anyone with impaired hearing.