OK Boomer
How baby boomers are changing the aging in place landscape

Baby boomers have had a dramatic economic and cultural impact on the United States. This generation maintains more disposable income than other groups, drives consumer demand and raises the standard of living throughout the country.  

As those born between 1946 and 1964 turn 65, long-term care—whether made necessary by injury, chronic illness or physical or cognitive decline—is becoming an increasingly urgent issue boomers need to plan for and address. 

Since 2011, more than 10,000 Americans a day have passed the retirement threshold of 65 years. In less than a decade, the “Me Generation” has redefined the golden years. Boomers are living longer, leading more active lifestyles and fostering innovation in industry and family dynamics. As this cohort steps into retirement, it is once again creating change.

A 2019 study by the Bankers Life Center showed that 92% of middle-income baby boomers are willing to make lifestyle sacrifices to provide care to a family member or loved one. Of those who have been or are currently a caregiver, two-thirds of middle-income boomers provide care for a parent, while 17% provide care for a spouse, partner or parent-in-law. One-third of middle-income boomer caregivers have tapped into their own retirement savings to pay for a loved one’s health care expenses, compared to 19% of noncaregivers. 

Many “sandwich generation” caregivers underestimate the likelihood of one day needing long-term care themselves. Only 36% of baby boomer caregivers believe they will need long-term care services themselves—but their actual chance of needing care is 70%, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

When the time comes to receive long-term care, 65% want to stay in their current home, although more than a third believe their home needs modifications to accommodate aging and caregiving.

Aging Solo

More baby boomers are aging alone, as well. Senior living communities that attract the solo aging segment offer many amenities, and aging-in-place providers such as personal care and home health care agencies should consider teaming up with local professional services to encourage the segment to age safely in larger communities. But to do that, it’s important to understand the basic needs of a solo ager and how your business can address them: 

1. Solo agers enjoy privacy & deep involvement in planning their lives, so allow them to get involved in care delivery. 

They have a greater need to get out of the home and connect with friends because they live alone. Transportation is a big concern, but meal planning and cooking may not be a significant care need since many solo agers see that daily activity as a fun social event.

2. “To stay in a home I like” & “to be near friends and family of my making” are solo boomers’ preferences. 

Care providers can create ways for solo agers to make new friends at senior centers, libraries or other places adults hang out. And remember, some solo agers love children and enjoy volunteering in schools or as mentors. 

3. Offer resources and services that adults need to lead healthy & independent lives.

Help solo agers get to the gym or outside for a walk. Most solo agers enjoy being around people. Find ways that help them remain independent and safe. Encourage them to get up and get moving and out of the house to offset isolation and loneliness.

4. Only half of seniors feel that their communities offer a high-quality public transportation system. 

Look for creative ways the client can leave their home. Help them learn about the available mobility options.

5. Most solo agers do not realize that aging safely at home requires modifications that may cost between $10,000 and $100,000.

Help them find less expensive ways to make the needed changes while keeping them as safe as possible. 

Budgeting Concerns

Outlasting money is another top concern for many boomers, who may have made lifestyle sacrifices to care for parents and other loved ones. Some have quit their jobs early, tapped into savings and/or moved to a new home. With these sacrifices, solo agers face regret when planning for their own retirement and long-term care, according the Bankers Life Center study. Encourage your solo aging clients to set up and stick to a budget, to find low-cost travel and entertainment—and even to consider a part-time job! 

This story was recently shared by a patient advocate in the Elder Orphan Facebook group that illustrates a solo ager’s need:

“I just visited a woman 10 years older than me who was a social worker, horsewoman and activist but is now isolated and in financial trouble… (She) thought she had made a plan by creating a trust run by her accountant, (but) she didn’t realize that while the accountant was honest, he didn’t put her on a budget or stop her from making credit card purchases. She will probably need a guardianship to make decisions in the future because she’s not nursing home-eligible and could just wind up homeless. Many of my clients think they’re not as old or infirm as the other residents when I show them assisted living facilities, but they really are.” 

Baby boomers who are aging solo want to age at home but will need help to do so. What other ways can you assist older individuals like the retired social worker in the story above? What would you have done? What services could your agency offer her to ensure she can stay in her home for as long as possible?

Carol Marak is an adviser on aging alone and founder of the Elder Orphan Facebook Group. She has earned a certificate in the fundamentals of gerontology from the University of California, Davis School of Gerontology. Visit www.carolmarak.com.