Have you heard the term “the graying of America”? It describes the fact that the median age in the U.S. is getting older. As baby boomers – that huge group of babies born between the mid-1940’s and the early 1960’s – get older, so does the country. One indicator of this trend: according to an article in the Fiscal Times, today there are about 17 million Americans between the ages of 75 and 85. By the year 2050 that number is expected to reach 30 million.
Now along comes this recent article on the Time magazine website that asks a stark question: “Where Will All the Old Folks Live?” As the aging population swells, will there be enough of the right kind of senior housing to accommodate them all? The sobering answer is, probably not.
If you’ve listened to the AgingOptions radio program, read our blog articles or attended our LifePlanning Seminars, you know how we feel about this issue of senior housing. We encounter entirely too many people who think they’re ready for retirement simply because they have some form of financial plan in place. All too often as we talk with them, these folks discover that, not only is their financial plan poorly conceived, but it is completely inadequate to guide them into a safe, secure retirement. Making the right housing choices – and making them at the proper time – is an absolutely essential yet too often overlooked component of retirement planning. The retirees (and future retirees) we deal with all want to protect their assets in retirement, but beyond that they also want to avoid becoming a burden to those they love – and they want to avoid unplanned institutional care. The issues of money and housing are inextricably linked.
So how does the Time magazine article do in assessing the senior housing challenge? Pretty well as far as it goes, but we find ourselves in disagreement with the author’s conclusions. First, let’s take a look at the thrust of the article.
The article starts with a pointed reminder of just how big the coming “aging tsunami” is likely to be. “Demographic experts say the population over age 65 will swell from 50 million to nearly 80 million in the next two decades,” Time reports, adding the obvious fact that all those people will need a place to live. But unlike a few decades ago when it seemed as if a higher percentage of seniors ended up moving out of their homes into some form of senior residence or “retirement home,” today surveys by AARP and others show that 90 percent of seniors want to remain at home and age in place. If these seniors should one day need daily assistance, AARP reports, they still want to stay at home: only a small percentage (fewer than 10 percent) would prefer to move to some form of senior care facility. An even smaller group, about 4 percent, say they would choose to move in with family.
“The reality is that many older adults are going to need some sort of different housing,” says Janet Viveiros of the National Housing Conference, “whether it’s a home that doesn’t have stairs, nursing-home-level care or something else entirely.” While there may be a host of new housing options coming on line in the years ahead to accommodate these discriminating boomers, for most the decision will come down to a basic choice: stay at home or move into a senior community of some sort. The Time article touts the former. “Research shows that older adults benefit from remaining for as long as possible in the community where they’ve spent their adult years,” the article says. “It’s familiar and it encourages social interaction, which is important at any stage of life but especially as you get older.” Aging in place also tends to be more affordable for many seniors, especially when combined with a reverse mortgage that can help pay for necessary upgrades that make living at home safer and more satisfying as we age.
But for those seniors who choose to move, there’s a very real prospect of a shortage of appropriate housing. “Experts say that as baby boomers get older,” Time writes, “the demand for older-adult-friendly apartments will outstrip the supply. Developers have already struggled to build such apartment complexes in many communities where they run up against tight zoning restrictions. And while many housing advocates have called for local communities to change those limitations, coordinating efforts in thousands of municipalities across the country has proved difficult.”
There’s one serious “missing piece” in the Time article as far as we’re concerned. Time and time again we have spoken to seniors (or their adult children) who wish they had made the move to a senior housing community much sooner than they eventually did. We’ve spoken with many officials at senior communities who say the average move-in age is about 85 or older. When you’re that old, not only is moving far more demanding physically and emotionally, but so is the adjustment to new surroundings, new routines and new people. We urge you to give strong consideration to moving sooner, not later, so you’re young enough to enjoy your new lifestyle and to make the adjustment far more easily.
As we said above, housing and finances are inextricably linked when it comes to planning for your retirement. But if you think of retirement planning as a pie, these two “slices” only represent a portion. A good retirement plan also needs to help you map out your legal affairs to ensure that you and your loved ones are protected. Your plan also must encompass your medical needs and guide you into selecting the right type and amount of insurance coverage for short term and long term care. And finally your retirement plan is not complete if your family is overlooked: how will you communicate your wishes to your loved ones so that they understand and will abide by your desires as you age?
Fortunately an AgingOptions LifePlan includes all five of these vital facets of retirement planning: financial, legal, medical, family and housing plans. With your LifePlan in place, your future security and peace of mind are assured. Isn’t it time to find out more about how to “lock in” your retirement future, especially in these turbulent times? If you’re ready to invest just a few hours, we invite you to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar in a location that’s convenient for you. Bring yourself, your spouse, your family and your questions! But these seminars do fill up rapidly, so please click here to select and register for the seminar of your choice. Or if you prefer, call us during the week – we’ll be happy to assist you.
(originally reported at www.time.com)