Many Boomers Want to Age in (a New) Place

Baby boomers continue to state a preference for living in their own homes—but not necessarily in the same homes.

Baby boomer couple in front of their house.

Caring Right at Home earlier reported on a 2014 study showing that rather than downsizing, baby boomers who decide to move after retirement might opt for a larger home. Since then, several new studies have shed more light on this surprising development.

In February 2015, Merrill Lynch, in partnership with AgeWave, released "Home in Retirement: More Freedom, New Choices." This study took a look at trends in retirement housing—an important topic, given that the next decade will see 11 million new households made up of people older than 65.

The report revealed one unexpected trend: Rather than aging in place, many of the senior survey respondents already have moved or plan to move. Why are they moving? They cited as their top reasons the desire to be closer to family (29 percent), reducing home expenses (26 percent) and changes in their health (17 percent). The study confirmed that while some boomers are downsizing, others are moving to larger homes. These respondents said they want to be able to better accommodate guests. (Sixteen percent even have a full-time guest, a "boomerang child" who has moved home with Mom and Dad.)

Still, the slight majority of boomers continue to state a preference for remaining in their long-time homes. Many are planning to make home improvements, such as upgrading the kitchen or bath, adding safety features and modifying the house to make it suitable for single-story living. When asked about the need for care support, 85 percent expressed a preference to receive care at home, rather than in a nursing home or other senior care facility. Are these seniors being realistic? Says AgeWave's Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., "The good news is that there have been tremendous innovations in both technologies and home care services that enable retirees to live independently even if they face health challenges."

The growth of these services is coming just in time, because the boomers will have access to a significantly smaller pool of potential family caregivers than their parents enjoy. According to University of Washington sociologist Emilio Zagheni, today we are in a "golden age" of caregiving. In the years following World War II, couples commonly had three or more children, and today these sibling groups are able to spread out the care of elder parents. But that is changing. Zagheni and a colleague published a study in Population and Development Review showing that the ratio of caregivers to care receivers will shift as the baby boomers reach their senior years.

Are boomers ready for this shift? The fourth annual United States of Aging Survey, issued in July 2015 by UnitedHealthcare, confirmed that boomers are a bit uneasy about their ability to receive care when they need it, with more than half saying that young people today are less supportive of the needs of seniors. Professionals in the field of aging also were surveyed, and they too report concern. Although 42 percent of the surveyed adults said they are "very prepared" for aging, only 10 percent of the professionals shared this confidence. The older adults and professionals alike said that our communities need to do more to support the needs of the growing senior population.

Advocating for senior support on the national and community level is important, but boomers should simultaneously be tending to their own retirement planning. As they decide where to live, and what to live on—Social Security, pension, investments, continued employment—healthcare planning is just as important as financial planning. Having a strategy in place for the physical and cognitive challenges they may face raises the odds that they will be able to live independently rather than move to an assisted living or other senior support facility.

Staying home with help

Many boomers already are well-familiar with professional in-home care, having experienced the benefits as they navigated their own elderly parents' care. It's almost guaranteed that as we grow older, we will have periods when we're out of commission after an injury, surgery, stroke or other health crisis. And the older we get, the more likely that we will face longer-term challenges such as arthritis, visual impairment and memory loss.

Skilled nursing care and medical equipment can be provided in the home. Most day-to-day care can be provided by lower-cost nonmedical caregivers, who help seniors meet some of these challenges:

Transportation. As we age, we hope we'll be able to continue to drive—but changes to our eyesight, hearing, physical abilities and memory might make that unsafe. Planning ahead for alternate transportation is so much better than waiting for the shock of failing a driver's test, or worse, having a bad accident. In-home caregivers drive clients to the store, to medical appointments, to visit friends, to their faith community, to their volunteer work site, and wherever else they like to go.

Long-distance care. Today family members are likely to live miles away from each other. Adult children who have moved away do their best to coordinate their elder loved one's care, but they can't provide day-to-day, hands-on assistance, and they struggle to have a consistent picture of their loved one's situation. Most seniors hate to worry their adult children—but their kids worry anyway! Bringing in a reputable in-home care agency helps everyone sleep at night.

Household chores. Vacuuming when a person has arthritis, doing laundry when the washer is down steep basement stairs, preparing nutritious meals when a person has visual impairment—as we grow older, the changes of aging make it hard to keep the home in order. In-home caregivers help with all these tasks, always with the safety and health of the client in mind.

Personal care challenges. When seniors have trouble showering, shaving, going to the toilet or dressing, it might seem that moving to an assisted living facility is the only choice. In-home caregivers provide discreet assistance with these basic hygiene tasks, right in a senior's own home.

Think of in-home care as an extension of your long-term care plan. Choose a reputable agency that screens, hires and trains their caregivers, handles payroll taxes and can provide a backup if the regular caregiver can't make it. In all likelihood, if you need care, you aren't going to want to worry about those tasks!

The baby boomers, the cornerstone of today's "golden age" of caregiving, know how challenging it can be to manage the well-being of senior loved ones. But they can take those lessons learned and plan now for their own future needs.

Learn more about the caregiving gap in "Experts Predict a Growing Population of 'Elder Orphans'" in the August 2015 issue of Caring Right at Home. For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.