For the past 53 years, May has been a month when Americans have celebrated the contributions of older Americans in our society. First celebrated as Senior Citizens Month, May is now designated as Older Americans Month.
The Baby Boom Generation – those Americans born between 1946 and 1964 – has arguably been the most influential American generation ever, and continues to be. At the end of 1964, the Boomers were 40 percent of the country’s population. They were the generation that ushered in the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s, and they were largely responsible for the stock market boom in the 1990s. Now, at approximately 23 percent of the total population, their decisions about continuing employment or retiring are causing far-reaching consequences throughout society including job availability, the cost and availability of healthcare, the construction of retirement communities, the viability of the Social Security system and more.
The Baby Boom Generation is also at the center of a change in how retirement communities identify themselves. The term Continuing Care Retirement Community – CCRC – has been used for years to define a community that offers a continuum of care – from independent living to assisted living or personal care to nursing home care – all on one campus. But research has shown that the large wave of Baby Boomers, the oldest of whom turn 70 this year, does not respond positively to the CCRC name. Boomers are self-directed planners who aren’t looking for care, and many are not looking to retire yet, either. Rather, they want a life filled with possibilities and options.
A number of senior services organizations recently engaged in a nationwide initiative to rename Continuing Care Retirement Communities as Life Plan Communities. This initiative is designed to help communicate to the public that today’s senior communities are about so much more than care. We are about living life to its fullest. Today’s senior communities offer a wider array of enriching, often unconventional activities. These communities aren’t just about bingo and card games anymore. They offer field trips, cooking or art classes, water volleyball, concerts and amenities including on-site movie theaters, indoor pools, computer rooms, campus-wide Wi-Fi and a variety of dining options.
To better connect with today’s seniors, many communities formerly known as CCRCs are calling themselves Life Plan Communities. Such communities allow “planning” and “living” to merge. Having a plan in place – the security of the safety net provided by the availability of healthcare coupled with the freedom from not having to manage all the day-to-day tasks that come with home ownership – allows residents to get the most out of life.
The name Life Plan Community also is in keeping with a new healthful aging philosophy that has emerged in recent years. The philosophy focuses on “Eight Dimensions of Wellness,” which enable seniors to build a fulfilling, healthy life – adding life to their years, and years to their lives. The eight dimensions are Intellectual, Physical, Emotional, Social, Spiritual, Vocational, Environmental and Health Services. By taking a goal-oriented approach to building a wellness plan and achieving all eight dimensions of wellness, more and more seniors are living more active, fulfilling lives.
Doug Walther is executive director of The Heritage of Green Hills, a Healthy Life Plan Community in Shillington.