Boomers want to retire in style

Boomers are “redefining aging,” according to Nancy Carr of AARP Maryland. (Photo from Getty Images)

Baby boomers are not content to retire the same way previous generations did. Just as they have since they began entering the world in 1946, they’ve got demands now — and senior housing and retirement communities are working to keep up.

As of 2016, people aged 65 and older numbered nearly 50 million across the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s 15 percent of the total population. And the boomer generation, born between about 1946 and 1964, is well into crossing that age 65 threshold.

“One thing we know about baby boomers is that they redefine everything,” said Nancy Carr, the assistant state director of communications for AARP’s Maryland chapter. “And they’re redefining aging as well.”

What that means in practice is more options. Boomers have a strong sense of individuality, said Elinor Ginzler, Jewish Council for the Aging senior director and director of the organization’s Misler Adult Day Center.

“[There is] as much variety in the housing market [for seniors] as possible to match the variety of people,” Ginzler said. “The healthcare piece won’t go away but, in my opinion, it’s all the stuff around it — what they call amenities, but I call necessities.”

Ginzler pointed to Leading Age, an association for aging service providers, changing its term from “continuing care retirement communities” to “life plan communities” because “care” and “retirement” aren’t concepts that resonate with the boomer generation.

One of the main trends both Ginzler and Carr identified was fitness and wellness. Communities are offering not only high quality fitness facilities and classes, but also related elements like nutrition classes, jogging trails and gardening.

Leisure World, a community of 8,000 people aged 55 and older in Montgomery County, just opened a 5,400-square-foot fitness center nearly twice the size of its previous one with updated equipment, more strength training options and a studio room for barre, dance or yoga classes. So far, the response has been immensely positive, said Maureen Freeman, the director of communications for Leisure World.

“A couple weeks ago when they did the ribbon-cutting at 9 a.m., the place was just packed with people,” she said.

Leisure World will also be rolling out a new internal portal residents can access online anytime. It will allow residents to request services, directories and calendars of events. It’s not just an element incoming and current residents want, she said, but one “which I think upcoming generations will be expecting.”

Integrating technology is another place where these communities are upping their game, said Carr, pointing to smart homes and medical apps that track health and medication information.

“While use of technology and smartphones continues to grow among the senior community, for boomers it’s not a new thing and they’re going to want a place to continue that use,” Ginzler said.

Boomers are also, increasingly, avid foodies, Carr said, wanting to know where their food comes from and wanting more than one dining option. Ginzler added that many of these communities will have both high-end kitchens and chefs.

Mainly, Ginzler said, residents “want to be as enriched as they were in the life they built” outside of those communities. Leisure World, for instance, has more than 80 groups and clubs, including a popular Center for Lifelong Learning, which hosts speakers and classes on a variety of subjects.

At the center of these communities is healthcare, and that will likely remain the case, Carr said. Healthcare providers are trying to anticipate the changing health needs for coming generations.

“People are living longer,” she said, “and there’s increasing emphasis on creating dementia-friendly spaces and living situations.”

And boomers don’t want to waste those extra years. They’re prepared to demand both style and quality of life, Ginzler said. n

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