Most people understand that the Baby Boomer generation has defined American life since it emerged post-WWII. It grew to become the largest, most powerful and wealthiest generation in American history—a formidable segment of society that consistently changed American behavior.
My career began in advertising and marketing, where it was almost impossible to avoid the buying power of the Baby Boomers. It seemed as if every few years advertisers changed their target-audience figures to match the Boomers’ age. This generation was consuming goods and services like no other!
As they grew older, it became apparent that Boomers were destined to change the way Americans age and live out their retirement years. They were not content to follow traditional patterns. I’ve had a front row seat—with multiple perspectives—for almost 20 years as we’ve seen this evolution take shape.
Boomers Reinventing Aging
I joined the home-care industry in April 2020 as CEO of SYNERGY HomeCare after serving in similar roles at ERA Real Estate and Coldwell Banker Real Estate. I’ve been struck by how the aging-in-place phenomenon is affecting us today as this trend continues about 15 years after leading-edge Boomers shook up real estate as they entered into, or planned for, retirement.
Boomers were not buying second homes or retiring to traditional warm weather spots. Instead, they wanted to be near children and grandchildren. Or they flocked to walkable urban areas rich with restaurants and culture, lakefront communities and golf and ski resorts. All in the hopes of remaining vibrant as they enjoyed their favorite pastimes. We also saw Baby Boomers return to campus, as college towns emerged as trending retirement options due to learning opportunities, sports and entertainment.
Now I’ve followed the Boomers into my new industry. Clearly this group, whose members start turning age 75 in 2021, has no desire to follow norms. Retirement communities have led to Continuing Care Retirement Communities, cohousing, shared housing and a change in thinking.
With no disrespect to nursing homes and the incredible services they provide, and the amazing staff who provide that care, I was struck by headlines I came across demonstrating how Boomers view aging differently than did their predecessors.
Back in 1997, the New York Times ran an article about a Journal of American Geriatrics Society report that found 30 percent of those who are seriously ill at a hospital would rather die than live permanently in a nursing home.
Twenty years later, at the end of 2017, Financial Advisor ran a similar story citing a report from the Nationwide Retirement Institute. But this time the results indicated that 61 percent of older Americans would rather die than be in a nursing home.
Over 20 years, the number not wanting to follow traditional patterns had doubled.
So, it was no surprise to see the buzz surrounding the emergence of the aging-in-place trend. AARP, back in 2018, that found that 86 percent of those ages 65 and older would “really like to stay in their community for as long as possible.” The same number reported they wanted to remain in their current residence for as long as possible.
There are many reasons for these changing patterns, but one cause has to be the fierce independence the Baby Boomer generation has shown over the last 75 years. But, as SYNERGY HomeCare Metro & Hudson New Jersey owner Casey Holstein says, “that fierce independence is great until it isn’t. At some point that independence becomes a burden on them and their loved ones.”
Supporting Boomer’s Desire to Age in Place
And that is where all of us in the eldercare space come in. How do we support Boomers’ desires to live the life they’ve always had, while allowing them to understand that help might be needed? How do we help Boomer parents and their adult children engage in important dialogue and plan for the future, emotionally and financially? At the same time, how do we work to assist the Sandwich Generation as they handle the responsibility of raising their own children while providing care for their parents?
It is no wonder why we, and others in our industry, are engaged in serious discussions with a number of large employers looking at caregiving benefits. These employer-sponsored caregiver benefits are not only seen as employment perks and potential recruiting tools, but also as a key to productivity. If employers can alleviate the stress of caregiving through time off and flex scheduling, the belief is their employees will be less distracted and will perform at a higher level.
We can’t question caregiving as a stress inducer as there is all sorts of data to support it. We recently reported that 78 percent of all SYNERGY HomeCare online inquiries in the first six months of 2020 came from adult children looking for care for their loved ones. We also found that 35 percent had no local support for their aging family members. They are looking for help.
I have been welcomed with open arms by the home-care industry, and it seems as if every person I meet is more caring than the next. I’m learning so much every day and looking forward to soaking up even more. The passion in our space is contagious. And I’m hooked!
I know we have a lot of work ahead of us. The impact of COVID, growing expansion of Medicare Advantage and caregiver recruitment is foremost, along with how we welcome and embrace technology, demystify aging and eliminate ageism. I’m looking forward to meeting many of you over time at ASA events and beyond, and talking about these and other issues, along with how we all engage together.
The in-home care industry is in its infancy—only about 35 years old. We are going to mature with the Boomers as we learn and adapt to their continued desire for a new path forward.
Charlie Young is the CEO of SYNERGY HomeCare which is headquartered in Gilbert, AZ.