Views of aging are a call to action

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Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

A new study published in the journal Ageing and Society presents the sad reality of some adults' views of aging.

Columbia University researchers studied data from a telephone survey of 1,600 adults aged 18 to 64 years (the average age was 42) and found that more than one out of six of them would prefer to die before they turn 80, which is the average life expectancy. Having fewer positive old-age expectations was associated with the preference to die before reaching average life expectancy.

“People who embrace the ‘better to die young' attitude may underestimate their ability to cope with negative age-related life experiences as well as to find new sources of well-being in old age,” said the study's first author, Catherine Bowen, Ph.D.

The research findings, however, suggest opportunities for the senior living industry. In fact, the future viability of the industry depends on the actions it takes to educate consumers in at least two areas: options and financing.

When many people try to imagine themselves as older adults, they may picture aging in isolation at home or think of yesterday's institutional nursing homes. They don't realize that not only have skilled nursing centers changed but that an expanded range of choices — from independent living apartments to assisted living communities to continuing care retirement / life plan communities — now exists.

It's up to providers and industry groups to continue to educate consumers about today's senior housing and long-term care. As I've mentioned before, current efforts underway should help adults more realistically and positively picture their potential futures in senior living. It also will be important for the industry to address weaknesses where they exist and to keep evolving to meet the changing needs of tomorrow's older adults.

People also may hold negative views of aging because they wonder whether they'll have enough money to support themselves in their later decades. That's where Urban Institute/Milliman modeling funded by LeadingAge, the AARP and The SCAN Foundation could help. That modeling already has facilitated recommendations on the financing of long-term services and supports by the Long-Term Care Financing Collaborative, LeadingAge and the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The financing options that ultimately arise from those reports may make it easier for adults to afford old age and its related health and housing costs. And the educational efforts surrounding the reports already are making members of the public aware of the facts that long-term care is not covered by Medicare and that they need to start saving for their futures. The senior living industry will be a vital part of continued efforts in this area.

Additional efforts announced by the federal government last week, which are designed to enable states and some cities to establish retirement savings programs, may be helpful especially to workers who do not have access to retirement plans at work.

Senior living and long-term care have come a long way. It will be important for the industry to keep educating consumers so that more of them look forward to aging.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight's Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.

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