Portrait of senior woman at home
(Credit: MoMo Productions / Getty Images)

Prospective senior living residents are redefining perceptions around aging — along with the vocabulary defining it — giving operators who respond to those trends a leg up on the competition.

The New Age of Aging, an online survey of more than 2,000 adults conducted by Age Wave, found a “dramatic shift” in how Americans define old age and envision the later years of life.

The survey found that 79% of adults aged 50 or more years think today’s older adults are more active, and 58% said they are more open-minded and curious compared with the previous generation. 

And their definition of old has changed. Old, the survey noted, is not what it used to be, having been pushed up by 20 years: yesterday’s definition of old was 60, whereas today, 80 is the median age considered “old.”

Vocabulary also is changing, with respondents saying they preferred the world ”longevity” over “aging.” 

“Aging has finally come of age,” said Ken Dychtwald, PhD, founder and CEO of Age Wave. “Understanding our evolving perceptions of aging is more urgent than ever, as people over 65 make up an increasingly large portion of the US population each year, with a projected 53% growth by the year 2050, according to the most recent census projections.”

Having a sense of purpose is important

One of those evolving perceptions is that 83% of adults aged 65 or more years say it’s more important to feel useful than youthful in retirement. Today’s older adults want a continued sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. Dychtwald said that it’s time to replace the search for the fountain of youth with finding the “fountain of usefulness.”

Age Wave cited projections that more than $80 trillion will be passed down from older generations to their heirs in the next two decades. But the majority of respondents (65%) said that the most important thing to pass down are values and life lessons. Only 22% said financial assets and/or real estate were most important. 

“We must create more healthy, active, engaged and contributory ways of living at every stage in life to truly capitalize on our longevity bonus,” the survey concluded. “This includes adopting a broader societal view of older adults as a rich and largely untapped resource of knowledge, wisdom and social contribution.”

When asked how to describe retirement, 66% of respondents called it a new chapter in life. Only 16% called it a time for rest and relaxation, whereas 11% said they see it as a continuation of life and 6% said they viewed retirement as a time to wind down.

Senior living operators struggling with workforce challenges, listen up: 59% of pre-retirees and retirees indicated they still want to work in retirement. Flex work, remote work, sabbaticals and paid leave are ways that Age Wave suggested to help retain older workers and fuel economic growth.

“Modern elders are active, not passive, and our study revealed that they identify their newfound longevity with the freedom and opportunity to pursue new dreams, adventures and goals,” the study reported.