According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 500,000 centenarians in the world, and almost 100,000 in the United States. Moreover, the Census Bureau projects that by 2050 there will be 1.1 million centenarians in America alone, and researchers at Boston University estimate that roughly 3 million Baby Boomers will live to be 100 or older. What does this mean for our society, in terms of the economy, health care, political and social trends, and more?
“As the Boomer generation moves into ahead to 2050, their ages will be between 86 and 104,” Douglas H. Fitzgerald, Ed.D, president and founder of Boomer lifestyle online resource Boomer-Living.com http://www.boomer-living.com.
As this large cohort ages, its members will require and demand specific goods and services, he notes. “The anticipated demands will be felt in all areas with emphasis in the healthcare and housing markets,” Fitzgerald says.
Some businesses will thrive more than others. For instance, he says, aging in place vendors will expand.
Examples, Fitzgerald explains, include housing design for sustainable living, in-home caregiving, and assisted living and healthcare.
“All of these services will increase,” he maintains. “It’s difficult to imagine any industry that will not be affected by this huge segment of the population.”
Dallas-based architect Laura Davis, AIA, principal and marketing director of HPD Architecture http://www.hpdarch.com says that she and her colleagues have already been discussing the future needs of aging Baby Boomers.
“We have made a conscious decision to create a niche for ourselves in the private senior living service market,” Davis says. “We believe, as Boomers remain active later in life, there will be a growing desire to remain in their homes rather than transition to independent or assisted living.”
Others factors will also play a role, she adds, especially financial issues.
“A slow real estate market, shrinking retirement funds, and multi generations within a household mean there will be more resistance to change when it involves a significant change in cash flow,” Davis explains.
Architects must connect with professionals who help families adjust to the changing needs of senior family members.
”We see a need for professional home evaluations for accessibility and risk assessments,” she says. “Through home modifications, such as widening doors, adding grab bars, eliminating trip hazards, and creating roll-in showers, we can help aging seniors stay safely in their own homes.”
Dawn A. Gum, AIA, NCARB, IIDA, is a managing partner at Raleigh, NC-based Interior Architecture & Design, PLLC, which specializes in healthcare design. She agrees with Fitzgerald and Davis that aging in place business will thrive.
Noting that the shift in health conditions of seniors will grant longer lives, Gum notes that their needs will be complex and, due to the high numbers, “could overwhelm the health system.”
Currently, there aren’t enough medical professionals to care for the aging population, Gum notes, adding that there is only one physician certified in geriatrics for every 2500 older Americans.
Future patients are not the only segment of the population that is growing older, she explains. “Nurses are aging and more are moving into primary care settings,” she maintains. “About half of the RN workforce will reach retirement age in eight years while projections call for one million more RNs needed by 2010.”
The financial concerns of future medical professionals will be an issue, Gum notes, adding to the challenge of providing medical care for the population. “Salaries for geriatric care givers are lower than their counterparts—[making it a] less attractive practice to medical school students with high education loans,” she says.
Despite discussion about the future medical demands of aging Baby Boomers, this segment will continue to make valuable and unique contributions to society, says Barbara Crowley, founder of the online social network for Boomers and older adults Snabbo.com http://www.snabbo.com.
“The recession may have set back our retirement plans a bit, but I think—hopefully—once the economy is righted again, we will see some very creative lifestyle changes,” she says. “Grandparenting will be re-defined as we have more divorced grandparents, more grandparents actually raising grandkids, less grandparents living in the same vicinity and a more Internet-savvy older population.”
This cohort will embrace new careers and paths, Crowley maintains.
”As much as there is talk about this demographic wanting to work as long as possible, I don’t think the ones that were laid off will be re-hired in the same industry they once worked,” she says. “Therefore, they may have to reinvent themselves or adapt both financially and emotionally.”
Hopefully, Crowley adds, Baby Boomers will contribute to philanthropic causes and volunteer to help the community.
Time management advisor Lorraine Arams http://www.wizetime.com/ also maintains that despite age discrimination, the job market will see big changes as Boomers age.
“Many Baby Boomers are ready, willing and able to work—more than ever. And more than ever, they are not able to get jobs,” she says, adding that it is harder to get a job after age 45.
Retirement today isn’t like it used to be—the dismal economy, health care crisis, real estate meltdown and other factors have made it impossible for most Boomers to retire at the age of 65.
“Many Baby Boomers have lost their savings because of the economic turmoil, lost jobs, have depleted savings because of illnesses, have lost their homes, and the list goes on and on,” Arams explains. “They need to work to generate an income in order to pay for basics: food, shelter and clothing.”
Arams advises businesses to hire Baby Boomers because—besides the granting them the ability to help lower the potential cost to taxpayers for their medical expenses, welfare, and other social services—“they’ll likely be some of the best employees you’ve ever had. Most Baby Boomers still have a strong work ethic, their children are grown and they’ll show up for work!”
As the work force ages, members will need to take measures to stay vibrant and healthy, adds
Mary Marino, co-creator of Flashionista.com http://flashionista.com/ , a site directed at keeping women 45 and older in on the latest in style and fashion. Marino maintains that while Boomers are expected live longer, they should focus on ensuring a high quality of life.
”The centurions currently being scrutinized by science all seem to have some basic things in common: sharp minds, friends, engaging social lives, and physical activity,” she says. “They also seem remarkably resilient to illnesses; perhaps partly due to the fact that they’re mostly optimists.”
Websites like Flashionista.com, Boomer-Living.com, and Snabbo.com, represent a growing number of online lifestyle resources that cater to this cohort.
“I decided to reach out to the demographic that I know—women over 45 with an interest in style and fashion from the inside out—with information on how to remain healthy and relevant,” Marino says. “I write about changes we can make day-to-day to improve how we live, think, eat, work, dress, and socialize.”
While genetics play a role in longevity, she adds, “Technology, medicine, and availability of health care will play a big role too. But, the bulk of the responsibility lies with lifestyle choices we can make to live longer.”
There will be a seismic shift as this generation ages, and its effects will be far-reaching, Fitzgerald says.
“Every facet, or component of life as we know it, will be affected,” he states. “Four years ago when we started Boomer-Living.com, it was difficult to find anyone to admit to being a Boomer. Today, reality has begun to sink in. More and more people are investigating, researching and exploring the potential and possibilities available for life in America with this huge group of aging adults.”
The best way for society to prepare for graying Boomers? “Anticipate the needs, and plan and prepare accordingly,” Fitzgerald concludes.