How Baby Boomers Will Change Retirement Living

Watch out world, the Woodstock generation is about to move into retirement communities.

But this isnt your grandmas retirement community. Baby boomers want more from their communities than just bingo and shuffleboard, and will shun anything associated with growing older.

John Lennon's song Revolution, fits perfectly with how baby boomers are treating their golden years and retirement communities are responding by saying they got a real solution.

"What we hear from the boomer focus groups is that people don't want to move away from the life of the broader community," says Sheri Peifer, vice president for research for Eskaton, a nonprofit provider of community living and home-based support for older adults in Northern California. "They want to live near their neighbors. They want to go to the church they have attended for years.

Baby boomers are seeking out communities with culture, activities and events and turning to college towns, urban environments and smaller towns with vibrant downtowns.

Peifer detailed the popularity of planned, intergenerational neighborhoods that contain design-certified homes built to accommodate the needs of empty nesters, that are also appealing to young, growing families.

Heres what Peifer had to say about how boomers are changing retirement community living:

Boomer: Will baby boomers retire the way their parents did or will they work longer and transition gradually into semi retirement?

Peifer: All the literature and research so far has pointed to boomers wanting to stay engaged and purposeful in life during retirement; we want to potentially work on our own terms as long as something is inspiring. It is going to be very different than what it was for boomers parents, what we call the GI generation.

Things are transitioning into more of an I would like to stay engaged in something I am passionate about life whether thats in a formal work-related system or in something more entrepreneurial.

We have been noticing much more within Eskaton is that people want to stay involved in a part time fashion in a variety of venues, whether its assisting with transportation, working with different types of community outreach and education programs, or health and wellness programs. It's been fascinating to see that there will be absolutely a different approach to living into your 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 100s. More and more people have been living healthy, longer live and want to stay socially connected and have that purpose every morning to get up and say, OK this is what I am doing today and this is what my plan is.

Boomer: What effects will the enormous upcoming wave of boomer retirees have on retirement community living?

Peifer: Retirement communities in general really need to transform the way they approach development and what programs they offer. Retirement communities used to be more age segregated, and now we have more inclusive ones that have flexible options when it comes to dining and activities. For example, we have intergenerational connections with schools and Skyping.

What we are seeing nationwide is what I like to refer to as grassroots villages, individuals living in the homes where theyve been for 40 or 50 years and want to continue to live for as long as possible. They form a village without walls; they are part of a broader network of social support. They are bringing in vetted services they might need to remain as independent as possible; services like carpooling are organized for someone in short-term rehab, for example. Back in 2002, Boston had the first grassroots village called the Beacon Hill Village and they are now flourishing and have members living in their brownstone communities that are networked with a broader grassroots village.

The boomer generation wants to live among other generations, they don't necessarily want to be segregated. With that said, there are people who absolutely love the idea of moving onto a campus designed for them and their peers so those options are still going to grow.

As a nation we are not ready to handle the boomer generation to age into their late 70s, 80s or 90s; our health services, funding modalities and other services are too fragmented. Cities and counties really need to think more holistically about transportation and access to services for the elderly to keep them in their homes as well as stay socially connected, the focus should not just be on retirement communities anymore.

Boomer: With boomers living longer, more active lives, most newly-retired professionals might not want to play bingo on Saturday night or Mahjong in the afternoon. Do you see a change of social offerings from retirement comminutes?

Peifer: Even though bingo tends to still be a popular program in some places, many seniors want to continue to challenge themselves in intellectually ways.

Many universities have what is called the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLIE) that helps older adults stay active. Bernard Osher was a philanthropist in San Francisco and established this program that provides universities funding for initiatives for older adults to stay more engaged. Many of our communities have accessed those types of programs with colleges and state universities; we are seeing more of a linkage with campuses for hosting different life-long learning programs whether its French to art history. More boomers are also taking on complex issues within their own communities and there are a number of programs looking to use boomers and their skills to help tackle different social initiatives and projects.

Seniors are also looking to stay fresh in the tech world; they want to be able to navigate the Internet to do research and keep in touch with family and friends.

Boomer: What are the new university-based retirement communities all about?

Peifer: University-based retirement communities have been established for a little more than a decade now and are still continuing to be a very smart phenomenon. University with land adjacent to their campus offer services and housing to alumni and retired faculty that want to stay connected in a vibrant multigenerational community.

LaSalle Village at Lasell College was one of the first communities that required residents to take about 400 units a year of lifelong learning credits. There are many different models out there.

Boomer: Retirement communities have fixed monthly maintenance fees which increase every year. With most baby boomers living on a fixed income and looking for social connection of activities, what impact might this have on their monthly budget?

Peifer: That is something we grapple with every year when we are recreating our budgets at Eskaton. We recognize that those we serve daily are typically on fixed incomes whereas external variables such as utility costs and staff cost continually increase 3% or 4%. Add to that this huge elongated depressed economy where investments and incomes have been significantly hindered and the situation becomes even tougher.

We always strive to manage costs as effectively while retaining the quality and the people we need to in order to make our program and services available. We are constantly looking at not only how to manage expenses through innovative approaches in technology and solar and green approaches to keep costs down, but also looking at different types of service-delivery modalities.