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What Matters Most to Boomers As They Age? It May Not Be What You Think

Stria Staff March 19, 2019
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LeadingAge and NORC release a new study of the “young old” that challenges some commonly held assumptions.

How do older baby boomers want to age? This is the question explored in a survey released at the LeadingAge Leadership Summit in Washington D.C. The study sought to better understand older adults’ attitudes and expectations around quality of life and aging—particularly should they need long-term services and supports.

“Those who live to 65 have a 50:50 chance of needing some paid long-term services and supports,” says Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge. “Policy makers, politicians, government and business leaders, as well as the general American population, need to be aware of the potential impact of the demographic changes currently under way in the U.S.”

The survey affirmed some commonly held assumptions about how people want to live as they age—but also revealed some unexpected nuances in attitudes.

Living at Home Is Preferred—But Not in All Circumstances

We’ve long known that most people want to live at home as they age. Even with physical disability and a need for help with daily activities, 60 percent of older Boomers surveyed say they would prefer remaining in their home.

But this study indicates that as people age, they are more likely to have considered more realistic options for care in the presence of a disability. When asked what would be important if they were in a position of needing help with daily activities, being safe ranked first—higher than being around family or friends.

Boomers know there are circumstances where “aging in place” may not be right for them. Forty-two percent say that if they need help due to dementia, they want to live in a place that is professionally staffed to provide health care plus help with daily activities.

“These older baby boomers are expecting a full continuum of services, including home care, other community-based supports, affordable housing with services, assisted living and nursing homes,” says Smith Sloan. 

Older Boomer Want Family Caregivers

Despite openness to other care options, most older Boomers report wanting spouses or family members to provide long-term care. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed say they would feel most comfortable receiving help from a close family member. Only one in three people 70+ prefer hiring someone if they became disabled and even fewer aged 60 to 79 (one in four) want to purchase care.

Preferred family living arrangements, though, vary based on respondents’ financial situation. Those with lower incomes are nearly three times as likely as those at the higher end to say they would want to live with adult children or relatives. However, when asked about living in a space attached to an adult child or relative’s home, responses were reversed: those with higher incomes were almost twice as likely to want to do that.

Regardless of income level, the biggest worry around needing long-term care was becoming a burden on family members. We know that the feelings of burden that can come along with family caregiving situations can have an impact of care.

Another commonality across incomes? The biggest concern if they have to use paid care is cost. Sixty-one percent—including 55 percent of the wealthiest Boomers—say affordability is the most worrisome issue.

LeadingAge and NORC surveyed a representative sample of 1200 older adults aged 60 to 72, asking them to imagine they had a physical or cognitive impairment and needed help. This cohort was selected because they are more likely to have peers who may already be experiencing the need for help with activities of daily living and can more easily imagine themselves in that position. More detailed results are available here.