LeadingAge / NORC Survey Sheds New Light on How Boomers Hope to Age

CAST | March 22, 2019 | by Donna Childress

Groundbreaking study focuses on the “young old” and challenges previous findings on attitudes toward quality of life and aging; technology can help address respondents’ concerns.

A recent groundbreaking study from LeadingAge and NORC found that older adults have some surprising attitudes and expectations around quality of life and aging—particularly if they become physically or cognitively impaired and need long-term services and supports (LTSS). 
The study is noteworthy because it focuses on adults ages 60 to 72, often called the “young old.” In addition, the findings challenge many commonly held views about how older baby boomers want to age. For example, 40% said they would want to live somewhere other than their current home or apartment if they needed help with daily activities due to a physical disability. 

This finding contrasts with most earlier research, in which 76% or more of adults said they want to stay in their own home. These earlier studies do not target older baby boomers and they do not ask for separate responses depending on whether the impairment is physical or cognitive.

In "Mind-blowing research that all skilled nursing providers can use," McKnight's Long-Term Care News said this: "The research into older baby boomers’ housing and care preferences is impactful. It should be able to inform new bargaining and marketing efforts for all kinds of nursing facilities, nonprofit and for-profit alike." Stria also reported on the study, in an article called "What Matters Most to Boomers As They Age? It May Not Be What You Think." 

Fortunately, technology can address many of these older adults' concerns.
Majd Alwan, Ph.D., executive director of CAST and senior vice president of technology for LeadingAge, joined in unveiling the results at the LeadingAge Leadership Summit in Washington, DC, on March 18. Presenting with him were LeadingAge experts Ruth Katz, senior vice president of public policy/advocacy, and Robyn Stone and Marc Cohen, co-directors of the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston. Together, they analyzed the survey results’ implications for aging-services technology, the aging services workforce, and policy impacting the delivery and financing of older adults’ health care.
We can link technology to almost all of survey respondents’ top concerns, said Alwan. Below are select findings and Alwan’s take on their technology implications.
When help with daily activities is needed, people care most about safety, followed by being around family and having access to the outdoors.

  • Safety monitoring, like fall detection or prevention, can help people to stay safe, Alwans said. 

Even with physical disability and a need for help with daily activities, 60% of respondents said they would prefer remaining in their current home or apartment. That percentage dropped to 29% if they had dementia and needed help with daily activities—far lower than has been reported in other surveys of all adults.

  • For the 29% who desire to remain at home even with disability and dementia, technologies like wander management, activity monitoring, medication management, and virtual coaching could help them to stay with family. Professional caregivers armed with telehealth and shared care planning and coordination technologies can make it easier to receive care from a spouse or close family member. 

Affordability was viewed as the biggest challenge to purchasing care among all respondents, including 55% of the wealthiest baby boomers.

Respondents’ biggest worry if they were to need LTSS is becoming a burden on family members. Only 10% of respondents worried about not being able to stay in their community, and only 11% worried about having to live in a nursing home.

  • With the appropriate technologies, many home and community-based services, housing, care and service delivery models can be efficient and cost-effective—addressing concerns about affordability and burdening family members with care. PACE, adult day care and programs similar to Life Plan Community at Home are potential opportunities. 

People with higher incomes are less concerned than lower-income individuals about becoming socially isolated and lonely if they needed help with basic living activities, and older people are less concerned than younger people. 

  • Almost 70% of respondents worry about being isolated and alone. However, we’re seeing an explosion of affordable and easy-to-use technology solutions in the past couple of years. Internet use is high, at 82%, regardless of age and gender. It’s higher in the top income brackets, and two-thirds of even the lowest income bracket have it and expect it. The Internet now should be considered a utility, just like electricity and water. 

In fact, a recent survey from Xfinity Communities found that technology ranked as the third-most important factor in considering a future residence, behind location and price. Among respondents age 65 and up, 50% said technology was the most important factor when considering moving into multifamily communities, said Xfinity Communities VP of Strategic Initiatives Adrian Adriano in a Senior Housing News article.

In addition, speed matters. Among the 65-plus respondents, 86% cited speed as one of the top two priorities for their Internet service. Streaming services were named important by 61% of those in multifamily communities of 75 or more units, and by 53% in smaller buildings. 

Technology Priorities for Senior Living

Alwan provided some learnings for CAST members based on the full survey results.

  • Among CAST’s technology policy priorities is improving affordability, access, and connectivity for everyone, especially in rural areas.
  • Providers serving higher-income populations, like life plan communities, must prepare to provide it all: Internet, landline (or might seem to function like one), mobility support, and social connectedness.
  • Staff need, want, and expect mobility support. Communities should consider becoming more “mobile-friendly” with not only the appropriate IT infrastructure, but also policies, procedures, tools, and training. This is especially true when tapping millennials, who make up the largest recruitment pool.
  • Almost 60% of older adults use social media, even more so among the lower-income cohort, surprisingly. Organizations should consider having an ongoing communications and engagement plan. It’s also important to have a strategic presence on social media for marketing and recruitment (e.g., LinkedIn), as well as resident or client portals and apps to engage residents, staff, and family members.
  • We are swimming in data today, which is driving an increasing need for storage and Internet bandwidth. The demand on bandwidth for high-end Internet users increases by 50% year over year, including life plan community residents who watch 55% more streaming services than the average American.  

To sum up, we must incorporate technology strategically and consider innovative technology-enabled care models, powered by mobility. We should consider the implications on IT plans and IT infrastructure. And we must be sure to factor in the exponential bandwidth growth to future-proof our communities and operations. Alwan urged attendees to use CAST’s vast resources and to call on him and the CAST team for assistance in their technology journey.