UF professor: Living choices need new terms for aging baby boomers

02/19/04

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Nursing home and assisted living are yesterday's news at least as far as baby boomers are concerned. For that still-youth-conscious group, think "DOUERs," "PERCs" and "elder parks," says a University of Florida researcher.

The first wave of boomers, who have benefited from the fitness craze and are typically healthier than their more-frail elders, have a different vision about where they want to live as they approach retirement age in huge numbers, said Stephen Golant, a UF geography professor and national authority on housing for the aging.

"Very little attention has been paid to the younger and more active older-adult population for most of the past decade," said Golant, who was a consultant to the Commission on Affordable Housing and Health Facility Needs for Seniors in the 21st Century, appointed by Congress to study in 2001-02 the housing and long-term care needs of older Americans. "Instead, the dominant emphasis has been on the frail and vulnerable elders, who have to deal with declines in their abilities to live independently and who sometimes require group housing options, such as congregate living, assisted living and continuing care communities."

Golant has coined the term DOUERs, pronounced dooers, for deliberately occupied but unplanned elder residences, to describe the growing number of townhouses, apartment buildings, subdivisions, neighborhoods, towns, communities and even small cities that are attracting an increasing share of older Americans.

"We need a new language to describe where older people live that reflects the much more positive image older people have of themselves even those with chronic health problems and physical impairments," he said.

He gives the name PERCs to planned elder residential complexes that encompass active adult retirement communities with congregate housing and assisted living communities. Elder parks refer to large residential enclaves of older adults that are attractive and well landscaped, similar to today's well-manicured office parks and industrial parks.

"Golant has repeatedly set the gold standard for carrying out innovative and insightful analysis of the changing character of older adults' living environments," said Lenard W. Kaye, a social work professor and director of the University of Maine's Center on Aging. "In focusing on the evolving living arrangements and housing accommodations of leading-edge baby boomers, Golant rightly extends discussion from gloom-and-doom characterization of institutional care to a more-balanced conversation that incorporates the emergent and diverse lifestyles of tomorrow's active elders."

Census figures project the U.S. population between 65 and 74 will increase 16 percent by 2010, Golant said. By the time the first baby boomers turn 65 between 2011 and 2020, however, the 65 to 74 age group is expected to grow by nearly 50 percent.

As they reach retirement age, more boomers will stay in the houses in which they have lived for most of their adult lives instead of moving to nursing homes, he said. That trend will be prompted not only by improved health, but also by delayed retirement tied to rising eligibility ages for Social Security, and smaller returns on stocks and savings deposits accompanying the recent downturn in the U.S. economy, said Golant, who also is affiliated with UF's Center for Gerontological Studies.

These older Americans who choose to stay put are among the growing number living in a hodgepodge of housing arrangements that are neither planned nor targeted to the elderly Golant's DOUERs. A second group of DOUERs seeks out housing considered highly desirable for older adults even though it is not identified as elderly housing.

"They may move into a condominium or subdivision that's not marketed specifically to older people," he said. "The draw is often the social ambience of living with others at the same stages in their lives and who enjoy similar lifestyles. They also like the prospects of moving into a smaller abode that is easier to maintain and may have a recreational center or clubhouse."

PERCs, which include a diverse array of assisted living and continuing-care retirement communities designed to accommodate more frail older people, will be occupied by a much smaller percentage of aging baby boomers, Golant said. But PERCs also include upscale active adult retirement communities, which include not only golf courses, tennis courts and swimming pools, but offer fitness centers, investment clubs and summer camps that allow weeklong visits by grandchildren, Golant said. PERCs are increasingly found outside the traditional Sunbelt, in states such as New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Illinois and South Carolina, despite their colder climes, he said.

Not to be confused with PERCs, elder parks dedicated to a wide variety of housing arrangements that cater to everyone from the young elderly, who are healthy and independent, to the very old and frail will sprout up on much larger tracts of land, he said. Like today's aesthetically pleasing office parks or industrial parks, elder parks may have jogging trails or other features that blend with natural settings, Golant said.

"No one objects any more if a subdivision with $400,000 homes is next to an office park because it is pretty and lavishly landscaped," he said. "That will be the same upbeat connotation of these elder parks."

Source: Eurekalert & others

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