By Jack Cumming

A conversation not long ago with a new CCRC resident was very revealing. “What brought you here,” I asked. At first, she was confused about the question, but after reflection, she responded, “My husband was 90, and he was growing a bit wobbly. I thought we might need more assistance for the future.” I asked, “Does that mean that you thought of a CCRC as a care home?” That didn’t resonate with her, so I clarified, “Do you think of this as assisted living?”

“I Feel Protected”

With that, the story came tumbling out. “Well, I don’t need care now, but I do feel protected living here. We moved in for my husband, but he died just six days after we moved in.” That broke my heart, and I shared my sympathy for her loss. She then added, “Even though I don’t need the care, I can’t go back since I sold my house to my daughter.” Our conversation didn’t end there, though.

Just as I was concluding that she considered a CCRC an assisted living facility for old people, she added, “My son is 53, and he loves it here. He came to dine and said that it was a shame that so much food went to waste. He added that he could eat everything they serve.” With age, people’s metabolisms slow and appetites diminish. She went on, “My son liked it here so much that he went to the sales office and got on the waiting list. He may not move in for another ten years.  The salesperson agreed that that might be how long it takes for the residential unit he would like to become available.” He’s now on the waiting list.

The Lifestyle Is Appealing

Her story was very interesting and was beginning to get at what I was trying to discover with my questioning, i.e., does the future of senior living lie in long-term care, or in life simplification freeing people to pursue their passions? My new friend added that her son is very impressed by the surrounding community. “He found that there’s a Michelin restaurant right here in town, and he’s already eaten there at least three times. He’s looking forward to being free of house upkeep so he can pursue life-in-the-large.”

At this point, our conversation took a different turn. “Not only is my son on the waiting list,” she continued, “but his brother heard what he had done, and now he, too, is on the waiting list here. In addition, my daughter who lives in New Hampshire, but who bought my house to escape the snow, has also joined the waiting list. She’d like to sell the house and move in herself. All three of my children may come to live here.”

Good For All Ages

That confirmed an observation that has long been taking form in my mind. I’ve hinted at this before. If the carefree communal lifestyle offered by senior living, appeals to younger empty nesters, why not welcome them, and let them move in. The community can still emphasize services and supports to give older people that same feeling of being protected.

More and more people are living as singles, and they can benefit from the camaraderie and socialization of the communal living lifestyle. Getting rid of the age barrier, perhaps making it no more than a guideline, can help bring down the age stigma, rejuvenate residency, and end the implicit ageism of age segregation. It might even become common for some who work in the industry to live where they work. Live-in executives would have an added commitment to communal well-being.

Old Attitudes Die Slowly

Many of today’s senior living leaders still view the industry as long-term care. That overlooks those who move into independent living seeking the lifestyle that appeals to my neighbor’s children. It’s not surprising that there is a disconnect between many independent living residents and central office executives and their boards.

Those younger residents believe that they are still in their prime. Many in corporate governance, especially those on boards, continue to think that senior living is a charitable care undertaking. No wonder the idea of “ready for that” tends to devolve toward those who are frail in body or mind.

Let’s Give It A Try

Is it time now to try opening the doors, at least in some communities, to all ages to test the result? If the experiment backfires, we can always return to the conventional model of a care home for older people who fear failing. There’s no law that I know of that prevents a community with an age floor from admitting younger residents.

The Federal Fair Housing law was amended to permit age discrimination for communities with (1) at least 80% of the residences having at least one occupant who is 55 or older; (2) policies and practices affirming intent to operate as a senior community for persons 55 or older; and (3) age-verification procedures to ensure compliance with the age requirements. Permitting age discrimination is not the same as requiring it. Click here for information on the law permitting age discrimination in housing.