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From the Greatest Generation to the Boomers: Senior Living Evolves

Jeff Anderson
By Jeff AndersonAugust 21, 2013
Iconic Images of Greatest Generation, Silent Genration, and Boomers

Today’s senior communities house seniors from three separate generations. From oldest to youngest: the Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers. Learn the differences between these generations and how they are impacting the evolution of senior living today.

Iconic Images of 3 GenerationsThere are three commonly recognized generations that make up the aging population and inhabit the senior living communities of today. While the exact years that separate these generations vary from source to source, the rough time periods are widely agreed upon. This article focuses on the generations, their differences and their impact on senior living. Learn more.

The Greatest Generation

(1901-1925)

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Facts:

  • Named by Tom Brokaw who wrote: “It is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”
  • Grew up during the Great Depression
  • Many served in the armed forces during World WarII
  • Racial and ethnic minorities of the generation, especially African Americans, endured extreme prejudice and abuse, including shameful institutionalized racism that was the Jim Crow Law and segregation

Characteristics:

  • Perseverance in face of adversity
  • Courageousness
  • Frugal spending habits
  • Traditional values

The Silent Generation

(1926-1944)

Facts:

  • Also known as the Post-War Generation, the “Lucky Few” and “The Traditionalists”
  • May have grown up during Great Depression but generally too young to have served in Second World War
  • Most Korean War veterans are Silent Generation members
  • Silent Generation African Americans also grew up during the era of Jim Crow but fought for and achieved significant strides in civil rights during their adulthood

Characteristics:

  • Hardworking
  • Logical
  • Loyal
  • Traditional outlook and clear sense of right and wrong
  • Conformist

The Baby Boomers

(1945-1964)

Facts:

  • Came of age during the civil rights movement and desegregation
  • Witnessed Vietnam and corresponding anti-war movement, with many members of this generation having been drafted into the service
  • Ushered in a more permissive and socially liberal culture

Characteristics:

  • Independent
  • Competitive
  • May have more open-minded social values than older generations
  • Focused on health and wellness
  • Values individuality

Boomers on the Horizon, but Greatest Generation and Silent Generation Remain Focus of Care

At assisted living communities, the majority of residents are members of the Silent Generation and Greatest Generation. A Center for Disease Control (CDC) report, National Survey of Residential Care Facilities, found that more than one half of residents at assisted living communities and residential care homes are over the age of 85. The same report that found that 40% need help with at least three more more activities of daily living, such as toileting, eating, dressing and bathing.

In other words, members of the Greatest Generation and the Silent Generation haven’t been replaced as assisted living residents by the Baby Boomers; they remain at assisted living, but are growing older and need more care. While assisted living providers are preparing for an eventual influx of boomers, the current typical assisted living resident is in their late 80’s and needs help with multiple activities of daily living. For this reason, assisted living communities in general tend to be focused on providing higher acuity care to older residents.

But, there are ways generational differences can be seen in senior living today. A Place for Mom Senior Living Advisor, Dovid Grossman, noted that the Silent Generation, including educated and independent women who are now retired, are demanding opportunities for enrichment and education throughout their life that older generations did not demand. The generation of elders who reside in today’s senior communities don’t see assisted living as the end of the road, but rather a place to continue learning and enriching the body and soul:

“My mother-in-law was the first in her family to ever attend a university and get a college education. Lifelong learning has been rooted in her lifestyle for decades and now as she considers a retirement community, it must have ongoing educational seminars to attract her. Women in her mother’s generation did not have the opportunities for advanced education and did not expect it in retirement either. Healthy eating and regular exercise follow the same trends. Many of this generation even have had and expect personal trainers in their workouts.”

Because residents under 74 years of age make up just 20% of assisted living residents, and only 9% of residents under 65, it’s clear that the Boomers have yet to made themselves felt in senior living. But, this will be changing rapidly as people are turning 65+ in record numbers each day.

Challenges of the Boomer Generation

Boomer age mother and young adult daughterThe Baby Boomer Generation is a tidal wave which will soon engulf the senior living industry. As of 2010, 13% of the U.S. population is 65+. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that “by 2030, all of the baby boomers will have moved into the ranks of the older population. This will result in a shift in the age structure, from 13 percent of the population aged 65 and older in 2010 to 19 percent in 2030.”

When those residents arrive, senior communities may have to deal with issues they’ve never dealt with before, some of which are rather sensitive. Communities are only beginning to explore policies regarding sexual activity among residents, and one can speculate that Boomers, who grew up in the sexually liberated 1960’s, will have much different attitudes about sex than current senior living residents.

The 1960’s, formative years for many Boomers, were also a time of prevalent drug experimentation and many certainly familiar with marijuana. According to Gallup, by 1985, at least one third of U.S. adults had tried marijuana at least once. And now in 2013, with 20 states permitting medical use and two states additionally allowing recreational use, assisted living communities and other long-term care providers will also have to form policies around the substance, which the New York Times reports only a few communities have begun to do.

Change is Coming

This weekend I visited my grandmother at her assisted living community in Gig Harbor, Washington, an old fishing village turned upper class suburb of Tacoma, Washington. At 90, she’s a member of the Greatest Generation and matches the profile of the typical assisted living resident to a tee, as a member of the WAVES (Women Activated for Volunteer Emergency Service) division of the navy during World War II.

During my visit, I had a a chance to speak with Anne, assistant activities coordinator at the community. I asked her about whether generational differences are recognizable at the community, and whether these differences affect her approach to her work. I was told that the differences between resident’s personalities and care needs are what she really pays attention to, rather than tailoring services based on generalities and stereotypes about generations.

However, she did relate a story that indicates there seems to be some change in the air. She said that the night before, staff had to ask a gentleman to turn down a Grateful Dead recording he was playing loudly on a stereo in his apartment. “Yes, there are hippies in assisted living now,” she laughed.

What are your thoughts about the way generational differences relate to senior care? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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