Last year Ms. Bowers, 87, started having trouble getting around, and Ms. Ruben felt that helping her mother from across the country was at best a difficult prospect. In January, Ms. Ruben moved her mother to Sunrise at Mill Basin, in Brooklyn.
“Just in case she fell, I know that there’s something here, versus ‘how am I going to help her when she’s in Walnut Creek, Calif., and I’m in Brooklyn?’ Peace of mind — that has been a huge gift,” Ms. Ruben said.
Ms. Ruben and her mother are an example of a phenomenon that is driving an increase in the construction of senior housing across the United States. More assisted living, independent living and continuing care retirement communities are being built — not necessarily in the warmer climates where seniors have traditionally retired, like Florida and Arizona, but wherever economies are robust and booming, in places like New York, Denver, Chicago and Atlanta.
It is not uncommon for today’s seniors to live well into their 80s, 90s, even past 100. And when they can no longer be entirely independent, many are moving to be near their adult children for help in the last stage of their lives.
The need for more of this kind of housing is also driven by the need to combat what many see as a growing problem of isolation among people in this older generation. Of Americans age 65 and older, 28 percent — 11 million people — live alone, according to the United States Census Bureau. And the National Council on Aging estimates that eight million adults over the age of 50 are affected by isolation, which can harm both mental and physical health, said Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of the AARP Foundation, which introduced Connect2Affect in 2016 to help raise awareness and offer solutions to senior isolation.
Ms. Ryerson said that the health effects of prolonged isolation have been found to be the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to a study in Perspectives on Psychological Science. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America also found that social isolation and loneliness are associated with higher risk of mortality in adults 52 and older. Senior living communities, where people of similar ages and abilities live together, can help combat that isolation, as can moving closer to adult children, who can then more easily help take care of their parent’s needs.
“It’s often the case that the adult child — and usually adult daughter — visits their parent and finds there’s something that’s not completely copacetic,” said Beth Burnham Mace, chief economist and director of outreach for the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care. “They left the stove on, or have ambulatory needs, or trouble with meds. Something sets off an alarm bell that they need some type of assistance.”
As Ms. Ryerson pointed out, “We need meaningful connections.” When senior parents move closer to their adult children, those connections are often more frequent, and more personal.
Erickson Living, based in Catonsville, Md., has 20 senior properties, including Cedar Crest, and is developing seven more, said Adam E. Kane, the organization’s senior vice president of real estate acquisition and corporate affairs.
The company looks to two types of areas when deciding where to build new facilities, he said. The first is “infill markets” — places that are already densely populated, like Northern New Jersey — for seniors who either want to stay in the area where they have lived or move closer to adult children.
The second is what Mr. Kane calls “growth corridor markets,” where the company sees population moving even if “there’s really not a plethora of aging demographics in the local area, but it’s a growth market where you have a lot of adult children moving to and living there.”
In 2008, for example, the company opened Ashby Ponds in Loudoun County, Va. When construction started, “it was not considered a densely populated area, but it attracted mostly younger families seeking to get newer homes and larger homes,” Mr. Kane said. The facility was successful in attracting seniors from the inner Washington suburbs, he said, “either because they have family there or are looking for newer product and more value.” Erickson is currently going through the zoning process to build a similar facility in Fairfax, Va., for the same reason.
No matter what the economy does, Ms. Mace said, senior housing is going to be needed in the future, especially as the baby boomer generation ages. According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of the American population 65 and older will increase by 6 percent — up to 75.5 million people — by 2030. Ms. Mace predicted that the kinds of facilities that currently exist will continue to be in demand. But there may be other kinds of housing as well, including cogenerational and even “Golden Girls”-type setups, where single older adults can choose to live together.
“We’ve seen the values of living in senior housing: socialization, hospitality, better nutrition, better exercise,” Ms. Mace said. And when it is the baby boomers’ turn, she added, they will already be familiar with the model — and ready to move in.
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