When it comes to senior living, many people use “community” and “facility” interchangeably—but they’re not the same thing. Although senior living communities include facilities for activities like exercise and dining, that’s not where people live—people live in communities where they make friends, enjoy fellowship, and create memories.
Today, Senior Living Culture is all About Community
If you think that your mom is too much of a free spirit to enjoy senior living, or that your dad is too “set in his ways,” do yourself a favor and keep thinking. Open your mind to how you see your parent or loved one living this next stage of their life.
A senior living community is a new beginning, the end of an era, and business as usual all at the same time. Your parent or loved one can get the care they need while doing what they love and maintaining relationships they have now while making new ones.
Different seniors require different kinds of care. Maybe your loved one is still very active, but now they require help with some basic daily tasks. Many seniors move into communities and find new interests and hobbies. It’s probably hard to picture your loved one in a “facility,” but thinking of them in a healthy community should help make deciding on a community easier.
Today, senior living communities offer residents a lot more than just facilities. They provide seniors with an easier, freer way to live their best lives. Let’s take a closer look.
What is a Senior Living Community, and why do People Call Them Facilities?
At its most basic definition, a senior living community is for seniors over 55—but it certainly doesn’t end there. People started calling the homes where seniors who needed a certain level of care “facilities'' because, back then, they were focused on the facility aspect of communities.
Also, there are still plenty of seniors who require a skilled care facility, which are patient-focused and provide various levels of medical care. If your parent needs round-the-clock nursing and medical care, a skilled care facility is appropriate.
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The “Community” Difference
Today, senior living communities include facilities such as medical or physical therapy, so there will always be a focus on efficiencies, staff skills, and patient outcomes. It’s easy to see why someone may just think all senior living is in a facility. However, often when people use these terms, they are actually referring to the entire senior living community.
Keep remembering the word “community.” If we focus only on the facilities aspect of a community, you’ll never shake those old stereotypes that are no longer relevant.
Senior living used to be a lot different.
Senior Living: Background
Modern senior living communities stem from the private nursing homes of the 1950s, which were prescriptive in nature and focused on the resident only as a patient in a facility, not as a human in a community. This is where most of the negative pop culture imagery of early nursing homes became a thing, and that probably shaped how we still think of them.
Even in the beloved classic sitcom The Golden Girls, one of the funniest and longest-running gags in the series is when middle-aged Dorothy jokes about sending her 80+ year old mother Sophia “back to Shady Pines,” referring to the often maligned “old folks home” where Sophia stayed after a stroke. Although the show is a favorite, jokes like this have shaped the negative view of senior living. Movies, books, and TV shows often portrayed “nursing homes” as sad and negative—but things have changed so, so much.
Senior Living: The New Reality
Modern senior living communities are about a lot more than patient care facilities. To put it simply, senior living has evolved with senior needs and evolving senior attitudes.
Today’s senior citizens have a whole new idea of what “retirement” means and what they expect out of this next phase of their lives. They want to keep enjoying activities like tennis and yoga, or chess and trivia contests. They want to learn new things, enjoy new experiences, and create tight bonds with the people around them.
Communities have to meet the new consumer expectations of the senior living lifestyle, which brings a slew of benefits for those who live there.
Senior Living: Benefits
- Enjoying friendships, new and old
- Participating in leisure—even if leisure means a power walk
- Learning new activities, because people never stop being curious
- Finding new hobbies and or enjoying old favorites
- Hosting family and friends for holidays and other celebrations
- Enjoying all the things the senior never previously had time for
- Taking advantage of amenities, like meals prepared by personal chefs
Boomers have changed the senior living landscape.
Baby boomers never saw themselves getting old, but now it’s time for the kids who partied at Woodstock to retire, and they want to retire their own way. Baby boomers have a completely different post-55 life than their parents did. As with everything else, boomers demand to retire differently.
The first thing they’re doing differently? Working longer and retiring later than their parents. Boomers approach aging differently than their parents. While the Greatest or Silent Generations had no trouble admitting that they were getting older, boomers don’t think they’re “old” until they hit 75—even as they become the largest generation to ever retire in the U.S.
We always knew senior living would be different for the boomers—and it is, in so many good ways. They see post-retirement living as their next adventure. They’re interested in staying active, demand up-to-date tech, and care about things like sustainable living and wellness.
Boomer Demands Help Define the Future of Senior Living
These boomer demands are part of why senior living communities have evolved into meaningful communities, offering not just luxury amenities, but enriching activities and plenty of time with family and friends—all without the hassle of keeping up a household.
The future of senior living is about health, freedom, and enrichment. Are facilities involved? Sure. But they’re part of the larger senior living community.
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Now that you know a senior living community is about so much more than its facilities, hopefully you can find the right community for your loved one.
What’s the next step? Determining which type of senior living lifestyle will best fit your loved one. There are different levels of care available, from Independent and Assisted Living, to Personal Care and Memory Care. While you still have more to learn on this journey, continue on resting assured that you’re looking for a community for your parent or loved one—not a facility.
We’ve broken down what each senior living community lifestyle type means in this Where to Start guide. Download it now and find answers to more of your senior living questions.
This post was originally published in January 2021 and updated in November 2022.