Thursday, April 20, 2017

"Lumping All Seniors Together Just Doesn't WorK'

To someone under 30, all seniors might seem to share more-or-less the same attitudes, needs, and characteristics. Move that number upward a couple of decades, and the differences become more apparent. As one gets closer to senior citizen status, or experiences it with their own parents, one can easily see how there might be some shared experiences among various age groups, but there are vastly different outlooks on life also.

By the way, what is a senior anyway? Depends on who you ask. At the extreme low end of the scale (and not meant to be serious), someone over 30 might be senior to someone in grade school or teenager. It could be someone in their 40s or 50s to a younger person - or anyone with thinning, gray, or white hair, for instance regardless of their actual chronological age.

AARP considers 50 to be the age threshold. Many restaurants and retailers offer senior discounts at age 55. For other establishments, they offer discounts or additional services at age 60 or 62. Traditional retirement age, and the qualification age for Medicare, is 65. Many whole life have an effective end date of 65 for premiums. Disability insurance often stops at age 65 also, presumably because this was the conventional retirement age. Many businesses that had a mandatory retirement age at 65 have moved that to 70. The TSA considers age 75 the time when seniors can keep their jackets and shoes on while going through security screening.

In short, it's all over the board - depending on the definition used and who you ask. Thus, senior is a relative term.

That said, how can one outlook on life, one set of policies, one voting perspective, or one anything else encompass seniors, any more than the same kind of overview can be applied to "young people," "Millennials," or other group? There are averages to be sure, but so many varied personalities, needs, and lifestyles are embodied in age groupings.

Sure, the Baby Boomers comprise a large segment of the senior population - the over 65 group, if we arguably want to set 65 as the entry threshold into being an official senior citizen. It has nothing to do with physical, sensory, or cognitive abilities but simply on the age attainment.

However, Boomers are the only people in the senior category. The oldest Baby Boomer is now 71. That leaves some 30 years (age 100 or so) or non-Boomers - people from other generations, with their own favorite music genre, movies that were popular at various times in their lives, products they used to use that no longer exist, inventions and discoveries they have seen, events they have witnessed, political campaigns they recall, and other shared experiences peculiar to people alive at various times over the past many years.

While the needs and attitudes of everyone over age 65 are likely to be more homogeneous than the population as a whole, including the very young, seniors can't just be considered as a marketing group because their are so many differences that occur - physically if nothing else - with advancing years. A 55-year old likely is much more active (though not universally) physically - golf, biking, swimming, tennis, or jogging, for instance - than someone 65. Add 10 more years, and it is different still, and so forth.

As we get older, our needs and interests change. Our ability or inclination to do different things that we once enjoyed wanes in many cases with the passing years. Similarly, we find new interests and activities that we didn't do at earlier times of our lives.

In working with seniors, in creating effective housing solutions for them, and in assisting the to age in place successfully, we have to look at the individual and not generalize. There are similarities among generations to be sure, but we have to approach our work focusing on the individual and not what we think applies to an age group.

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Steve HoffackerCAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist-instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn