Each May since 1963, our nation has celebrated Older Americans Month (OAM) — a time to recognize and honor the important contributions and achievements of our older citizens. The theme of this year’s 60th anniversary OAM, “Aging Unbound,” acknowledges the value of maintaining as much independence and autonomy as possible, as well as the importance of nurturing personal fulfillment as we grow older.

What does this theme — “Aging Unbound” — mean in reality? How can it be applied to not only today’s seniors but also to the senior living industry that strives to market itself to prospective new residents?

Aging unbound and positively

We’ve written before about the concept of positive aging, and it seems there is a close tie between these two concepts. In essence, positive aging is embracing a view that growing older is a healthy, normal part of life. In addition, it encourages instituting whatever means are necessary in order to continue to do the things you love and pursue your passions as you age.

According to the Administration on Community Living (ACL), which sponsors Older Americans Month, “Aging Unbound” also promotes challenging the stereotypical, and sometimes negative, perceptions on aging. The ACL suggests seniors can shift the narrative in a number of ways.

>> Related: A Positive Aging Mindset May Slow or Even Reverse the Aging Process

Embracing opportunities to change

That change might be finding and pursuing a new passion. It could mean setting out on an adventure — be it around the block or around the world. Or it might be finding purpose in creativity or self-expression. Today’s seniors can and should push boundaries and not let their age define their limits.

Exploring the benefits of growing older

There is some wisdom that can only be achieved with life experience. That hard-won knowledge offers seniors the insight and confidence to understand the world more deeply and view it with more grace. Continue to nurture that wise insight through activities like reading, exploring different ideas and perspectives, taking continuing education classes, and pursuing creative endeavors.

Staying engaged in your community

Our shared community benefits when all of its members are connected and involved as stakeholders. Seniors can stay active within the broader community through volunteering their time and talents to a worthwhile cause they’re passionate about, working in an encore career, mentoring a child or student, joining a social club, and/or participating in activities at the local senior center or elsewhere in the community.

Forming relationships

There’s more and more research confirming the importance of interpersonal connection for our mental and physical health. As a crucial ingredient of overall well-being, relationships with family, friends, and community members enhance seniors’ quality of life and also can introduce them to new ideas and unique perspectives.

>> Related: Why Socialization May Be CCRCs’ Top Selling Point Post-Pandemic

Appealing to a new 55 community prospect

A positive aging mindset melds perfectly with “Aging Unbound” for today’s seniors, who, as a group, are more vivacious and active than most previous generations. They refuse to be constrained or defined by a chronological number. After all, these are folks who came of age when a tide of change was sweeping the country, so challenging society’s expectations and rules is in their blood.

Perhaps in part because of this mindset that norms were made to be questioned, the people who are reaching retirement age now often don’t think of themselves as “old” or “seniors.” In many cases, they aren’t looking for a rocking chair in a retirement community, or shuffleboard, or a formal dining room where you have to dress up for dinner. They find fulfillment and vitality in…

…Exploring the world or seeing the country, perhaps from their motorcycle or camper.

…Learning something new, like how to play pickleball or speak a new language.

…Continuing to contribute to their broader community in a meaningful way.

…Enjoying delicious, healthy, locally sourced food with friends in a relaxed setting.

Of course, these are generalizations, but to many of today’s senior living prospects and residents, this is what “Aging Unbound” looks like. This is what “independent living” means to them.

To meet the needs and expectations of this new generation of seniors, the senior living industry needs to continuously rethink what a retirement community looks like.

Prospects of 55 communities like senior living apartments, continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), and other senior living communities are looking for qualities like wellness and social programming, environmentally conscious design, an array of dining options, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and more. They want to remain as independent as possible for as long as possible, with access to services and amenities that make this feasible.

The 55 community that wants to thrive into the future will embrace these priorities, enabling this next generation of residents to achieve their goal of “Aging Unbound.”

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