In the “I’m Not Ready Yet” blog series, we will be taking an in-depth look at some of the most common reasons why people put off a move to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) or other senior living community.

We’ve covered two common reasons people delay a move to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC or life plan community) or other senior living community: putting off downsizing and having to decide what goes in the “Keep” pile, and concerns around affordability and the fear of running out of money. But another common refrain we hear from people who say they aren’t yet ready to make a CCRC move is that they feel that they are “not old enough” to live in a CCRC.

The relativity of “old”

In surveys we’ve conducted of prospective residents of CCRCs, we have found that roughly half of respondents say a top reason they’ve not moved to a CCRC is that they don’t feel like they are old enough to live in a retirement community. It’s probably fair to say that some people will never feel like they are! This may be in part due to the widening gap between older people’s chronological age (their age based on the number of years they’ve been alive) and subjective age, which is how old they feel on the inside.

Researchers from the Pew Research Center asked a group of adult survey participants how old they feel, in years. For respondents age 65 and older, 60 percent reported feeling younger than their chronological age, and a third said they felt exactly their age. But what was perhaps most interesting was that only 3 percent of those age 65+ said they felt older than their chronological age.

Interestingly, this Pew study found that the difference between chronological (actual) age and subjective (felt) age actually increases as people get older. Nearly half of survey respondents age 50+ said they felt at least 10 years younger than their chronological age. For those 65 to 74 years old, a third responded that they felt between 10 and 19 years younger than their chronological age. But what’s more, one out of six study participants in the 65 to 74 age group said they felt at least 20 years younger than their actual age!

If these statistics hold true across the broader population, it’s not surprising that many people in their 70s and even 80s may say that they don’t feel like they are old enough to move to a CCRC or other senior living community.

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

Overcoming ageist stereotypes

When a person feels 10 to 20 years younger than their chronological age, they may resist what they think of as things “old people” do, like move to a retirement community. But these ageist stereotypes help no one. And more and more research is finding that having a positive view of aging and what it means to be “old” can actually lengthen people’s lives.

A 2002 study by Yale University’s department of epidemiology and public health analyzed the self-perception and lived experience of 660 seniors age 50 and older. The researchers found that seniors who held more positive views about the aging process actually lived 7.5 years longer than people who perceive aging as a negative experience.

The Yale team also found that seniors who commonly encountered positive stereotypes about the aging process had notably better memory and balance than their peers. It therefore may not surprise you that the researchers also found that seniors with negative self-perceptions about getting older had worse memories and often experienced feelings of worthlessness.

Of course, having a negative self-worth likely cannot be attributed solely to age discrimination, but it appears to at least play a role. This is among the reasons that all people must raise our awareness of the hurtful nature of ageism and work to combat it. This includes people who are chronologically older but may not feel like what they subjectively think “old people” feel like.

>> Related: Positive Aging: Changing Your Mindset About Growing Older

Not an either-or situation

For those who don’t feel “old enough” to move to a CCRC or other senior living community, there is another key point to consider: It isn’t an either-or decision. Moving to a CCRC may mean that most of your neighbors are also seniors, but it by no means precludes you from associating with other age demographics. In some cases, quite the opposite.

Many CCRCs offer intergenerational programs, which encourage residents to interact with younger people. Studies have found that such programs are beneficial to both the seniors and the younger people who participate. These programs may include volunteer opportunities (such as mentoring or tutoring programs), social/entertainment opportunities (like outings to a local college’s athletic events or performances), or even educational programs, which allow CCRC residents to take courses on a nearby college’s campus.

Some CCRCs and other senior living communities also are opening their doors to members of the surrounding neighborhood, encouraging the locals to enjoy some of the amenities available on the CCRC campus. We recently shared the story of an Illinois CCRC that welcomes children from a nearby camp to come enjoy ice cream in the community’s restaurant.

Still other CCRCs have further embraced the value of intergenerational programs by inviting college students to actually live on the CCRC campus. For instance, one senior living community in Cleveland invites a certain number of college and graduate school students with financial need to live rent-free within the community. In return, the students contribute service hours to the community: things like music performances, teaching classes, or simply spending quality time with the older residents.

Such intergenerational programs are not only enjoyable for both seniors and younger participants, they have the added benefit of bringing more younger people onto the senior living campus, which can in turn attract younger senior residents to move in.

>> Related: Lifelong Learning Program Fosters Intergenerational Connections

Sooner can be better

One final point I would add for those who may still be considering delaying their CCRC move because they think they are “too young” for a senior living community…

We’ve talked with hundreds of CCRC residents over the years, and I don’t think we’ve ever had one say, “I wish I’d waited longer to move here.” In fact, quite the contrary: Many residents have told us they wish they had made the move sooner.

There are many advantages to making a CCRC move sooner rather than later — when you are younger rather than older. Some of these benefits may not become clear to the senior until after they actually make their CCRC move, but opting to move to a CCRC at a younger age:

  • Allows you to take full advantage of the community’s various programs and activities
  • Gives you time to build meaningful relationships
  • Can increase your overall well-being, and even longevity, with an enhanced focus on all aspects of wellness
  • Eliminates the anxiety and hassles that come with maintaining a house
  • Reduces concerns about being healthy enough to qualify for entry
  • Provides the financial benefit of a consistent monthly service fee, eliminating the worry of a large house maintenance/repair bill
  • In general, can make the CCRC move and transition easier

These benefits ultimately distill down to the things that many people aspire to during their retirement years: comfort, peace of mind, and enjoyment of life. (You can read more about these benefits here.) If you can achieve these retirement goals at a younger age by moving to a CCRC sooner rather than later, why would you wait?

Encouraging younger retirees to make a CCRC move

Every community needs a healthy mix of younger and older people. In a senior living community like a CCRC, a balanced attrition is actually a good thing for the financial health of the community.  You need the young 70-year-olds just as much as you need the older 80-year-olds.

I would note too that CCRCs must acknowledge and seek solutions to address this “I’m too young” conundrum.

This calls for creative thinking and innovation on the part of the senior living industry as they market their “product” to younger seniors and those who don’t think they are old enough to live in a retirement community. They must come up with new, innovative ideas for community design, programs, and amenities to attract this new generation of retirees.

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