There’s a Silver Wave approaching, and it’s going to cause a lot of change in American society, from real estate and finance to healthcare and the workforce. Sometimes also called the Silver Tsunami, it’s the phenomenon we’re looking at right now in which a country’s population gradually shifts to an increasingly aged population, with more seniors and older adults outnumbering younger demographics.
As of 2019, there are more than 40 million Americans over the age of 65. In 2010, this demographic accounted for only 13 percent of the overall population. But by 2030, it’s expected to grow to 20 percent of Americans, or about 72.1 million. The Census Bureau estimates that “in less than two decades … older adults are projected to outnumber kids for the first time in U.S. history.” That’s a huge shift, and a large growth in a population demographic nationwide.
This presents a challenge for many families. For instance, many homes today aren’t built to accommodate senior citizens with mobility challenges, but moving out of the family home into an assisted living facility can present its own challenge of affordability. How we address the need for this demographic will cause ripple effects to future generations.
Many homes that have already been built cannot accommodate the mobility challenges that older adults may experience. For example: lighting, light switches, stairs, carpet and rugs, and counter height may not be ideal for an older adult. Despite these challenges, there many older adults still want to age in place. Their reasons include affordability; a desire to remain in the family home; a desire to create a space for their children or grandchildren to continue to create memories, or to share intergenerational housing.
Moving to an assisted living facility or nursing home may be viewed as expensive and highly disruptive. Some older adults today are trying to avoid having to make that choice. The age-in-place movement has given rise to a growing industry of professionals who specialize in modifying homes to fit the needs of older adults. This may include removing carpet from stairs; installing chair lifts; changing out light switches from flip switches to rocker switches; installing brighter lights or runner lights along floors and cabinets; and reorganizing furniture to accommodate mobility needs.
However, with a growing number of older adults remaining in their homes, this means that those homes aren’t then going onto the real estate market. The traditional pipeline of downsizing to a smaller home is changing, which may prevent some younger buyers from finding the homes they need in a price range or location they can afford. This creates a ripple effect and affects a greater amount of the population than just the older adults and their families.
Healthcare and Finances
Healthcare and personal finance go together in this case. Older adults are frequently on a fixed income, meaning that any changes in costs, or the occurrence of an illness or severe medical event, means that they may not be able to afford medical or other bills.
The growing number of older adults creates a growing demand placed on programs like Social Security. This demographic has paid into Social Security all (or almost all) their lives, and many believe that it’s only right that they collect on the security they’ve been promised. However, Social Security was never designed to accommodate the huge population we have now, and it’s going to become even more difficult for Social Security to provide for each person in their retirement.
Without a secure source of funds, it may be more difficult for an older adult to move into an assisted living facility. If insurance will not cover the cost of a facility, regardless of whether it’s then the older adult, or their family, is burdened with paying out of pocket.
Families can help their older relatives prepare by consulting with a professional to help them understand how each living choice affects their finances. If they can afford to make accommodations to stay in their home and it’s safe to do so, then that is absolutely an option to consider. If they can’t afford to remain in their home, or it is impractical or unsafe to do so, then it may be time to consider other options, such as moving in with a relative, moving to a facility, or downsizing to a smaller home.