Page 22 — Health Care & Senior Housing Quarterly — April 2021 SENIOR HOUSING — TRENDS W e live in a youth-obsessed society, barraged with negative messages about aging. Hide your gray! Get- ting old is the pits! Beware the silver tsunami! Old people will bankrupt our economy! After years of soaking in these messages – beginning when we’re toddlers watching cartoons and children’s movies that, more often than not, depict older people as either evil or bumbling and foolish – we all hold negative perceptions of aging. And it’s impossible that we aren’t seeing and doing our work as senior living operators, architects and developers through this lens of ageism. As a result, senior liv- ing communities often reflect and perpetuate harmful and outdated views of what it means to be old. Indeed, if you stop to consider the common negative messages about aging, you’ll begin to see just how evident they are in our current model of services. The wildly popular resort approach to senior living, with its promise of a carefree life of leisure and visions of whiling away our later years with feet propped up and a cocktail at our side, reflects the societal view that older people no longer have anything of value to offer to the world. Framing resi- dents as customers whose only role is to receive services is damaging to individuals as well as to the com- munity culture. Those who study citizen engagement and communi- ty-building have long noted that a customer versus citizen mentality leads to helplessness, a dependence on leadership to fix problems and a self-directed focus rather than a con- sideration of the needs of others. Further, multiple research studies have found that meaningful pur- pose – having a reason to get up in the morning and something to give back to the world – has been corre- lated with a reduced risk of devel- oping dementia, an increase in lon- gevity and protections against heart disease and stroke. This marketing message of selling dependence on others is even more troubling when we consider that studies have found that older people fear losing their independence even more than they fear death. It’s likely that senior liv- ing messaging may be unwittingly playing into and perpetuating these fears. The old adage that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is another ageist belief that creeps into our community cultures. If you’ve worked in or visited a senior living community, you’ve likely heard a team member reference a resident as only his or her past identity. “Mr. Smith was the CEO of a company. Mrs. Jones was a scien- tist with the government.” Because, we’re taught that learning ends when old age begins, we tend to view residents as stagnant beings no longer capable of learning or growing when, in fact, we not only can continue to learn new things as we age, but also we need to contin- ue to learn and challenge ourselves to maintain cognitive health as we age. There are no longevity or vitality research outcomes to support our current model of services. In fact, the opposite is true. To live long and healthy lives, we don’t need carefree lives of leisure, we need purpose and a reason for being. We don’t need flawless customer service, we need the responsibili- ties and rewards that come with citizenship and belonging to a true community. We don’t need to be only honored for who we were in the past, we need to challenge ourselves to continue to learn and grow. As it stands right now, the vast majority of people don’t want what we’re offering. A 2018 AARP study found that 76% of those over the age of 50 plan to stay put in their homes as they age – even though, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard Univer- sity, only 1% of the current housing stock offers the features needed to support those with age-related mobility challenges. In addition to living in homes that don’t support changing physical needs, many Transform communities beyond brick-and-mortar Jill Vitale- Aussem President and CEO, Christian Living Communities Residents run a community radio station at Holly Creek, a Christian Living Communities property in Centennial. Please see Vitale-Aussem, Page 24