Lynne Katzmann
Not everyone is convinced that conflict is coming with the baby boomers. In fact, some argue that the next phase of elder care might well be full of peace, love, understanding—and affinity groups.
“I don’t think you’re going to be seeing a war, as much as islands in a large lake,” says Lynne Katzmann, founder and president of Juniper Communities, in New Jersey. “What you’re going to see is not so much divisions within communities, but divisions, community to community. I think small- to mid-size operators are going to try to create affinities. You’ll see NPR buildings, ‘Roll Tide’ buildings.
“You’ll have buildings that are predominantly Catholic,” Katzmann adds. “You’ll have buildings that are predominately Jewish. I’ve got a group of Buddhists who are after me to form a building.”

Key Color Is Green

It’s not all traditional affinities, though. Care centers are already opening that cater to aging gay and lesbian families, says Dayne DuVall, chief operating officer of the National Certification Board for Alzheimer Care.

“We talk a lot about the fear of being forced ‘back into the closet,’” DuVall says. “We’re only in our first generation where being gay or lesbian is okay, and it’s still not okay in some areas. You can see why a safe space is really attractive.”

Still, if DuVall and Katzmann are right, the key color to the next generation of affinity-based care centers, then, won’t be black and white—it’ll be green. “We’re going to see it on a socioeconomic basis,” Katzmann says.

Those who can afford it will congregate in care centers with people who share their interests, if not their demography. “At the end of the day,” Katzmann says of her fellow boomers, “what we want is community. We want to feel alive.”

A Consumer Group

Yes, say a great many cynical Gen-Xers, but boomers are the generation who promised they’d “die before I get old.” What’s up with that?

“There’s a body of research about the emotional intelligence of older persons,” Katzmann says. As boomers age, she expects, they’ll increasingly mellow out.

“I did a lot of crazy things when I was younger,” she says, “But that’s when I was younger. Now, we want people to talk to, things to do.”

It’s not just “things” to do, though, experts point out. It may be everything to do—at once.

“It’s a big challenge,” says Jodi Lyons, chief executive officer of Senior Sherpa, a company that advocates for elders in care centers. “The baby boomers are consumers. They’re a consumer group. And they’re a consumer group that’s not particularly well known for following the rules. They ask, ‘What do I believe in? What actions do I need to take to protect those beliefs? And, if it means breaking the rules, then too bad for the rules.’”

‘Death To The Schedule’

One of the casualties of the boomers’ arrival in care centers may well be the schedule.

Dayne DuVall“I think having a dynamic activity program is going to be really important,” says Love Dave, administrator and co-owner of Elmhurst Extended Care just west of Chicago. “In the future, we’re going to have to have a plethora of unscheduled individual activities. With that generation, they’re not going to want to be in the center all day long. They’re used to getting out and about. Even having transportation available. They’re not going to sit still.”

Again, the primary color is green—fitting a building out for a generation used to taking WiFi, cable, cheap gas, electronics, gadgets, and so on is going to be expensive. But DuVall, the Alzheimer’s advocate, says that the schedule is overdue for a peaceful end. “Death to the schedule,” he says. “I’m thinking of having T-shirts printed.” In DuVall’s view, centers can’t provide person-centered care unless the person sets the schedule, not the staff.

Indeed, Dave, the Elmhurst provider, is talking with his family about how to budget for the boomer future. It’s not an easy discussion, but it’s a discussion that can’t be avoided, Dave says. “One of our biggest challenges here is that we don’t have private rooms,” he says. “We think that’s going to be one of the biggest deal-breakers for baby boomers. Baby boomers are going to do what they want, whether we like it or not.”