Jennifer Axelson, LCSW, CCM, MSCC, CLCP
Martha Kern


A sense of purpose contributes to wellbeing and longevity – having a reason to get up in the morning that is meaningful and fulfilling may add years to a senior’s life. The infusion of purpose, in the form of work or volunteerism or the championing of a cause, may be a critical ingredient for senior-living facilities to find success with the Baby Boom generation.

Above and beyond basic safety and sustenance, Baby Boomers want and expect communal living environments to support and enrich their desire to learn, contribute and grow.  In turn, senior-living communities might benefit from longer terms of residence, happier customers, and a greater percentage of seniors who want to move in instead of emphatically resisting it.

The disability movement that took root 30 or 40 years ago shattered the idea that individuals with disabilities should be merely housed and kept safe with little or no expectation for personal growth.  The concepts of inclusion and “mainstreaming” inspired our culture to help individuals with disabilities make the most of their lives, to be treated equally, to reach full potential.

Perhaps it’s time to apply these same principles to seniors.

Purpose-Driven Communities

Communities that make purpose a priority are already springing up and experimenting with different ways to promote true engagement.  Providing residents with a platform from which they can pursue passions and/or do something for other people is viewed as a means of building self-esteem and resiliency.

Here are a few of the ideas under consideration or being implemented:

  • Developing communities near animal shelters, food banks or recycling centers opens the door to volunteer opportunities, interaction with younger people, activism and the chance to help others;
  • Building independent/assisted living communities on or near college campuses promotes education and allows access to libraries and transportation systems put in place for students;
  • Organic gardens, maintained by residents, might enable seniors to cultivate produce that is used in day care centers, hospitals and the facility itself;
  • Creation of living history environments that can be toured and enjoyed by school groups could allow residents to teach children about how they grew up, customs of the past, and important social movements they’ve been a part of.
  • Senior-led classes that allow residents to share their expertise in art, history, computer use, foreign language, gardening or other pursuits fosters education and the sense that one can pass along the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime.

Profession-oriented communities bring together seniors who have worked in the same field and who share similar interests.  One such community, Villa Gardens (in Pasadena, CA) was originally founded as a home for retired teachers and continues to have a large population of people who worked in education.  The building boasts a large library, hosts lectures and encourages residents to offer education-oriented summer camps with local kids.

“Artist colony” projects have been developed for seniors by a company called EngAGE. They partnered with a housing developer and now have seven communities in operation featuring creative pursuits such as art, performing, and writing.

A focus on engagement, purpose, contribution and being part of something larger than oneself may be the hallmark of successful senior-living communities in the future.  Much has been done to create beautiful spa-like environments that serve varied meals at flexible times.  Baby boomers will want more – they will want something meaningful to do with their time, and a place where they can continue to grow.

© Lifecare Innovations

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