“Technology costs a lot,” says Debbie Bouknight, BS, AC-BC, CDP, Lexington Medical Center Extended Care, S.C. “It could be difficult for many communities if they do not have the funding available. It will be harder for them to meet the needs if they cannot provide the programming and the technology the baby boomers may desire.”
“Sheer numbers alone will tax the LTC system,” says Cindy Wagner, associate director, Shalom Cares, Aurora, Colo. “I think boomers are going to have a tremendous impact on public recreation centers since they will expect more. Even in their 80s, they will want to go skiing and hiking. They’re not going to settle for knitting circles and potlucks. And if by the time they get to us, actual skiing is no longer an option, we’ll have to improvise with virtual skiing, lectures from Olympic skiers, and YouTube videos of extreme skiers.”
Wagner’s colleague, Brenda Scott, the event coordinator for Shalom Cares, agrees that boomers will want to continue to do it all. “They won’t want to miss a thing,” she says. In fact, if overall LTC populations grow sufficiently large and activity groups continue to get smaller—as many sources are predicting—Scott says she can envision the same activity being repeated multiple times throughout the day or week in order to avoid conflicts and still accommodate everyone who is interested. This, too, will increase costs.
Melissa Dixon suggests that costs may stay about the same. Dixon works as activity director and music therapist at Rusk County Nursing Home, Ladysmith, Wis. She says, “Most residents will come to the nursing home with their own electronic devices—and already knowing how to use them. So the activity department should not have to purchase many of these items and won’t need to provide much training or technical help.”
Meanwhile, she cautions, boomers will spend more time alone in their rooms (the Facebook effect), so rooms will need to be large and comfortable, with amenities such as flat screen TVs, refrigerators, microwaves, comfortable beds that are bigger than twin size, private bathrooms and quality bath and body products. Dixon says, “We will need to meet the needs of these residents because if we don’t they won’t hesitate to find another facility that will.”
Mary Anne Favale, LPN, ACC, AC-BC, a self-employed activities consultant in Ormond Beach, Fla., echoes the notion that baby boomers are used to getting their way and have the service they demand. “They are going to be younger, more vocal and demand changes, and yes, disrupt the mainstream,” she predicts.
“They are very different thinkers, who do not follow the normal routines and rules,” Favale continues. When they reach large numbers in any given facility, they may band together. Many will have had careers in which they were used to giving orders more often they had to take them. More than a few will have some kind of dementia from smoking pot, drinking or abusing drugs.
Another element that must be factored into the cost/service equation is the impact of the depressed economy on LTC budgets. Susan Rauch, NAAP’s president, and one of the most prominent activity professionals in the country, was herself an unlikely victim of funding cuts late last year. Until November, she had directed activities for a 190-bed SNF in Poulsbo, Wash. Today, she is operating as an independent consultant working when she can with various LTC facilities throughout the area.
Rauch says her employer, like some others, found itself under financial pressure and responded by combining functions in order to cut staff. “Fortunately, layoffs are not yet a widespread phenomenon, and I hope they won’t become one,” she says.
Turning to the expected deluge of baby boomers, Rauch believes many will strive “to hold onto their independence as long as possible, and the increasing availability of home healthcare will enable this to happen. As a percentage of the elderly demographic, more people will age in place.”
As for those who do enter long-term care, Rauch says one thing will remain constant: “As always, all residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities want what everyone else wants—to be valued and have quality in their day. They want to be heard—to have their desires, thoughts and feelings validated.”
Alan Richman is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. He writes about lifestyle issues. He last wrote “Faith-based Diets” for Long-Term Living (April 2011, page 24). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.