What’s in a name? When it comes to senior living communities – plenty.

BrooksideFor those of us “of a certain age,” it seems hard to believe that within five years, most of the Baby Boomer generation will be of retirement age.

… This also means that millions of people will be thinking about downsizing, right-sizing, or whatever the applicable term may be.

All sorts of considerations come into play when making such a decision; climate, social, cultural and recreation opportunities, plus proximity to relatives are some of the most common.

But when the dust settles, most people will actually end up “aging in place.”

That’s one key finding from a recent survey of ~4,000 American Baby Boomer households that was conducted by the Demand Institute Housing & Community.

Not only do nearly two-thirds of the respondents plan to stay in their current homes, the majority of them feel that their homes are well-suited for aging – even if they’re multi-story, don’t offer accessibility features, or aren’t particularly low-maintenance structures.

But the survey suggests another interesting dynamic that may also be at work:  the notion that senior living communities are primarily places for people who have serious health issues or who can’t take care of themselves on their own.

Let’s face it.  Baby Boomers don’t consider themselves part of that cohort at all, which they equate with people who are substantially more elderly than themselves.

When you think about it, so many of the terms used to describe senior living facilities convey exactly the wrong thing to Baby Boomers.  The names may well be accurate descriptions of the properties in question, but they fairly scream “geriatrics.”


I’ve run across quite a few descriptors.  A good number of them reside in the same wheelhouse – which is to say, distinctly unattractive.  Meanwhile, other alternative names are often too narrowly descriptive as well, because one important aspect of senior living is to access to continuing care if and when that becomes necessary.

Either way, those charged with marketing these properties clearly prefer the word “community” over the word “center” or “home.”  But you can be the judge of how successful these names really are:

  • 55+ communities
  • Active adult communities
  • Age-restricted communities
  • Continuing care retirement communities
  • Elder cohousing communities
  • Independent living communities
  • Leisure communities
  • Mature living communities
  • Senior housing communities
  • Senior living communities

The bottom line on this is pretty fundamental:  Few people – regardless of how old they are – wish to be reminded of the limitations of life on a downward curve.  It’s just not compatible with the positive attributes that are so much a part of human nature.  Anything we can do to avoid being reminded of our mortality, we’ll do.

Obviously, that reluctance to face the reality of aging is of concern to property developers in the housing industry as well.  One of the actions coming out of field research such as the Diamond study is a new initiative to establish an alternative “umbrella descriptor” that works across the entire spectrum of senior living facilities.

It will be interesting to see where that exercise will end up.  As for me, I’m guessing it’ll still telegraph “geriatric.”  But perhaps we’ll end up being surprised.

One thought on “What’s in a name? When it comes to senior living communities – plenty.

  1. I’m not sure the name is the problem…maybe the whole concept of age-segregated communities is the problem. I vote for integrating senior-friendly housing and services in real communities.

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