A very informative and well-sourced recent report “Growing Old Together” by the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia (CFNOVA) outlines “the family, homes, and budgets our region needs as we age” – as a Shape of the Region (TM) special report.
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People approaching retirement in the Northern Virginia region are expressing a strong preference to remain in the area but those preferences need to be supported financially. Older adults deserve to age in place in a community that accommodates their changing physical needs and provides the family, home, and budget needed to thrive. Below, we discuss the priorities older residents have as they age and look for housing.
Family and Proximity to Support
While the US and countries around the globe are experiencing an older population, the increase in Northern Virginia—61%—is faster than most metropolitan areas and is driven primarily by natural aging and not in-migration.
Family and friends are responsible for the vast majority of care and guardianship for citizens over 50, and not everyone has access to family members or friends to provide this need for companionship and support. Many older adults throughout the region are socially and/or physically isolated without available known family members to aid them. Others might have support in place but struggle with isolation if they live alone and cannot get the level of care they need.
Home and the Ability to Age-In-Place
The average senior Northern Virginia homeowner has lived in their home for 20+ years, indicating the limited supply of accessible new and existing homes. The housing stock is unfortunately not equipped to meet the physical and cognitive needs of an aging population, meaning that most individuals are living in outdated homes that could pose a threat to their safety and well-being.
The data shows that older Virginians want to age in place but physically cannot in homes not built for older bodies. Moreover, a quarter of older Virginians live alone, increasing the risk of falls, injuries, and accidents.
Budget and Thriving on A Fixed Income
Exiting the labor force and steadily evolving healthcare needs result in a change in income and expenses. Relatively typical increases in medical expenses, housing, and care all add up to substantial costs for an individual, making it harder to settle financially on a house that better reflects their physical and cognitive needs as they age. Add to that very significant increase in costs from inflation, tax burden, wage inflation (driving up service costs), supply chain-driven cost increases in medical equipment, medicine and other supplies – and a fixed income is under enormous pressure.
As well, with age, the likelihood of having limitations and requiring caregiver help increases steadily. The realities of aging and the need to accommodate—and anticipate—changes in health affects lifestyle, priorities, and future plans.
Affordability in a metro area is a fickle thing, especially during periods of decreasing economic stability. A retiree’s budget looks vastly different than their working-age peers, and most older adults cannot and do not want to rely exclusively on loved ones for their needs.
Initiatives We Can Take
We need to ask ourselves how Northern Virginia can:
- Support the family priority by making it easier to enter and remain in a caregiving role
- Support the home priority by increasing the supply of accessible, affordable housing
- Support the budget priority by helping individuals plan, earn, and afford more
When combating the family priority, we ultimately need to make it financially and logistically easier to enter and remain in the caregiver role and equip workers who are caring for older residents with greater flexibility in and where they work. We must expand respite and in-kind support to eliminate financial barriers to becoming a caregiver.
For the housing initiative, we must include accessibility and a universal design in our affordable housing plans. Incentivizing the development of housing units and properties that allow for multigenerational living is integral for older adults looking for proximity, independence, support, and affordability.
We can support the budget priority by providing public, universal financial planning and by helping older Northern Virginians retain and return to their jobs if they can. Exploring ways to reduce premiums and expand services offered under Medicare is another option to explore as well.
We can also find ways to support and promote initiatives to improve economic conditions, which range from policy change to re-orientation of spending and investment priorities – for our neighborhoods, municipalities, state and nation.
The growing silver economy has the power, agency, and potential to solve the issues outlined but older adults and their families need a way to navigate the range of options available to them to age in place successfully to support a thriving Northern Virginia economy.