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Wie integrativ ist Ihre Seniorengemeinschaft?

von NFI Redaktion

While caring for her aging parents, LJ Ingram contemplated what she and her wife wanted for their future. „We prefer to enjoy our golden years with less worry,“ says Ingram, 69.

Millions of American families can relate. According to the US Census Bureau, by 2030, all baby boomers will be over 65, and one in five Americans will be considered an older adult. Close behind, the oldest members of Generation X will be turning 59. With age often comes decisions about living arrangements.

There’s another shift happening: „The older adult generation is becoming more diverse,“ says Marvell Adams Jr., CEO of the non-profit Caregiver Action Network and co-founder and CEO of W Lawson Company, a consulting firm focusing on equity in aging.

According to the National Institute on Aging, diversity can encompass various factors including:

  • Age
  • Cultural background
  • Cognitive and physical abilities
  • Education and socioeconomic background
  • Gender identity
  • Language
  • Neurodiversity
  • Race and ethnic identity
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation

Traditionally, senior living facilities like retirement communities, independent living, assisted living, and memory care residences have not always catered to the full spectrum of diversity. „Our infrastructure for senior and elder services has been somewhat isolated in many respects,“ says Adams.

For Ingram, finding a senior living community where she and her wife could feel welcome was crucial. Families of other backgrounds are also seeking culturally integrative communities. The industry is beginning to respond to this demand.

For many, finances are a significant obstacle to joining a senior living community. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), the average cost of assisted living in the US is $4,500 per month or $54,000 per year. Costs can vary significantly based on location and required services.

„Entering into assisted living and life plan communities where there are certain levels of care to go through may incur an entrance fee and a substantial monthly fee, and residents are typically predominantly affluent and white,“ says Adams. „If you have the means, you can seclude yourself within a similar age group and with people you have known your whole life.“

Other factors such as health status and cultural preferences also play a role.

In a study of 5,212 Medicare enrollees, the likelihood of Black older adults moving into assisted living and going into nursing homes was lower than that of white seniors. This was partly attributed to finances and health status. However, „unmeasured factors related to systemic racism and/or differences in care preferences between Black and white individuals may help explain our findings,“ wrote the researchers in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B.

For some, something as tangible as the food on the menu can be crucial.

Senior communities are increasingly implementing initiatives for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB). These include both major and minor efforts to make residents more comfortable, says Sarah Kokinos, Vice President of Community Life at Erickson Senior Living based in Baltimore with locations in 11 states.

According to Kokinos, DEIB initiatives may include:

  • Expanding the menu to reflect residents‘ cultural backgrounds
  • Creating an inclusive listening culture to enable individuals with hearing impairments to participate in social life
  • Conducting educational events where residents share their backgrounds and life stories
  • Adding the Pride flag to marketing materials to signal a commitment to inclusion

„We are working to create a safe space that allows them to come into our community and be their authentic and true selves,“ says Kokinos.

Erickson has established a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council that benefits both employees and residents. In a survey of 60 senior living companies, 40% reported having DEIB programs. Most of these organizations focus on diversity in gender, race and ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

Culture-centric communities are those that focus on a specific culture, says Adams. Examples include Eben Silver Town, an independent living and care home community serving Korean and American seniors in Suwanee, Georgia, and the California-based Japanese community J-Sei, a multi-generational and multicultural organization. These residences are designed not only for one group but center around a specific culture, highlighting its customs, food, and language while being inclusive of others.

Other diverse senior housing options include intergenerational living models aiming to connect older adults with families with children, allowing people of all ages to coexist. Examples include HOME in Chicago and Bridge Meadows in Portland, Oregon.

Adams is also involved in the Historically Black Colleges & Universities Intergenerational Housing Initiative (HBCU IHI), which seeks to connect historically Black colleges with older adult communities. The initiative notes that over 100 older adult communities are affiliated with US universities but none with HBCUs. „These communities are building on the integration that I believe must be present for our industry to thrive and progress into this more diverse world,“ says Adams.

Ingram and her wife chose Riderwood, an Erickson senior living community in Silver Spring, MD – the same place where Ingram’s parents lived in their later years. „As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I can remain true to myself at Riderwood,“ says Ingram. „There are several groups on campus that prioritize inclusion and belonging. We feel comfortable being who we are and know that everyone is welcome and accepted.“

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