Does Active Adult Community Marketing Pit Need for Independence Vs. Community?

Modern-day active adult retirement communities can be an “architecture of endemic loneliness” that pit the need for independence against the need for community, says the writer of an article published in The Atlantic Cities.

Filmmaker Sari Gilman follows five residents of Florida’s Kings Point retirement community in an eponymous documentary, ultimately taking issue with both the concept and the culture of the active adult communities.

Segregating the older population from their families, friends, and communities isn’t necessarily the best—or healthiest—idea, Gilman implies, and a culture of “back-stabbing” competition can arise in some senior residences where heavily-outnumbered men are sought after by their female counterparts.

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Gilman finds fault in the way these communities are marketed, with emphasis on the sporting, silver-haired set, seemingly unhampered by the reality of aging. They reflect our national obsession with self-reliance, pitting our need for independence against our need for community.

“The more emphasis that people place on being active and independent—which are universal values, we all want that—the harder it is for people to come to terms with the inevitability of not being able to be active and independent,” Gilman says.

Of course, there are alternatives to active adult retirement communities. Assisted living; continuing care retirement communities, which have built-in medical facilities; and the most abhorred and feared of housing situations, nursing homes, are all options, if you have the money or the patience for the Medicaid paperwork. More recently, a handful of inter-generational retirement communities, such at Hillcrest Village in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, which integrate young families and even include elementary schools, have opened in the U.S.

But even those models, with the exception of inter-generational housing, don’t address the national crisis in senior living, the tainted legacy of age-segregated housing that is a $51 billion industry. We suffer from a severe lack of foresight, a shortage of personal and community planning when it comes to where and how to age. We’ve separated our elders from their extended families without replacing what their relatives might once have provided: a decent quality of life, until the very end.

The “golden years” of retirement have expanded substantially since the nation’s first 55+ retirement community opened more than 50 years ago, as average life expectancy increased by nearly 10 years, says the article. 

While age-segregated senior housing developments can provide a worry-free lifestyle for many, others are now experiencing what it’s like to outlive spouses and friends without the ability to form new, long-lasting relationships—causing some to fall into isolation even as they’re surrounded by peers.

Read the full piece at The Atlantic Cities, or watch the trailer for the Kings Point documentary.

Written by Alyssa Gerace