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The Senior Spend: Not What You’d Expect

Tech usage is up and seniors are no exception. The Pew Research Center (2017) surveys find that seniors are progressing to more “digitally connected lives." 42% of adults ages 65 and older report owning smartphones. This figure has dramatically risen from 18% reported in 2013. Internet use among this group has also increased significantly with 67% of seniors on the internet and 58% of those seniors report using the internet on a daily basis.

Technology has made it easier and faster to gain access to products and services that formerly had only been distributed manually. But, it still begs the question - what do seniors really want to spend their time and money doing? What truly makes them “happy”?

Historic research notes that people report higher levels of happiness from experiences rather than material possessions (Van Boven and Gilovich 2003). More recently, researchers (Mogilner, Kamvar, and Aaker 2011) add that the definition of happiness shifts as people age. Younger people tend to experience happiness through exploring and “once-in-a-lifetime” types of activities. As we age, our mindset changes and we tend to gravitate towards happiness through spending time in our “preferred” ways and through sharing experiences with others.

Denis Gertstorf, PhD, of Humboldt University further states that seniors “who live a socially active life and prioritize social goals are associated with higher late-life satisfaction and less severe declines towards the end of life." Interestingly, it was also mentioned that low social participation and lack of social goals independently resulted in lower levels of well-being, and when both variables were combined the effect was amplified.

How does this relate to a Senior Living Community? We all know what time and care goes into planning events and activities for residents. Could it be that we are overlooking some core elements that seniors want and need to maintain their level of health for longer periods of time? If more ordinary “preferred” experiences facilitate higher levels of happiness, maybe we should consider how we can increase and monetize those every day experiences and independent goals to add value that would normally not be as obvious. For example, if Gloria enjoys gardening and often goes out to tend the tomato plants, possibly we could encourage her to share her gardening experiences electronically with other residents, family members, and staff? She may decide to expand her independent goals and start an herb garden. This self-serve, ability mindset appears to be directly correlated with healthy senior communities. By supporting the simple pleasures in life, we can create environments where seniors thrive.


“Terminal Decline in Well-Being: The Role of Social Orientation,” by Denis Gerstorf, PhD, Humboldt University and German Institute for Economic Research; Christiane Hoppmann, PhD, University of British Columbia; Corinna Löckenhoff, PhD, Cornell University; Frank Infurna, PhD, Arizona State University; Jürgen Schupp, PhD; German Institute for Economic Research and Freie Universität Berlin; Gert Wagner, PhD, German Institute for Economic Research and Max Planck Institute for Human Development; and Nilam Ram, PhD, German Institute for Economic Research and Pennsylvania State University, Psychology and Aging, published online March 7, 2016.

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