“Now What?”: Exploring New Passions in Retirement

Since retiring, Senitila McKinley, a resident of Waldport, Oregon, has turned to painting as a way to channel her creative spirit and to reflect on events and experiences within her life and in the day-to-day.

By Maggie J Elias

            America’s aging population is living longer than ever by maintaining independent and active lifestyles and pursuing passions in retirement. According to the Therapeutic Recreation Journal, which studies needs of aging and disabled populations, quality of life among retirement community residents is directly related to the recreation and leisure opportunities available. These opportunities include access to art and exercise classes, music and dance lessons, language courses, and more.

            According to the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit research organization, the population aged 65+ years is projected to more than double (from 46 million to over 98 million) by 2060. As the “baby boomer” population ages, Americans over the age of 65 will make up approximately 24% of the country’s population. There is a widespread movement within academia and science fields to study health and quality of life issues facing the aging population; the trends revealed by these studies reflect the need for more accessible enrichment programs and activities for our country’s aging population.

            Modern retirement communities offer resources and quality of life care beyond what was typical in 19th and 20th century nursing homes, however there are ongoing concerns about the quality of recreation and leisure programing accessible to seniors and associated costs with such programs. After Congress passed the Older Americans Act in 1965, senior centers and residential communities have received more consistent federal funding, however The Leadership Council of Aging Organizations has recently called for a 12% increase in funding to reflect the growing senior population and economic inflation.

            Despite the prevalent research being done on the widespread physical and mental health benefits of enrichment programming for the retired population, there has also been pushback due to the increasing cost of funding such programming. NPR writer Alan Greenblatt sums up such concerns in his article “Aging Population: Can the U.S. support its growing ranks of elderly?” Seniors living in retirement are living longer, more active lifestyles, which leave them with insufficient retirement savings. As a result, Greenblatt cites in his article that over 40 percent of nursing home care is paid for by Medicaid. A combination of higher obesity rates (preventing workforce participation at early retirement ages), an increase in the elder population, and a sudden need for more government benefits has caused economists and politicians to call for a reevaluation of Medicaid spending in retirement homes.