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The Retirement Conundrum: Who Is going to Change the Lightbulb and Get You an Ice Cream Cone?

Category: Home and Garden

May 22, 2019 — An interesting new book by Joseph Coughlin, founder of the AgeLab, pinpoints the many contradictions marketers face when targeting the senior market. In The Longevity Economy”, Coughlin finds that while builders build out housing inventory intended for baby boomers, the market is constrained. That is because eighty-seven per cent of retirement-age people want to stay where they live now – the homes where they experienced the three ‘M’s: marriage, mortgage, and memories.

Coughlin says the problem with that preferenced is that they can’t continue to live there. “Not when the model is a two-story house with a bedroom and the bathroom upstairs. If we can solve the stairs problem, we won’t need new housing.”

Part of the issue is that we are living longer than ever, and our coping skills don’t always keep up. Coughlin says that having simple answers to two questions can determine whether you’re going to age well in place:

“Who’s going to change the light bulb, and how are you going to get an ice-cream cone?”

It might seem a little silly, but it does get at the problem. If you can find solutions to problems like those, you will be all set for a comfortable old age. If you can’t, problems await you!

A New Yorker article that reviews Coughlin’s book, “Can We Live Longer But Stay Younger”, points out many other contradictions that AgeLab has found while trying to help aging baby boomers. Marketers often find a solution to a problem, but can’t sell it. AgeLab studies find many products that could make life easy for us, but it they have a tinge of “senior” to them, they will languish on the shelf.

For further reading:

Comments: How are you going to solve the problems of who is going to change the lightbulb and how are you going to get an ice cream? Some day we will all face these problems. What kind of housing are you going to choose to prepare for what lies ahead?

Posted by Admin on May 21st, 2019


  1. The problem of being unable to climb stairs to get to a bedroom and bathroom can be formidable for people of any age who have reduced mobility, and probably particularly so for seniors. Few would argue that point.

    But who is going to change a light bulb that the resident apparently can’t manage alone? How about a neighbor, child, friend, or if all else fails, a handyman. And how are you going to get an ice cream cone? (Really? Was this written 20 years ago?) Virtually every area of the country has grocery stores with delivery services who’ll bring both ice cream and cone right to one’s kitchen table. Heck, Uber will deliver an intact ice cream cone from 31 Flavors (for a price).

    If people have difficulty finding solutions to these two problems I’d say their cognitive problems far outstrip any mobility issues.

    by JCarol — May 21, 2019

  2. That is a gripe I have with the builders of retirement communities. Every one of them puts in cam lights in the ceiling. They are impossible to change.And when asked where the filter is for the air conditioner/furnace, they seem to always put those in the ceiling as well. When that is pointed out, they just shrug it off like they did not think that older people will have to deal with it. Not everyone wants to hire a handyman to do those types of things for them.

    by nancy — May 22, 2019

  3. I don’t believe for a minute that marketers find a solution to a problem but can’t sell it, I think they churn out the cheapest possible home with a few flashy bells and whistles. All “senior” solutions are just people solutions, and I’ve long bitched about the 28” doorway openings when moving furniture, or walking through with a laundry basket. Same with high step-in tubs and lack of grab-bars. I fell out of the tub right onto the floor in my twenties trying to balance on one foot while washing the other (not drunk, BTW!) They need to reinvent the tub, period, since you have to be a contortionist to clean one. I see cathedral ceilings or ledges above kitchen cabinets and wonder who the heck is gonna climb up there to dust. And I wish they’d never invented carpeting (what a work saver replacing ours with hardwood.) Same for basements. Ugh.

    by Daryl — May 22, 2019

  4. I loved these comments! They were all really on-point. Things look great when looking at model homes, until you consider cleaning and maintenance. When I remodeled my home (including removing wallpaper from 25′ high bathroom ceilings…WHAT were the original owners thinking!?!), the painters were sure unhappy with those “cathedral” ceilings. I asked them to change out the can lightbulbs with new 20-year LED bulbs when they had the scaffolding up, but I don’t plan to ever turn on those lights!

    Handymen are hard to find in markets whre there are plenty of good paying construction and similar jobs. Angie’s List and similar sites can help, but they can be expensive. I just saw someone on a community Facebook page offering to perform handyman services. When I googled him, it turns out he has several arrests. Sometimes 55+ communities have a bulletin board with recommended sources of handymen, pet-sitters and similar services but many people rely on word-of-mouth recommendations. Our neighborhood has a list that is distributed once a year of service-providers that neighbors have used and recommend, and everyone is asked to contribute to the list.

    by Kate — May 22, 2019

  5. As far as food and necessities being delivered we’ve never had it so good. I’m a bit baffled why it’s assumed everyone will need to move at a certain age. I pray we won’t one day be stuck in an overpriced facility depending on underpaid disgruntled employees. Hopefully we’re able to finish out our days in our modest 2 bedroom 1920 bungalow with a room that can be converted to a bedroom on the first floor. It also has a walk in shower on the first floor. It’s right in the middle of a thriving village. No it’s not in a hot climate community but seriously how many old people are outside anyway? I lived in Fl. they aren’t outside there either. New builds are built terribly and high maintenance. I’ll, hopefully, keep my simple little old house. We’ve been doing things to this place in order to stay here.

    by Kate — May 22, 2019

  6. I agree that new isn’t always better. My dad is 94 and going up and down stairs has kept him young. Same with my husband and I. Our 1890 home has space to convert to one-story living if needed. We live in a village, also old, where we can walk to two restaurants, two banks, two hair stylists, the library, and church within two blocks. Our kids or neighbors would change a lightbulb (we switched to all LEDs) and the ice cream shop is two blocks away. If we can’t walk at all, we will need in home help, and there are many options. We pray we can be independent until we pass away or it becomes physically impossible, and we have planned for it by making changes to our home also. We also are methodically paring down our “stuff” so our kids don’t get stuck disposing of useless items!

    by Carla — May 22, 2019

  7. I think the millennials worry more about finding someone to change their lightbulbs ad bring them ice cream cone than any boomer (or older) that I have know. LOL. The really old in my family never let age get in the way. I remember walking past my grandfather’s house and seeing him at 92 or so out on the roof sweeping snow off. When he saw me he yelled down at me “Dont tell your mother I’m up here”. And my mother wasn’t any less independent, I walked into her house to find her at 91 standing on a chair trying to get some curtains down. And my 95 yr old mother-in-law still golfs and plays very well – hits them straight and far enough to be able to make par on a par 4. As for hubby and me? We hope when (IF) we feel unable to adequately and safely take care of our activities of daily living we will move to community or facility that woud better match our abilities. But I have great optimism for the future and think we boomers (at least those of us who were a little on the wild side “back in the day”) will continue to take risks, and define our own version of aging and how to cope with declines should they happen – maybe there will be robots to help out. Trying to market to us as “seniors” doesn’t make sense to me. What will you sell us? Cushions for stadium seats at the Rolling Stones concert? Better EZ wider papers (might be a good idea, arthritis does make rolling them tough). The AgeLab guy should consider marketing to seniors might have always been a bad business model; maybe age is the wrong demographic to focus on.

    by Jean — May 22, 2019

  8. Well I can only speak from experience. My wife and I built our first home many years ago and remodeled the three others we have lived in over the years. I recently was part of a focus group for Del Webb/Pulte homes wanting input from retired couples into what homes should and shouldn’t have plus input on different floor plans.
    Our new home is beautiful and well built (not by Pulte, but Lennar). From our walk in closet we have direct access to the laundry room, very nice and convenient. We have a large walk in shower with a built in seat. We did add hand bars in the second bathroom as it does have a tub and should help when guest visit. The home is very energy efficient for both cooling and heating. All our ceiling lights are LED and last many years longer then regular bulb types. All our cooling and heating air filters are on the ground level for easy access. All our doors are at least 36 inches wide and no steps including the walk way to the front door.
    The home has built in WiFi, so very few wires for sound systems, TVs and computers. The door lock and thermostat work with my phone, plus Alexa all work seamlessly.
    Contractors build what sells, and in our age restricted community are selling two story homes, not for us, but they are apparently selling.

    by Bruce — May 22, 2019

  9. Jean, I had to laugh when I read your post. i am one of the 87% who wishes that I could stay where I am now, but losing my health due to cancer makes the stairs and the size difficult. Believe it or not, with age comes unexpected disabilities. I also want to say a word about the “Millennials”. I really don’t know where the mischaracterization of this age group came from, but I am so impressed with this generation. I suspect that the jokes came from the press, which is primarily dealing with the privileged, but in reality a big % of Millennials grew up in households with single or divorced mothers and they learned early to work hard to get what they want. I am so impressed with my daughter and her friends. They took their high school years very seriously and worked so hard so that they could get scholarships to competitive schools. They worked hard in college because they faced a non-existent job market during the Obama years. Yet, every one of them worked at any job they could get until the economy changed(thank God) in 2016. These young people are harder working, more creative, and more determined to change the world for the better than we “Baby Boomers” ever were. I am so disappointed by my own generation, which turned out to be more self centered and materialistic than any prior generation. Our generation exploded the divorce rate, blew up traditional families ,and the “Millennials” paid the price for our self centeredness. Just saying.

    to get scholarships

    by Maimi — May 23, 2019

  10. I agree JCarol, a lame way to try and make the point. At 70 I’ve gone through my parents and their many sisters/brothers/extended families age in many ways. The “little” things were not a big deal even when living alone. Most things, small and big, can be fixed with money and friends. The less you have of each, the harder life will be. The one other issue of aging that all us children found most difficult to resolve – as our parents became unable to take decent care of themselves, they were unaware (or unwilling to be aware) of it. What a mess. Marketing and public services don’t help much.

    by Tim — May 23, 2019

  11. Maimi, Laughter is really good medicine 🙂 The millennial comment was a little tongue in cheek – I too have very amazing your relatives – but I also hired and managed some from that group and there was a very noticeable difference in their sense of entitlement compared to people just 10 to 15 years older. Colleagues and I suspect it came from too many participation trophies (which no doubt cam from our generation’s trying to make up for something..)
    As for those things that happen that weren’t planned for and make us change the plans we had….You are addressing that as I hope I would(will); recognize a need for something different. But many don’t and it can make really hard not just on them but on their families too. Maybe part of or retirement planning should also be coming up with Plan B and even Plan C, and writing those alternate plans down way ahead of time. Just like we all are encouraged to make an Advanced Directive for health care and when to withhold it while we are healthy making a plan (before we ever even retire) for where to reside and when/under what circumstances would be a good idea. Once the ability to live independently starts to diminish some people just want to stay put as a way of hanging on to some control of their lives even though it is not a realistic option. If they had already considered what to do in that situation and could read their OWN plan they could feel like they are in control with the decision to move to a more suitable place.

    by jean — May 24, 2019

  12. Yes, I think the Millennials you refer to are the ones who come from upper middle class 2 parent homes. Most of that generation do not have what our generation had, an intact family. As far as planning, I think we are soon going to have a shortage of appropriate living arrangements for seniors who cannot stay in their homes. There are just not a lot of suitable options and there is just no way I will spend a day in a nursing home! Not happening.

    by Jean — May 25, 2019

  13. Boomers who have experienced the frustration and heartache of dealing with elderly parents who refused to acknowledge they could no longer live by themselves should try to prevent their children from going through the same.

    by Sandie — May 26, 2019

  14. My father and my widowed MIL went willingly to active retirement communities (CCRCs) and enjoyed themselves with the attention they got. I, and my siblings, were scattered so our parents didn’t expect us to “take care of them” and planned accordingly. My father is 94 and still on his feet! He tells us that most people he talks to wish they had moved in sooner!! (He is in an Erickson Community in PA) We all visit as much as we can. We also recommended this group to my husbands brother & wife. They put off visiting but the day they did – they put their names on the list for the community in Florida!

    My husband and I recently retired (in our early 60s) to our dream spot in New England. Our children are also scattered and we do not expect them to get on a plane every time we have a cold. So, we are shopping for that ultimate destination. What surprises me though, is the “cottage communities.” We already have a house and yard – we are looking for condo-type living next – with everything we need under one roof. That way we have access when the weather gets bad. However, these types of communities keep getting more expensive and the waiting lists are long! I wish there was an Erickson community here but…two near Boston are the closest. I must confess, there are some nights when I would just like to go down to dinner that someone else cooked and will clean up 🙂

    We hope we have 10 more years with our house and yard but…we’re on a couple of wait lists – just in case! These communities look like a lot of fun. We’re looking forward to being a part of it all!

    by HEF — May 26, 2019

  15. HEF, May I ask which communities you are on the wait list for? Also, which community your father is in?

    by LisaJ — May 27, 2019

  16. HEF, I join Lisa in being curious about which communities you have found in New England? Not enough information is available about active senior communities in the New England states. Thanks.

    by Maimi — May 27, 2019

  17. Lisa J – My father, and a lot of other people I know, moved into the Maris Grove – Erickson Community when it opened – 2006-2007 in Glen Mills, PA. My BIL visited the Palm Garden’s Community in Florida and was also impressed with the financial situation, the focus and the fact that its like living on a cruise ship as well as being pretty affordable. They have 21 communities – check them out at:

    Maimi – We have been collecting information about Retirement communities in New England for a while. You’re right – there isn’t too much out there that advertise unless you live here. Besides hunting online, we found ads in Yankee Magazine, Down East Magazine and other more local publications. There are very few CCRCs and most places seem to pointedly shy away from offering any kind of health care BUT are happy to encourage a BYOB kind of situation where you can hire anyone you want to come in and help you. A lot are rentals and most offer “cottage living” – which I do NOT understand. I much prefer everything under one roof (like the Ericksons) so when the weather is bad you don’t HAVE to go out. Other places provide 3 meals a day – take it or leave it. I mentioned to one that I didn’t really want to get dressed to have my breakfast and they said people often come down in their bathrobes – not sure I want to see that either!! 🙂 Having dinner included suits us fine.

    Anyway – Once you start digging there are a lot out there. Many are rentals – a few are “buy-ins”. We have visited Ocean View in Falmouth ME, The Woods at Canco in Portland ME, and Schooner Cove in Damariscotta. Also out there: Piper Shores in Scarborough ME, Stroudwater Lodge in Westbrook (brand new), Durham Woods in Durham NH, Riverwoods in Exeter NH, Gorham House in Gorham ME, The Highlands in Brunswick ME, The Atrium at the Cedars in Portland ME, The Park at Danforth in Portland ME … to name a few.

    My husband contacted “Find a Home for Mom” and we got a LOT of calls but we managed to get information packets from some we liked and arranged tours. BE ADVISED – they are very persistent and you have to be firm about what you want and eventually take your name off their list! Good luck!! We are still shopping.

    by HEF — May 28, 2019

  18. Unless you’ve been around ill or impaired people, it’s hard to imagine what can happen and how it changes your life.

    I help an elderly relative and never knew about macular degeneration (vision loss), hearing problems requiring hearing aids that remain unused, dizziness and being unstable requiring a cane or walker and eventually a wheelchair, impaired decision making including being duped by a telemarketer, inability to manage checking and a host of other medical issues.

    As a result of what we’ve seen, we will select places for continuing care and make sure our families know our medical wishes.

    by Marcia — May 28, 2019

  19. We did an extensive search of retirement communities before we finally moved to one. We were primarily interested in life care communities (CCLC) where you buy-in to your apartment or cottage plus pay a monthly fee. You have to move there when you are healthy, but if you have to go into assisted living, rehab, or a skilled nursing facility, the monthly fee stays pretty much the same. We were particularly impressed with several of the CCRCs and CCLCs in the Chapel Hill, NC area, loved the location of an Erikson community just south of Denver, and liked the Kendall community in Oberlin, OH (near Cleveland). We ended up moving to a CCLC in Louisville, KY because that is where our son/grandkids live. We like the community and love that we can walk to many shops and restaurants, but sure do wish we had access to the excellent health care available in Chapel Hill and Cleveland.

    by Janet Greenlee — May 29, 2019

  20. This is a very timely conversation for a friend of mine as she is 75 and actively looking for a retirement community in New England–she likes change of seasons. She wants a NON-Profit CCRC community and is staying at two or three on each trip she makes–has anyone considered a Non-profit? She wants one that can has independent living and assisted living and also care for dementia issues should they arise. Her aunt and uncle were in a facility she liked very much in Rhode Island, but she is open to other locations so long as they are in NE.

    by Jennifer — May 30, 2019

  21. For Jennifer –
    Here are the few in northern New England we’ve come across that actually say “not for profit”:
    Piper Shores Life Care in Scarborough ME
    The Atrium @The Cedars in Portland ME
    River Woods in Durham NH
    I am sure there are more!
    These are defined as CO-OP communities
    Schooner Cove in Damariscotta ME
    Thornton Oaks in Brunswick ME

    “A Place for Mom” has an information page regarding “Profit vs Non-Profit” and basically says, you have to visit both – depends on the individual community and one is not necessarily better than the other.
    Good luck!

    by Flatearth6 — June 1, 2019

  22. Flateartht6 thank you very much. I know she has discovered Kendal Communities since her Aung and Uncle were in one. I will pass the list on to her. She told me she felt that a motive for profit would not be the best situation for her. Just her choice I guess.

    by Jennifer — June 2, 2019

  23. Hef, thanks for the list. I see most that you listed are in Maine, which is a beautiful state, but the winters are long and the health care not very good. I would like to be in Massachusetts or RI, if possible.

    Jennifer, do you know the place in RI?

    Does anyone know any places in Massachusetts?


    by Maimi — June 3, 2019

  24. I may have misspoken…I went look it up and there is a Kendal Community in New Hampshire, in Hanover however, I do not see one listed in Rhode Island. Sorry, I was going by what I thought my friend told me and I thought she said Rhode Island. I can hardly keep up with her as she is busy visiting all the non-profits in New England!! If so then she may have found some other community in Rhode Island that she liked. I will report back. She felt her Aunt and Uncle are well cared for in their Kendal Community. So they are worth checking out.

    by Jennifer — June 3, 2019

  25. Quick note for Maimi – Actually, the health care in Maine is TERRIFIC! We are so pleased with Maine Medical and our Drs. Best we’ve ever had! As for winters, they have been fine and we have enjoyed the cooler temps. Mainer know how to handle snow and it doesn’t slow anyone down a bit! This has been the move vibrant place we’ve ever been. We left our scattered children behind to be here 🙂

    If you want Mass. Take a look at the Erickson Communities of Brooksby Village and Linden Ponds. Awesome places and affordable for most! Good luck with your search.

    by HEF — June 4, 2019

  26. Hef, thanks. I do love Maine, but I have health issues and it is essential that I am near top rated hospitals. Also, because I am alone and want to be able to drive as long as I can, navigating icy and snow covered roads for months every year is out of the question. I visit Maine often in summer and love everything about it. Thanks for the tips about Massachusetts.

    by Maimi — June 4, 2019

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