What Do Today’s Seniors Value?

Related topics: Senior Life, Financial, Senior Lifestyles

The second annual United States of Aging Survey finds older adults value relationships with family and friends above all else—and that includes money.

Relationships with friends and family outweigh financial concerns among older Americans seeking fulfillment in their senior years, according to the second annual United States of Aging Survey. When they were asked which factor is most important to maintain a high quality of life in their senior years, staying connected to friends and family was the top choice of 4 in 10 seniors, ahead of having financial means (30 percent).

For the 2013 edition of The United States of Aging Survey, the National Council on Aging (NCOA), UnitedHealthcare, and USA TODAY surveyed 4,000 U.S. adults, including a nationally representative sample of seniors aged 60 and older. Here is a sampling of the findings of the survey:

Today's seniors are optimistic.

"The United States of Aging Survey shows us that seniors are an optimistic group," said Rhonda Randall, D.O., chief medical officer, UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement. "By learning more about seniors' priorities, successes, and unmet needs, we hope to identify the services, programs, and infrastructure that may best support older adults so that future generations of seniors can have this same sense of optimism as they age."

Optimism about quality of life increases as we grow older.

The survey found that most seniors have maintained a positive outlook on their future and the aging process. Eighty-six percent of seniors say they are confident about their ability to maintain a high quality of life, and 60 percent expect their health to stay the same during the next five to 10 years (compared with only 53 percent of adults ages 18-59). Seniors who are focused on taking care of their health are the most optimistic about aging. Nearly two-thirds of the optimistic seniors had set one or more specific goals to manage their health in the past 12 months, compared with 47 percent of the overall senior population.

"This year's survey points to the impact of health on an individual's ability to age successfully," said Richard Birkel, Ph.D., director of the NCOA's Self-Management Alliance. "But maintaining good health as we age requires being proactive, especially for people with chronic health conditions. We must seize opportunities across local communities to empower seniors with the skills they need to stay healthy."

Seniors value connections—and technology is an important tool for avoiding isolation.

More than half of the senior respondents indicated that being close to friends and family is important and only 15 percent reported occasional feelings of isolation. The seniors who did report experiencing feelings of isolation and depression expressed less optimism regarding their future health and quality of life compared with seniors nationally. Eighty-four percent of seniors nationally cite technology as important to their ability to connect with the world around them. But many seniors reported challenges in accessing and understanding how to use the new technologies.

How are our communities doing?

Most seniors surveyed felt the community they live in is responsive to their needs, but less than half believed their city or town is doing enough to prepare for the future needs of a growing senior population. Twenty-six percent say their city or town should invest in better public transportation, and 23 percent say their city or town should invest more in affordable health care services and housing.

Seniors give low ratings to the quality of public transportation and job opportunities in their city or town: just 16 percent and 10 percent, respectively, rate their community's transit and employment offerings as "excellent" or "very good."

Visit the National Council on Aging website to read more about the United States of Aging Survey and to find many other resources to promote healthy aging and the well-being of seniors, caregivers and the nation's elder care system.