How Will the Silver Tsunami Hit Your Community?

Is the Silver Tsunami hitting your community like a nice wave most of us could ride all the way to the shore? A challenging pipeline that the best surfers can run, full of adrenaline? Or a huge crashing wave of thunder that will reshape the landscape, which requires every possible action to prepare?

Most of us have realized for years that the older population is growing. Baby boomers who still feel 27 inside are struggling to navigate retirement. The demographic picture in our country has shifted. We are older, and that age shift has significant consequences for all of our communities. But, for some communities more than others.

The Aging of our Population

The group of very old (age 85 and older) is the fastest growing demographic within the older adult population. The demographic picture in our country has shifted. We are older, living longer, with significant needs as we move through old age. That age shift has significant consequences for all of our communities. But, for some communities more than others.

How do community leaders understand what is in store with the aging of our population? What impact will a larger group of elderly have upon the built environment – from handicapped parking spaces to driving and living at home with supports? How will our health care system be impacted? What options exist for people who are on fixed incomes? Once we understand what may be happening, how do we sort out which issues are most important, and strategies to address them?

Communities can and should respond. The issues are complex, but not overwhelming. However, they need to be addressed proactively.

Predicting the Potential Impact of the Silver Tsunami

The Silver Tsunami Predictor is a new social calculator that can provide an initial scan of your local environment. It looks at key factors that shape a county’s social, economic, and community health. The factors are based upon a series of research projects that New Ventures Consulting has completed, looking at the impact of the Social Determinants of Health * on communities, counties, states and the nation. These Social Determinants shape us as individuals, families and communities. They include things such as family income, jobs, poverty and financial assets. Race and ethnicity are extremely important. Individual, family and community educational levels are also significant. Taken together, or aggregated, one finds community snapshots that reflect the local economy, jobs and poverty; racial and ethnic mix; and educational levels. They help to predict how our lives will be shaped in the future.

Behavioral factors also shape community health, safety and sustainability. These include the types and level of crime, incarceration, substance abuse, and violence are all behavioral markers of community health.

Health indicators also shape communities. These include a community’s health ranking, provided by the Robert Wood Johnson County Health Rankings and Roadmaps. A community with many challenging health issues is less well positioned to deal with the Silver Tsunami than communities that are ranked as extremely healthy.

Communities are also shaped by large and small economic trends. Short and long-term economic ratings provide a picture of community economic health. Counties with strong economic ratings have more ability to respond to these challenges than do counties with a weak economic picture. Communities that face a loss of jobs and capital, and a diminishing tax base, are not as well positioned to respond to the Age Wave ** as communities that have a different economic picture.

Other factors that can also help predict the impact and nature of the Silver Tsunami include the county and state’s demographic picture. Some areas will have very rapid aging, while others will age more slowly. A slower aging trend allows for a more measured approach, whereas rapid aging requires quicker response. A trend of loss of population can add to a community’s challenges.

State and county policies can also shape how well a local community or state is able to respond to this trend. Policies and funding that support economic development, the built environment, and services for older adults provide an environment that facilitates a community or county’s proactive response to this demographic trend.

Collective Impact and What That Means

The combined, or collective impact of (1) local demographic trends, (2) the Social Determinants, (3) health behaviors and health outcomes, (4) local and state economies, and (5) policies together shape a region’s sustainability. They also can serve as general predictors of how hard the Silver Tsunami will hit. Taken together, these factors provide a picture of what may happen for communities, counties and states. They help us understand current and projected collective impact.

The Silver Tsunami Predictor looks at states and counties, and provides an initial prediction about the level of impact you may expect from the Age Wave. Some of the most important benchmarks that make up the predictive picture include:

  • Demographic Factors
  • Social Determinants of Health
  • County Health Ranking (Health Outcomes and Health Risk Behaviors)
  • County Economic Picture
  • Built Environment
  • Policy Framework

Working with a Predictor

Any social impact calculator has predictive capabilities. Many economic calculators have been used successfully by the World Bank, the Low Income Investment Fund, and others. The Robert Wood Johnson’s County Health Rankings and Roadmaps and state level health department profiles (like the New Mexico Community Snapshots) provide pictures of community health that capture both the present and the near future. The Silver Tsunami Predictor offers snapshots of a community’s Age Wave and resources to manage this demographic trend.

Predictors offer a holistic general picture that can serve as an important starting point for communities and states to respond to the needs of older adults. They serve as broad frameworks or roadmaps. Once a predictor profile is developed, then community leaders can look deeper into the community to:
• Understand and address key issues;
• Build upon community strengths and assets;
• Reduce risks;
• Create plans that bring stakeholders together and leverage resources.

Every state and community has its own unique assets that can be utilized to respond to this issue, which are complex, and difficult to measure with a social impact calculator. These include the rich family and social networks, community leaders, volunteers, faith communities and civic organizations that represent significant community assets.


* Social Determinants of Health were developed by the World Health Organization, and utilized by major institutions (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kaiser Foundation) and key research organizations throughout the U.S. to deal with community health in a holistic way.
** The term “Age Wave” was coined by Ken Dychtwald decades ago to capture the coming demographic trend that was then on the horizon, and is now a reality.