Fear of Aging? There’s Hope!
By Leslie Eckford
Worried about aging?
Don’t despair, there are good ideas ahead. But, don’t delay!
At a social gathering, a friend who is a geriatric professional was talking with some very nice realtors. The realtors were chatting about their business and how busy the market has been. They asked my friend about her work, which she described to them as centered on aging in place. They had never heard this term. She spent some time explaining that seniors mostly express that they want to stay in their own homes but that it can be challenging depending on the characteristics of the house and layout, that it takes a lot of planning. Later, when my friend told me about it, we wondered why realtors, who spend so much time and effort helping people find their dream home would not be familiar with this concept. After all, aging in place has so much to do with home.
We can’t really single out the realtors though. While aging and caregiving have long been our niche, we find that many people around us prefer not think about it. At all. Consider how many people are ill-prepared financially for retirement, generally avoiding that topic for “later.” In our youth-centric culture, it seems to be the last thing people want to think about.
There is actually a “Healthy Aging Month” in September, mostly an effort by health care providers to encourage people to take better care of their physical and mental health. It needs to add a few tasks for the aging to-do list. The month to spotlight healthy aging should include encouraging young people to think about how are they going to afford to retire some day and to imagine where and how they are going to live. No need to panic, just start thinking ahead!
Fortunately, there is evidence that enterprising people from a variety of disciplines are bravely looking at aging. Indeed, they are expanding the scope of how to build better social and actual communities for all to have the chance to age at home. And, a lot of it is pretty hopeful! Consider the recent book New Aging by architect Matthias Hollwich. This book is brimming with energy, visual appeal and an exciting approach to creating and controlling one’s future as we age. Hollwich gives a shout out to those who have turned 40 to get to work on designing their own future. This may involve looking not only at the physical home and to judge how flexible their dream home may be. Is it designed with changing physical needs over time in mind? It may enforce the notion that careers and education should continue past traditional retirement age. Hollwich suggests taking a “strategic approach” to relationships. This means nurturing relationships with friends and neighbors of all ages so that people in close proximity are more connected.
There is more good news in Beth Baker’s terrific book With a Little Help from Our Friends: Creating Community as We Grow Older. I love this book for its coverage of a wide array of new ideas, movements and communities having to deal with improving aging. No, there is no fountain of youth, but there are many people across the country who are building better new homes universally designed for every age, less intrusive but inclusive communities for seniors and technology in the pipeline to add dignity and autonomy to the aging experience.
So, do not despair! Throw the net wide to come up with alternative solutions to growing old and aging in place.