Especially in Florida, there is an abundance of senior living communities which seem designed to insure that older persons rarely, if ever, have any interaction with younger people. While this may work for some of us, there is increasingly a different alternative.
This week I attended Intergenerational Seniors: Tackling Affordable Housing & Loneliness, sponsored by Aging2.0 and held at SeniorPlanet in NYC. Speakers included: Donna Butts, Executive Director of Generations United; Noelle Marcus, Co-Founder & CEO of Nesterly and Mark Dunham, Intergenerational Community Consultant.
Each of these innovators are exploring ways that older and younger persons can live together, providing a solution to two problems seniors often face:
- the difficulty of making ends meet and often being compelled to move out of homes they have lived in for many years
- social isolation, particularly after the death of partners and other family members and friends
Intergenerational housing also benefits younger individuals, since it offers inexpensive accommodations and an opportunity to learn from the wisdom of older people who they otherwise would rarely get to know. Older people are also able to rent out empty rooms in their houses, providing a stream of income to supplement social security and retirement funds.
How can seniors be encouraged to try these new living arrangements? Noelle recommended not asking someone if they are lonely, since many will be reluctant to admit it. Instead, ask an older person if they would be willing to help a younger person by sharing their life experiences.
If you are not familiar with this idea, take the time to learn about these new housing options. And consider this quote from the event: “If you don’t have anyone older in your life, find someone who is. If you don’t have anyone younger in your life, find someone who is.” Life can be so much richer when you don’t restrict yourself to socializing only with those at your stage of life.
If you’re in the NYC area, there are many events this month on how to make your older years your best years:
- Wed, Oct 10, 5:30 – 7:30 PM – Aging: Natural Forces or Public Policy? Ruth Finkelstein, Executive Director of the Brookdale Center on Aging at Hunter College, will speak on how to transform our view of aging from a state of decline to a life stage full of challenge and opportunity. This event will be hosted at Coming of Age NYC, an organization which regularly features events to help older persons define the next chapter of their lives.
- Thu, Oct. 18, 2 – 5 PM – Senator Liz Krueger’s 12th Annual Senior Resource Fair. Learn about many services directed towards older persons. (No RSVP needed)
- Mon, Oct 22, 9 AM – 3 PM – 3rd Annual Symposium of Positive Aging: Create Your Next Age. Keynote speaker will be Ed Friedman, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Lifetime Arts, who will discuss the benefits of creative engagement in older adults and its importance in healthy aging.
- Mon, Oct. 22, 5:30 – 7:30 PM – Eat, Sleep and Be Merry: What We Know About Brain Health. The annual meeting of CaringKind will discuss sleep, diet, exercise, stress reduction and other lifestyle factors in maintaining brain health and possibly reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Wed, Oct 24, 9 AM – 3 PM – The New Old Age. Learn how Americans nearing retirement can prepare for a longer life and continue to be healthy and happy as they age. Speakers include Tom Kamber, Founder and Executive Director of Older Adults Technology Services and Donna Corrado, Commissioner of NYC Department for the Aging.
Also, get some more ideas on positive aging from engAGED: The National Resource Center for Engaging Older Adults. which provides many resources supporting research which shows how remaining socially engaged improves the quality of life for older adults and is associated with better health.
Except for the 10/22/18 symposium, all events are free with RSVP.
Many of us remember Gail Sheehy’s 1976 book Passages: Predicatable Crises of Adult Life, which discussed how we transition between different stages of life. But you may not know that in 1995 she wrote New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time , referencing later stages of life not addressed in her earlier book. Below are some excerpts from New Passages about what she calls the ‘Age of Integrity’ (65+):
- While many of us can now expect to live longer lives, many ‘imagine those years only in terms of infirmity and dependency…Whether we like it or not, many of us are going to live a lot longer than our parents did’
- ‘When older patients complain about feeling dizzy or depressed or their memories are foggy or their balances are off, doctors often ascribe these symptoms to old age, when they may be side effects of drugs’
- ‘Modifying your diet, using nutritional supplements, committing yourself to regular exercise, cutting our cigarette smoking, and learning various techniques to reduce stress can help not only to avoid drugs that may suppress your own immune response but if they become habits, to help ensure that you will be less subject to disease when you reach later life. And later life may be much longer than you think’
- What keeps us in good health? Per contributor Christine Grimaldi, ‘Mental stimulation – People who keep themselves active and don’t isolate themselves as they get older are the ones who…stay healthy’
- ‘Exercise appears to be the single most effective nonmedical elixir to retard aging…Long daily walks are part of the job of successful aging…We are never too old to benefit from exercise’
- ‘The Age of Integrity is primarily a stage of spiritual growth. Instead of focusing on the time running out, it should be a daily exercise in the third age to (live in) mark the moment’
But of course, there is loss, so we must ‘cultivate greater appreciation and acceptance of what we cannot control.’ It’s better to ‘learn to accept your life not as a series of random events, but as a path of awakening.’
Like her earlier book, Gail Sheehy’s New Passages is well worth reading so you can learn how to increase your chances of aging well.
Starting next month is a new online video series, Aging for Life which will feature a conversation about aging, with a focus on changing the way most of us feel about growing old. The first episode will feature blogger and author Ashton Applewhite. In addition to her blog and book, Ashton recently introduced Old School, an online clearinghouse of free and carefully vetted resources to educate people about ageism and help dismantle it. Also featured with be Radical Age Movement founder Alice Fisher, who will review how her organization challenges members to confront and call out ageism. (I am also an active volunteer for RAM.) The website will offer:
- an archive of the research done for the TV show
- a place to ask questions, make suggestions, and view your contributions
- a place to view the show online
Society floods us with negative impressions about getting older. Aging for Life offers a new way to think about what we have to look forward to. After all, as the tagline for the new site reminds us, we’re all aging, why not do it positively?
Despite our intentions to live fully for as long as we can, health challenges can often derail our plans. After a diagnosis of cancer or Alzheimer’s, life will never be the same. However, lately there has been an abundance of online documentaries which provide information on how we can increase of chances of staying healthy. Some of the programs that I’ve participated in are:
Most of these series run for 7-10 days and each video is available for 24 hours, after which a new video is offered. At the end, there is also a ‘free viewing period’ which provides access to all sessions. You can also choose to purchase lifetime access to each series, which ranges from $69 – $149, depending on whether you take advantage of early purchase discounts.
To get the most benefit from these sessions, you must be willing to question assumptions that you’ve believed for a long time, e.g:
- once you’re diagnosed with cancer, you’ll probably die from it eventually
- there are basically only three treatments for cancer: surgery, radiation and chemotherapy
- you should never question your doctor’s advice
- there is no way to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease
- many of us will eventually confront diabetes, no matter what / how we eat
- it’s too late for us to change habits that we’ve had for a long time (possibly the most erroneous assumption of all)
As a result of information I’ve gleaned from these presentations, I’ve converted to mostly a vegetarian diet. While obviously there are no guarantees, I believe that it’s easier to make lifestyle changes to prevent illness rather than to heal from a life-threatening disease that you already have.
You may not choose to believe everything you hear, and I encourage you to research these topics further on your own, online and by reading books by speakers who present at these summits. But by participating in these series, you are continuing to learn by getting information you may not never have heard. Whether or not you choose to make lifestyle changes as a result, the process of questioning your assumptions and opening up your mind to new possibilities will help you to live a more full and engaged life.
(Want to try this approach? Watch the free replay of the Plant Fit Summit this weekend or register for Regain Your Brain from Sep. 21, 2018 – Oct, 2, 2018. Reminder – if you watch the videos as they are presented each day, there is no cost unless you choose to purchase lifetime access to the series.)
When asked where we want to live later in life, most of us will quickly respond, “exactly where I already am.” But to increase your odds of continuing to live an active lifestyle, you may want to consider how your current location rates on these factors, excerpted from The 10 Keys to Active Longetivity.
- Strategic Location – are you near a community which meets your needs / desires and provides essential services?
- A Launch Pad to What’s Next – do you have access to learning opportunities?
- Health-Wealth Connection – are there easy options to stay fit, preferably with others?
- Arts and Entertainment Options – can you continue to enjoy theatre, music and other cultural events while engaging with others in your community?
- Volunteer Opportunities – helping others is one of the best ways to help yourself
- World Class Healthcare – is medical care convenient when needed?
- Lock and Leave Security and Proximity to a Major Airport – can you travel easily – and can people easily travel to visit you?
- Lifestyle Enabling Amenities – does your living space allow you to host visitors, include natural light and offer enough storage?
- Intergenerational Opportunities – are there ways to interact with people from other age groups?
- Employment Options – even if we don’t need to do so financially, many of us may choose to work as long as we can. Are there businesses or nonprofits near you that you can affiliate with?
Based on these criteria, you may find that your current location is no longer the best place for you. If you decide to consider other areas, also consider proximity to friends and family in choosing where to live. More great tips for aging well are available from Growing Bolder.
Despite our best efforts to live full and engaged lives for as long as possible, many of us may spend the final stage of their lives in nursing homes, adult homes or assisted living facilities. When members of my family have been in this situation and experienced challenges with their care, I often acted as their advocate with facility staff. While not always successful in resolving the issues, I hope that my efforts made their situation a bit more tolerable.
Sadly, many older persons don’t have a family member of friend to visit and to help with issues that inevitably arise in any type of senior care facility. Often this is caused by chronically short staff which results in nurses / aides who are overworked and/or unable to provide quality care, despite good intentions. Fortunately, the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program is specifically designed to provide an outlet for residents who need someone to help them to resolve problems while residing at these sites.
This week I started the process of applying to be a volunteer ombudsperson with Family & Children’s Association (FCA), which serves older persons in Long Island, NY where I live. In this role, I hope to make sure that seniors are aware of this valuable service, and to provide assistance when needed.
None of us choose to spend our later years in this type of situation, but unfortunately sometimes there is no other option. By working as an ombudsperson, I will do my best to ensure that older persons are treated with dignity and respect while residing at a nursing home, adult home or assisted living facility. While I’ve done considerable work with seniors in recent years, this may be the most important role of all.
For more information, visit the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center.
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) has released a the Aging Mastery Starter Kit, a self-paced, stand-alone companion to the Aging Mastery Program (AMP).
Designed as a supplement to AMP, the starter kit is designed to help older adults to achieve autonomy, mastery and purpose as they age. The materials focus on these six dimensions of aging:
- gratitude and mindfulness
- health and well-being
- finances and future planning
- connections and community
- learning and creativity
- legacy and purpose.
Whether you participate in the AMP or the Aging Mastery Starter Kit (ideally, try to do both!), NCOA’s offerings are a wonderful way for people of any age to improve the odds that they will age well for as long as possible.
Most of us have an older person in our lives who could probably need some of our time and attention. Below are some tips:
- Spend time at a nursing or retirement home. If you don’t know someone currently residing there, you will likely find someone who no longer has family or friends visiting them. A little of your time can make a huge difference.
- Reach out to a senior in your family. Many older persons start to decline when they feel their opinions and thoughts are no longer valuable to others. Ask for their advice about a difficult situation you’re currently going through.
- Volunteer for an organization that helps seniors. I’ve worked for Dorot, JASA and Selfhelp Community Services – they all do wonderful work.
Need more inspiration? Find ideas here or here or here. And once you spend time with a senior, consider making this something you do all year round.
Yesterday, I attended the latest steering committee meeting for theRadicalAgeMovement (RAM), an organization I have worked with since 2015. During that time, I have had the pleasure of helping this small nonprofit grow to a national presence with multiple chapters. RAM has a simple mission – to confront ageism wherever it appears and to stand up for equal rights for everyone. RAM uses education, consciousness raising and social action to combat the stereotypes and demeaning attitudes about older adults.
As Ashton Applewhite points out in her book This Chair Rocks and in her blog, most of us accept that it is wrong to discriminate based on a person’s gender, race or color. Yet it is still acceptable to assume that older persons are no longer of value in our society, and that they all face a life filled with disability, disease and decline. The reality is that many seniors are very diverse, and many live active lives well past the traditional retirement age of 65. Sadly, many of us have faced job discrimination due to our age, and it can affect people at any time in life.
RAM fulfills its mission through regular meetings, by partnering with other senior focused organizations and by participating in events that promote the rights of older adults. The next members’ meeting will be Thu, Sep. 6. A rally for Age Justice will be held in NYC in Union Square Park on Tue, Oct. 16, 2018. For details on either event, email RAM).