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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On the Subject of Aging in Place

I’m over 50, and face it, time doesn’t move backword. My mind has been occupied for some time now on what to do when we get to the age where we can’t take care of ourselves, or when we’ve passed the point of being able to decide what to do about it. The subject comes up often with my friends and family. It has been thrown in my face on several occasions now with three sets of parents needing emergency assistance on a long term basis in the past five years.

Obviously, the way our parents and grandparents have handled the subject (denial, procrastination, zero planning, etc.) is not often palatable or reasonable to us. But the current crop of solutions are no more appetizing. I’m not sure I want to move myself to a traditional “retirement” community. I like having a varied population of neighbors; young and old, families and singles, retirees and professionals. Call me judgmental, but many of the folks I’ve met who’re living in retirement communities have lost their perspective and patience—they are the grumpiest people I’ve ever met! Sure they’ve got a right to have complaints about their aches and pains, but rude, cranky aggression is just not pretty. I keep thinking there’s got to be a better and more dignified way to age out!

Recently, I read an article, in my AARP magazine (I said I was over 50), about a fairly new grassroots trend for establishing a helping network of neighbors in an existing community. This group has become a nationwide organization at the Village to Village Network website. As a solution to the question of what to do as we age and can’t care for ourselves, this probably won’t take us all the way to the end of life. But it could be a way for those who wish to stay in their homes to get the additional help and resources they need for many years longer, (at least if they’re still willing to share and reach out to their neighbors.) Instead of reaching out to extended family, who are often far away, the idea is to reach out to willing and able neighbors, and begin the process while you can still return the favor.

The site indicates that there are only two “villages” in my state of Arizona, however, they’re competing with a well established retirement living industry here. Lot’s of people come here for the ease of living in a temperate climate, well established retirement health services, and cheaper cost of living. I can see why there's not yet a demand for this here.

But, for my generation things are changing. Many of us Boomers are looking at losing our abilities to transition to older age in the manner in which we had planned—loose as those plans may have been. For instance, home equity is now zero for many of us. Many Boomers count themselves lucky to have some savings and investments, however, they’re not worth nearly as much as they were 5 years ago. Factor in rising costs of healthcare, cost of living increases, and longer lifespans--our expectations have got to come down.

So, a fancy-schmancy retirement community palace in the desert is not in the cards. Many of us need to look at something closer to home, within our means, and on a community level. Forget the lone wolf attitude of “I can take care of myself, then in the end someone will swoop in and take care of me because I’m worth it.” I can say from experience it doesn’t work out that way. And even though many of us may be lucky enough to have a living will, a funeral plan, and long term care insurance, those things are reserved for the very last, most incapacitated stage of life. What about the stage leading up to that?!

The Village to Village Network is an interesting, grassroots effort worth looking at. It doesn't rely on the government. They've established a model for other communities to follow for establishing their own Village, leaning on the people in that community who have a vested interest in making it work. I’m going to keep my eye on them. If you have any experience or know anyone who is a member of a Village like this, I’d love to hear what you have to say. Or if you have other thoughts on the subject of aging in place, this dialogue isn't over yet!


  • Absolutely loved your blog,& your approach to getting old.
    I still cannot believe I will be 61 at the end of the month.
    I just hope I die when I am old....
    Or Flying the Grand Canyon....
    With a rocket suit on my back!!!! <3

    By Blogger yummybum50, at 5/13/2011 8:09 PM  

  • This may be a good concept to start, but it may also continue to feed our denial. It is all well and good to get younger volunteers to do yard work or to provide transportation, but what happens when the person gets sick or needs 24-hour round-the-clock care on a daily basis? Perhaps, if there were group homes or small assisted living communities within these villages, this would be more realistic. Yes, most people would like to "age in-place," but what we all need to think about and PLAN FOR is for that piece of life (which is much more likely to happen than not) when we are truly unable to care for ourselves and it is unreasonable and unfair to expect our family or neighbors to put their lives on hold to provide for our daily needs.

    By Anonymous Robin, at 5/27/2011 12:24 PM  

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