Cheryl and I attended a workshop last weekend called Ageing Well in Community, sponsored by a seniors’ cohousing initiative. I think it was the “Community” part that attracted our attention, not the “Ageing”. After all, we’re still young, right? Our average age is still under sixty, just. (In fairness to Cheryl, I’m contributing more than my fair share to that average!)
We joined the outdoor club and are hiking and biking more than ever. I’ve taken up an exercise program called “Younger Next Year”, and I’m feeling good about it. I’m in better shape than I was a year ago, and back near my college weight. Cheryl’s taken up sprint triathlons. In our coming decade or two, we look ahead not to ageing, but to more travel. We’ve signed up with Couchsurfing, and booked a biking trip in the Dalmatian Islands, so we’re definitely young at heart. We both still work at demanding careers, and are working towards our next one.
We were a little surprised by the image on the front of the course workbook: a man with his head in the sand. Surely that wouldn’t be us?
We were pretty smug about others who had their heads in the sand about ageing. We had dealt with relatives of our parents’ generation who had refused to make plans for independent living until circumstances forced them into assisted-living complexes. By refusing to accept the fact of their ageing, they had lost their independence when it was no longer possible to do much about it.
We also looked around at our own peers who were talking about retirement and still not saving anywhere near enough to finance it. We were often shocked at the statistics of baby boomers heading into retirement with significant debts and mortgages, and an expectation that their current salary would continue for decades past traditional retirement age. They definitely were behaving like ostriches.
However, as we worked through the first day of the workshop, we began to shift our perspective. We are getting older, and those “ageing things” are getting closer. We’ve lost friends to cancer, and more in our circles are widows and widowers. We notice that some aren’t as sharp as they once were and wonder if it’s the beginnings of Alzheimer’s. Friends and relatives younger than us have artificial hips or knees. Our hiking and biking companions are sidelined more often, sometimes indefinitely. We’ve become good friends with our physiotherapists. At present, I’m dealing with shoulder problems. While I’m still hoping to resolve them, I may not. For now, I’m having trouble reaching things from top shelves. Wow! I’m one of those “old people” with “reduced mobility”. Fast forward fifteen years, and it’s highly unlikely we’ll have quite the energy and stamina we have now. We might not want the same demanding workload we currently carry.
Like a growing number of people, we also realize that the world’s rapidly ageing population is going to put serious strains on traditional models of healthcare. No matter how we organize society, when the population is ageing, and the ratio of younger workers to retired people is dropping, the cost of that care is going to rise. Except for those who are independently wealthy, we are all going to feel the squeeze.
If we put these thoughts aside and wait until necessity intrudes, we may find it’s too late to take the necessary actions to maintain our independence. Like others we’ve regarded ruefully, we may wake up one day and realized we’ve missed the opportunity to create our community of support.
As we discussed in an earlier post, we’ve been investigating the role of community – including some sort of shared or collaborative housing – in staying young and providing mutual support. So far, it’s been a Good Idea. Good enough to get us to the workshop last weekend.
While the workshop exposed us to a lot of creative ideas for building community and constructing collaborative living arrangements, it also made us realize that these things take time. If we wait until we need community support in order to remain independent or manage our health care, it will be too late to build it. Developing a collaborative home or a cohousing development can take years: we know of few who’ve done it in three or four, and many who’ve taken seven or more. Even if all we do is move to a new community, it will take time to become integrated and establish new networks and friendships. The time to start is now.
Coming out of the weekend, we have a new sense of purpose in building our future community, … plus a lot more creative ways in which we can get started. As interesting as we find the traditional cohousing concept, we’re not sure it’s the model for us. But there are plenty more to choose from. It’s a good thing. As boomers age, more and more of us will realize it’s going to take some creative community building to meet the challenges of the coming years. No one solution is going to be able to match the magnitude of the requirement.
As I was writing this post, I was chatting with Cheryl’s mom, who is visiting us from her home in an assisted-living complex. She was telling me about how she was too young to take up some of those exercise activities that the staff put on. Maybe next year, she said.
For my part, I have acquired a new sense of urgency, not a panicked urgency, but a realization that the biological clock is ticking. Having taken my head from the sand, it will not be so easy to bury it again. We need to pick a direction and start taking concrete actions to make ageing well in community our reality. It’s time.
Need more? Check these out:
- Global Age Watch Index 2013
- Boomers Redefining ‘Ageing in Community’.
- “It’s a new sharing world” and “Madam, your robot waits“
- And the resources from our earlier post, “Why Live Alone?”
What’s your take?