Tag Archives: Assisted living

More than a few unanswered questions

Shedders is our favourite blog. It doesn’t hurt that the author is a long-time friend. Here she writes about one of the many great conversations we had when she and her husband came north for their annual visit last summer – their “Down Under” winter.

SHEDDERS, by Heather Bolstler

IMG_2890We had an interesting conversation at breakfast yesterday. Old friends Paul and Cheryl had met up with Rick and me in Powell River BC for a few days‘ exploration, and we were all relishing the Breakfast part of B&B existence. You may be amused by the familiarity of the threads of our discussion – except for the tragedy and frustration of it.

The conversation began as you might expect with compliments on the fine food served up by Yvonne, our hostess, and then drifted to the very social lifestyle of B&B proprietors. We found similarities with Rick and my Shedders’ co-housing arrangement, and that in turn led into co-housing communities that some of us had recently inspected, here on BC’s west coast.

From there, we fell smack into more dangerous territory. All these retirement communities, we lamented; where have all the children gone? Yvonne wondered why our children tend not…

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Ageing Heads in the Sand?

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!)

Biking the hills at Les Baux-de-Provence, France

Biking the hills at Les Baux-de-Provence, France

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.

What, me worry?

What, me worry?

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.

Our friends still like to play

Our friends still like to play

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.

In less than two decades, I'll have one of these!

In less than two decades, I’ll have one of these!

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:

What’s your take?

Why Live Alone

A few years back, we learned of a successful experiment in communal retirement living pursued by some old friends of ours in Australia.  They had joined with two other couples, and built a special home to their requirements.  While each couple has private sleeping quarters, they share most of the 3500 square-foot house.  They love it!

Collaborative retirement household featured in "A group solution to growing older", Sydney Morning Herald, June 3 2013

Collaborative retirement household featured in “A group solution to growing older”, Sydney Morning Herald, June 3

What first caught our attention was the possibility of saving money, retiring sooner, and traveling more.

However, the more we looked into it, the more we discovered that the real value of their arrangement was the new community that came with it:  something equivalent to a new family.

As we approach the next phase of our lives, we can feel our old communities slipping away.  Our kids are preparing to leave home – we think.  When we retire from our current jobs, we will quickly lose touch with former colleagues.  Our friends are beginning to retire and move away – some to the countryside, some overseas.  We ourselves plan to move out of the City, and expect to spend more of the year abroad.

We watched what had happened to our parents, aunts, and uncles.  Many of them ended up living alone for the final years of their lives.  Some of them were shepherded into assisted living complexes when living alone became too uncertain.  Even for those who managed to stay independent – often with the help of several nearby grown children – the solo years struck us as missing something.  Was there a better way?

The tranquil view from our former island cabin - too much solitude now?

The tranquil view from our former island cabin – too much solitude now?

Cheryl and I have valued our privacy over the years.  We started our family in a development of five and ten-acre wooded lots.  We later enjoyed spending time with our boys at our off-grid island cabin.  Our retirement dream at one time included a 40-acre spread of wild countryside.

Now our perceptions are changing.  Selling the island cabin may have heralded this change;  we thought it would be too isolated as we got older.  Our experience with our own parents was pivotal:  we would probably live longer than they did, and – like most boomers – we have fewer children to rely on, children who are unlikely to live in the neighbourhood.  The same demographic shift likely means that the cost of assisted living will escalate while the quality of life in those complexes will decline.

Our reading has also underscored the importance of community.  The declining birthrate worldwide will make it harder to replace the old networks of support we are losing as we transition into the next phase of our lives.  Initiatives such as Blue Zones have shown how critical maintaining community is to our health and happiness as we age.  This aligns with advice on nurturing your communities in books such as Flourish and Younger Next Year.  We have all read by now how we can keep our brains younger by engaging in mental activity such as language skills and problem solving.  Living with other people is one way to ensure that kind of mental workout.

We recently joined an outdoor association, and were surprised to find so many retired or almost so.

We recently joined an outdoor association, and were surprised to find so many retired or almost so.

We’re now in the process of realigning our personal tradeoffs between privacy and community.  Can we construct a future for ourselves that replaces the communities we are losing?  We’re taking steps to reach out and join or create new communities for various activities.

What about collaborative living?  Is there a solution that will work for us?  Our friends in Australia had known their housemates for many years before moving in together.  When we took inventory of our own circles, we found very few possible candidates – when we broached the subject with some of those, they soon announced they were moving out of town.  Coincidence, we’re sure!

Can we find new partners for such a venture?  Perhaps.  It’s not a trivial exercise.  The householders and our friends call themselves The Shedders – primarily because of the physical and emotional baggage they had to “shed” in order to make living together work.  Will our circumstances dictate a different form of collaboration?  How far are we willing to go in trading our privacy for community?  We are grappling with now with these questions.  We’ll share some of what we learn over the months ahead.

Solitude or community - in the Marais district of Paris.

Solitude or community – in the Marais district of Paris.

Here are some of the sources that have influenced our journey.

  • Shedders:  This is Heather Bolstler’s personal blog about the journey to their collaborative retirement home.  The earlier entries are now available in this eminently readable Kindle eBook.  The Shedders are by no means the only ones to have made this work.  “My House Our House” profiles a group of three women who turned a preexisting house into a collaborative housing venture.  With an ageing population and lingering economic malaise, we predict a lot more of these in the coming decade.
  • A quiet home on a private acreage no longer the ideal?

    A quiet home on a private acreage no longer the ideal?

    Our own recent experience – such as our recent cycle trip in Provence – has underscored our own need for community.

One of our reasons for starting this blog is to reach out to a wider circle in our search for community.  We’d love to hear from you on this subject.