by Peter F. Eder The body of demographic and sociographic data that is emerging on seniors needs and satisfactions is fueling and underscoring the growth of aging-in-place organizations (organizations dedicated to helping seniors remain in their homes as they age). Today there are more than 140 of them in forty states and another 120 under consideration or in development.
Nationwide surveys reveal that more than 90% of those sixty years of age or older want to remain in their own homes and communities as they age. When asked what supports they need, transportation is most frequently mentioned. This is followed by assistance with daily chores (shopping, home repairs, untangling medical information, etc.); the need for a reliable source of vetted services providers; and exposure to community activities, both public and private.
Overall, they desire inclusion – not exclusivity – in their communities. Seniors don't want special attention called to themselves as individuals requiring privileges or advantages. They want to continue “normal” living in the places they call “home.”
Modern times are creating real hurdles to satisfying this simple desire. In an American age characterized by increasing exclusivity fostered by social media, economic inequality and a shrinking “common wealth”, seniors desires for inclusion and the avoidance of age stigma face major challenges.
Let’s take the social media aspect as one example. The seemingly endless accelerating pace of change finds its greatest reflection on the internet and its communications and social media dimensions. Nodes and clusters of like-minded people feed off themselves and create virtual gated communities. It allows and encourages individual’s self-aggrandizement. Visitors are often disparaged or turned away. Outsiders are often the subject of cruel humor and vilification. Old ageism is often a target of undefended or unanswered ridicule.
While seniors are increasing their on-line usage, they tend to use it for more inclusionary purposes – namely to gather information and to participate in neighborhood and local events that make their lives easier and more pleasurable.
It is in this climate of increasing exclusivity that the expanding population of seniors face an increasing struggle to ensure their inclusion in their communities. Acting collectively through aging-in-place organizations is proving to be a valuable and viable strategy.
On behalf of seniors I would like to suggest a series of small and quickly implementable steps that can be effected through active aging-in-place groups.
Aging-in place organizations should be structured to be available to all seniors in the community, without any income requirements or wealth qualifiers or verifications, and not considering segments of age, condition of health or physical ability. Any qualifications beyond simply reaching an age level fosters the feeling of exclusivity.
Existing public and private (for-profit and not-for-profit) organizations should be encouraged to include seniors in a normal fashion in all their ongoing activities. Not just public senior centers, or established long-term care institutions or neighborhood hospitals or health practices, but libraries, schools at every level (elementary through college), fraternal, sports and arts organizations, clergy councils should foster inclusion of all seniors. Regular and ongoing activities should be made more convenient and cost efficient for the total senior population.
Those individuals and organizations that determine and set public policy must be made aware of the positive impact of curtailing the diminishment of the common wealth, and ensure that seniors will have access to services, in easy and normal forms of integration, without financial burdens or penalties.
In closing, it should be recognized that including seniors in the full spectrum of a community's daily life has substantial benefits for the total community. To mention just a few: a sense of historical relevance through the shared wisdom of oldest to youngest generations; a source of stable tax and property value revenue; cohesion in family structure; enriching lives through teaching; care giving and support to working parents or single parent households.
Senior inclusion will pay dividends to all aspects of society.
Peter F. Eder is a retired marketing executive, an active AARP Connecticut community volunteer, and a founding Board member of At Home in Darien, his community’s aging-in-place organization.
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