The Age of Aging

7 min read

A gallery of senior housing solutions

“It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long
life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting
old appeals to no one.” —Andy Rooney

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old.
We grow old because we stop playing.”
—George Bernard Shaw

In Washington, D.C., aging Americans over 62 share an apartment building with single mothers under 25 who have children and who need to return to work. To reside in this new modern residence, the seniors must pledge to provide day care for the children and the young mothers must pledge to run errands for the seniors.

At the Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey, people who spent their career in show business live out their later lives with former castmates and colleagues and there is no need to be intimidated or baffled by the latest changes in American culture.

At the Noho Senior Arts Colony in North Hollywood, 150 residents of an up to the minute contemporary apartment building share time painting at side-by-side easels in the arts room, writing at computers in the literary studio, or rehearsing a Pinter play on the stage of the 78-seat theater shared with a local professional theatrical company.

We have entered the Age of Aging. With the Boomers reaching or approaching retirement age, for the first time in our history, the over-60 sector will be the largest segment of the American population. Business, government and culture all seem to be laser focused on this development. Just look at the movies released this past year—Meryl Streep as an aging rock club singer in “Ricki & the Flash,” Lily Tomlin as “Grandma,” Robert DeNiro as an older man looking for a new business start in “The Intern,” and also as a “Dirty Grandpa.” These are not films that the Hollywood community would have released ten or even five years ago. But business follows the market.

What are the best situations for aging? As you age, how do you fulfill your practical needs—housing, healthcare, finance, transportation—as well as your emotional needs—maintaining independence, avoiding loneliness, remaining mentally active and having a sense of purpose?

As the adult child of the elderly, how can you be most comfortable that your parents’ needs are being addressed?

Not all situations for aging are equal. There are better ways.

In these pages, you will find creative ideas for solving aging’s problems that are useable or can inspire parallel ideas. By observing the ways others are living and dealing with the most common issues, you may see a new path for your business.

As we age, things that were once so easy to do gradually become difficult. What was once second nature now requires planning. What was once a routine becomes a task. We spend most of our life progressing, and suddenly we are digressing. The tiniest everyday tasks are now giant pains in the ass. Over time, the body and the mind both lose some functionality and we reach a juncture where tasks that have been second nature and routine become problematic and emotions we once controlled run rampant. This is not attractive, nor is it easy to confront, but it’s true.

We all want to remain independent. That’s our American spirit. We want privacy and do not want outsiders hovering over us unnecessarily. We want to feel that we don’t need others’ help, but rather that we can get things done by ourselves. At the same time, we want to remain socially interactive. Once we were a part of a family, a company, an organization, and we don’t want to completely lose our sense of belonging to something.

As we age we need assistance. We may not need fulltime attention. We can maintain some privacy. But there simply are things we could do by ourselves when we were younger that we cannot do when we are older. And there is nothing wrong with that. It’s okay. It does not mean our lives are being invaded. It does not mean that we are any lesser human beings.

The assistance can be with regular daily activities as simple as dressing and showering, with practical matters such as transportation and tracking our finances, or problems with health. It can attempt to replace things that were once a vital part of our lives that are no longer as accessible—jobs, activities, friends, even family. Or it can provide a group setting that we cannot create ourselves—a community, a club, a chorus.

I have had the privilege of spending much time with dedicated people who devote their careers to aging issues, at summits and conferences, at their offices and facilities and agencies, in hospitals and medical schools, in senior living communities of all kinds, at senior centers, and at meetings all across the country of the in-home service providers. Before I began engaging with these people, aging appeared to be endlessly frustrating, devoid of solutions, and I, like too many of us, shunned the topic. It was too sad to even contemplate.

But assistance is available in many forms: from living facilities that provide housing, healthcare, meals and transportation to communities designed around emphasis on the arts, to clusters of people in their own homes who form a Village and contribute funds to hire a staff to help them find what they need, to a miraculous complex outside Amsterdam where residents suffering from dementia virtually stop time and live in the era in which they were comfortable. There are creative solutions to aging.

The housing industry has been a leader in this creative problem solving. In the following pages, you will learn about just a handful of approaches. What they all share is that in the Age of Aging, housing is no longer simply a place to live; instead it is a gateway to fulfilling the needs of residents. You will find a story here about a category commonly known as Assisted Living. But the truth is that each project included here is in some way assisted living.

Nothing included here is a panacea. Aging is a persistent force, a relentless foe. None of these stories will make elder life perfect, but there will be many that show it can be better.

Each of the communities we visit will not be the solution for everyone. The aged in America have generally been viewed as a homogeneous group. But of course they are not. With Social Security available at 62 and many people living well into their 90s and beyond, we are looking at a few different generations. There are solutions here for different personal financial situations, different personal health conditions, and various social and familial situations.

Segmentation is an ongoing topic among the thousands of businesses and organizations around the country that serve the aging. What complicates the issue, and the nomenclature, is that age is just one of the factors that might define the segments. They may also be grouped together by life situations, wealth, or levels of health. Participation in the communities we are going to visit here may well be restricted by these factors. Some people will not be able to afford a full-time living facility or even the monthly expenses of a community organization membership. Health issues may prevent someone from providing daycare to children or even acting in a play at their residence. But this journey does not require solving the segmentation dilemma. What the stories here show is that there are better aging situations available to almost everyone however we choose to determine the segments. Locations, costs, activities, services, focus, staff, residents may all vary, but what they all have in common is the concept of community. We cannot stop aging. We may not be capable of solving all the problems it incites. But the stories here will illustrate that such approaches to aging as organized community senior living, planning rather than waiting for panic and desperation to force action, and a systematic approach to providing in-home services can help us age better.