By Gail Evans
Some of us are 80 but feel 50. Our health is good, our income comfortable. We have family and friends, we’re active and optimistic. We are “aging well.”
But even exemplars of healthy aging are not exempt from its cruelties. Growing old brings needs that cannot be ignored.
Perhaps the realization that we need help comes after a fall. Perhaps it creeps up gradually. But it comes to most of us at some point. We’ve been independent and productive all our adult lives. Now it as though we live in a foreign land, facing limitations and situations we are at a loss to deal with. Loss and loneliness, fear, depression, and the sense that we are socially marginalized and invisible become familiar experiences.
Hannah Reimann, in the September issue of WestView News, highlighted one of the scenarios older Villagers face. She described elders living alone in large apartments, with space to spare, but finding daily activities too much to handle alone. Reimann’s proposed solution: a win-win program pairing these elders with live-in companions with whom they make an arrangement—reduced rent, or some other accommodation, in return for assistance with activities such as chores and light housekeeping.
This column will focus on the personal impact of growing old, and the impact of ageism. We will also provide information about available resources (and those that are lacking) to ease the process, and about innovative ideas for solutions like Ms. Reimann’s. I hope to feature interviews with Village seniors about their later years, and Village professionals who work with elders and know first-hand the existing system of care.
Who am I? I am a senior and Village resident. Now retired, I worked for thirty years in communications and service development for the New York City Department for the Aging, the government agency responsible for a citywide network of community-based senior services and programs. My stake in helping to make the Village a strong and supportive community for older residents is thus both personal and professional.
The current demographics of aging paint a complex picture. From one point of view the picture is rosy. Overall, people are living longer and staying healthy longer. Killer diseases are being managed. More seniors than ever before continue to be active and involved late into their lives, and more are better educated and financially secure.
It is essential to preserve the gains that have been made in helping seniors maintain interests and vigor for as long as possible. We need to strengthen the resources and opportunities that are available and transform our communities so that as many as possible can age “well.”
But there is a less rosy side of the picture. When income, race and ethnicity are taken in account, we find huge disparities in longevity and health. To address these disparities requires not only services and resources for the healthy and active, but new ways of doing outreach and greater attention to the less fortunate among us.
Furthermore, we need “to get real” about longevity. It may be a blessing; but more of us living longer means that at some point more of us will need in-home supports and expensive end-of-life care. A responsive society will not only have to stretch and re-organize its resources, but also be willing to fund resources at the scale necessary.
I hope to explore these challenges of growing old and our community’s responses in future columns.
We Want to Hear from You! Seniors, caregivers and other concerned readers: please share your comments and stories with us through Letters to the Editor or with me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have extra room and would like to share your apartment, please contact Hannah Reimann at email@example.com. You can also leave a message for Hannah or me at 212-414-4883.