Late Life Divorce –AARP

Divorced, single and struggling–photo courtesy of AARP

Boomers love to do everything their own way, and they are out in front on divorce, too. While the overall divorce rate in the United States has decreased since 1990, it has doubled for those over age 50.

Reasons vary: Longer lives mean more years with an incompatible spouse; no kids to use as a reason to stay together; less stigma about splitting; more women working, some outearning their spouses; and a remarriage failure rate of 60 percent.

The surge has spawned the term “gray divorce.” As Jay Lebow, a psychologist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, says, “If late-life divorce were a disease, it would be an epidemic.”

One out of three boomers will face older age unmarried, says Susan Brown, codirector of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in her new study “The Gray Divorce Revolution.”

That’s significant. The fact that one time legally bound partners have gone their separate ways later in life — or are single by choice or circumstances — has many personal and societal ramifications.

 

Paying on your own

Even if not divorced, older adults can be vulnerable financially in today’s economy. But a split-up hardly helps. “You end up with only half of what you had when you were married, and half can feel like nothing,” says Ginita Wall, a San Diego CPA and certified divorce financial analyst.

“Keep in mind that many consequences of divorcing later in life revolve around one fact: less time to recover financially, recoup losses, retire debt and ride the waves of booms and busts,” says Janice Green, an Austin, Texas, family law attorney and author of Divorce After 50.

More than half of all workers or their spouses have less than $25,000 in household savings and investments, according to the 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey, published by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute. Women also still earn less than men and have a longer life expectancy, which puts them at greater economic risk. “Once women wind up older and alone, whether it’s widowed, divorced or never married, they’re at a fairly high rate of poverty, on average 20 percent,” says Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Singles will also depend more on public benefits, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, according to Maya Rockeymoore, a Social Security expert. With the oldest of the 78 million boomers turning 85 in 2031, the government tab could be staggering. In 2021, Medicare alone is expected to cost taxpayers $1.1 trillion — up from $586 billion in 2012.

To stay afloat, some singles, like Eileen Lewis, 66, take in boarders. Divorced at 50 after a two-decade marriage, she rents out a room in her Catonsville, Md., home. The income helps her pay her utilities, gas and part of her mortgage — and enabled her to take a cruise, “something I never would have been able to do before,” she says.

Someone to watch over me

Caregiving adds to the burden of aging alone — and it, too, typically affects women. A 2009 National Alliance for Caregiving/AARP survey found that 66 percent of caregivers were female, with women providing on average 21.9 hours per week vs. 17.4 hours for males. And, according to a National Alliance for Caregiving/Evercare survey, the average out-of-pocket expense for caregivers is $5,531 a year, $8,728 if helping from a distance and $5,885 if the caregiver and care recipient live together.

Older men may make out better financially than women, but they don’t fare so well at finding someone to take care of them when they’re older. “They often don’t have alternative care networks the way women do,” says Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University. “If a man gets divorced, his support in later life is gone. Plan B may be to remarry because he needs a caregiver.”

After divorce, children often live with their mothers. If dads move away or don’t stay close, adult children may not be willing to be caregivers when needed.

Remarriage for either ex is murky territory, too. “If you acquire a stepson when you’re 60, will he help you when you’re old?” asks Cherlin. “We’re creating complex family relationships where we’re related to more people but obligated to fewer.” Even if there is a close bond, children may not live close by.

When asked who they’ll turn to when they’re older, single men often cite paid help, says Teresa Cooney, a gerontologist at the University of Missouri. But paid help is pricey, and can be hard to find. Up to half of the 5.4 million adults with Alzheimer’s have no identifiable caregiver. Former spouses often step in, mainly to spare their children, or because no one else can, says Cooney.

New configurations

The end of a marriage often leads to the formation of a new family, with relatives or friends assuming the caregiving role of a spouse. It can also lead to some unexpected living arrangements.

After her marriage of 32 years ended in 2008, Ellen Rittberg, 60, of Long Island, N.Y., moved to her mother’s home to save money. A year into the arrangement, her mom broke her pelvis; Rittberg decided to stay. Now they care for each other. “It is mutual love and companionship,” says the mother of three and grandmother of two. “I went from being embarrassed that I was living with my mother to feeling so lucky we’re close, and that I can do this.”

Not everyone has family, can live with them, or wants to. According to AARP, 22.3 percent of women and 12.5 percent of men age 50-plus live alone. With people living longer, adult children could wind up caring for three or four parents, plus stepparents. Already, one-third of all female caregivers care for two or more people.

Though most people want to grow old in their homes, some don’t have that choice. Those living in the suburbs or a rural area with limited public transportation and social interaction have additional challenges.

Some singles who don’t want to burden their children are creating their own support systems. Arthur Okner, a divorced, retired management consultant, owns a condo in a Boulder, Colo., cohousing community, where decisions are made by consensus. “I have very little family,” says Okner, 70. “Here, I belong to a community.”

Also on the rise are “villages,” where older adults living on their own have access to vetted services, like home repair, as well as trips, lunches or evening events for an annual fee, $350 on average. Other singles make their own arrangements. Edith Heyck, 61, an artist from Newburyport, Mass., shared a condo for three years with another divorcee in her 50s. “I enjoyed the companionship and it was a financial relief,” she says. When her friend sold the condo, Heyck moved in with an older woman, until Heyck lost her place to a new boyfriend. Now, Heyck is “sofa surfing,” until she’s eligible for senior housing. “I never planned for my financial future,” says Heyck. “I just assumed I would be married.”

— Photo by Robyn Twomey/Redux

Housing veterans

Veterans Go From Homeless to Homeowners—AARP

Four years ago, Michael Shindler’s home was a sleeping bag under a pine tree in a park in Pittsfield, Mass. Today, the 54-year-old Air Force veteran, recovering alcoholic and mentor to at-risk kids lives just up the street, but worlds away in his own gleaming apartment. He also owns a share of the complex and has a voice in how the place is run.

 

A community of former homeless veterans stand in the courtyard of their development in Pittsfield, Mass.

Once homeless, these veterans now own homes in their own Pittsfield, Mass., community. — Joshua Lutz/INSTITUTE

His permanent digs are part of a newly constructed, think-outside-the-box center for homeless vets — the Gordon H. Mansfield Veterans Community. Opened in January, this groundbreaking approach to housing is helping end homelessness for American veterans.

Shindler and 38 other former military men, average age 54, live in brand-new solar-paneled, attached units in a development that looks far more like high-end than affordable housing. Their monthly rent, which ranges from $580 to $682, is subsidized in part by a joint program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Veterans Affairs that is designed to help find housing for homeless vets. They pay the rest of their rent with earned income, their Social Security and veterans disability benefits, or other veteran housing funds. They must also pay $2,500 to buy a limited-equity ownership in the development.

The $6.1 million project, built with federal, state and private foundation grants, is debt-free. Each vet receives his share of any rent money left over after the center pays for insurance, maintenance and reserves for repairs. This year, each vet will pay around $7,000 in rent and get back around $2,100. If a stakeholder decides to move or dies, Soldier On will buy back his share for $2,500.

“It’s a great project,” says Pete Dougherty, director of homeless veterans programs for the Department of Veteran Affairs. “It’s the only one with equity shares, and their board of directors includes veterans who determine their own needs, rather than have others tell them what to do.”

Already a successful model, the community is being replicated in other places. A new project for 60 homes to be built on the campus of the VA Medical Center in Northampton, Mass., just received federal funding. A similar project in Agawam, Mass., has land to build. Soldier On was recently funded for a similar project for female vets and their children, and has two more sites in mind in Massachusetts. Dougherty expects the model to expand nationwide.

Gaining a home

“Think about it. We’ve taken people from being homeless to homeownership,” says Jack Downing, president of Soldier On. “These men and women who have served have lost everything, so to be able to reestablish their dignity and purpose and give them a place that is theirs allows them a great sense of belonging.”

Sam Bennett, 52, knows this well. The former Army tank gunner has been homeless four times since he was honorably discharged in 1981. He became a prison guard, then served time in prison for robbery, was a drug addict, and for six years lost contact with his four daughters and their mother.

But now he has a studio apartment in the Mansfield Community, furnished like most others with donated items: “It’s not a room, it’s not a shelter. It’s a wonderful feeling to say, ‘This is mine.’ When I come home, I can throw off my shoes and pick them up later or decorate any way I want. I feel normal.”

Bennett is also a certified substance abuse counselor, and earns $40,000 a year as a case manager for Soldier On “helping people just like me who have the same issues I had” at the nonprofit’s transitional shelter and treatment program. He lived there for a month while receiving treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. It also happens to be on the same property, just across a driveway, from Bennett’s new apartment. His relationship with his family now? “Beautiful!” he says.

According to Downing, one-fifth of all homeless Americans today are veterans, many of whom lack support because they have burned their bridges with relatives. Here’s why: Of the nearly 550 vets that Soldier On helps annually with emergency, transitional and permanent housing, 88 percent have substance abuse issues, and 84 percent have mental health issues.

Downing recalls that when he started at Soldier On 10 years ago, not one of the vets had any family visit them at Christmas. “It was stunning,” he says. “I’ve worked in prisons and rehabilitation centers my entire life, and never has there been a community that not only has lost so much but has been so marginalized by everyone.”

After Alan Nash came back from the Vietnam War, the now-60-year-old started drinking and “didn’t know how to get help. People were calling vets terrible things and spitting at us. I felt rejected,” he says. He lived in his car in Connecticut, going from campground to campground, until the car died one day. In 2003, Nash entered a veterans program for substance abuse, then wound up at Soldier On’s transitional shelter before snagging his one-bedroom apartment. He loves cooking for himself, and “waited for so long to have my independence back,” he says. “This is my home. It’s permanent!”

House calls

At Soldier On, Nash can also get medical, mental health and job-training services. Therapists and other professionals frequently come right to the vets’ apartments or the transitional shelter building next door. A local bank sponsors one-on-one money management sessions. When residents need to go for outside help or a job interview, a ride is available.

Since just 17 percent of the residents have driver’s licenses, “we deliver all the services they need where they live,” says Downing. “They keep their appointments and have continuity in their treatment.”

Tough love

The vets say the support they get from one another, not to mention staff, helps them battle their demons, too. “We all care about each other,” says Nash. John Woodman, 93, wearing penny loafers and jeans, agrees. “We are all people who have had a hard time in life and are like a band of brothers who have a natural affection for each other. We’ve seen things nobody should see.” A widower with a “Proud to Be an American” blanket on his bed, Woodman served in the Army during World War II and has a daughter who lives nearby. “As far as I’m concerned, this place is magic! It’s rehabilitating people who badly need it and giving them a springboard for a new life. There is freedom here and, at the same time, there is discipline.”

Residents are held accountable for their actions, but if they don’t toe the line, there is collective soul-searching rather than finger-pointing. If they skip their rent payment, for instance, the board of directors and staff will work with them to find ways to catch up and be punctual in the future. That might mean meeting with the local bank to work on their budget or come up with a payment plan or having fellow vets remind them why rent money gets paid before a flat-screen TV purchase. One thing the board doesn’t plan on doing is evicting them.

It’s a similar philosophy if a vet has an alcohol or drug relapse. Rather than play tough guy and threaten punishment or throw them out, as some programs do, “we say, ‘What haven’t we done to build a relationship of trust with you?’ ” says Downing. “We don’t see them as failures, but rather take responsibility for their failure. We’ll do whatever it takes to make them successful.”

A model

The Gordon H. Mansfield vets also run and own several businesses. A construction crew of six goes out into the community every day, and other entrepreneurial opportunities include greenhouse, vending machine and plastic assembly businesses. Technical assistance comes from Soldier On.

The group is having an impact on those outside their small military community. Shindler, who once slept in the park down the road, now talks to students at the local high school about the three things he knows best: alcoholism, homelessness and the military. “Some of the kids are on the fence,” he says. “They want to hear from someone who has been there.” Students from another school join the vets for dinner every Friday to learn about their hard-knock lives — in the hope that they’ll be discouraged from following suit. The superintendent of the Pittsfield schools has presented Shindler with a certificate of appreciation for working with students.

Shindler, who sits on the community’s board of directors, is also appreciative of Soldier On. “Without this program,” he says, “I would have continued self-medicating. If you told me when I was living in the park in 2006 that I’d be here today, and with a place of my own, I wouldn’t have believed it. I never, ever thought I would be afforded this opportunity.”

The Rising Price of Family Caregiving

What’s it like to be a family caregiver today? According to Caring.com’s annual 2015 Usage & Attitudes Family Caregiver Survey, the word is, more or less, “complicated.” For many caregivers, more stress, time, tasks and money are required with less financial security, long-term planning and peace of mind.


AARP
Russ Malone, 65, has retired twice but is now back working part-time as a school bus driver in Rapid City, SD, to pay for his wife’s adult day care. The stress of taking care of his wife, who has early onset Alzheimer’s, is so enormous, “they would need to come up with a new word to describe it,” he says.

Even though Malone, who retired from the Air Force, and his wife, a 63-year-old former waitress, have saved for their retirement “and done everything right,” he thinks the next step—moving her into a nursing facility to the tune of $6,000-$7,000 a month—will “ruin” him and is likely to occur in six or seven months. “It’s getting to the point where I just can’t take care of her anymore,” he says. Malone has unintentionally lost weight and just picked up a prescription for an anti-depressant.

His experience supports many of the findings of this year’s survey, culled from 2,098 respondents.

Here are some highlights:

• Caregivers are spending increasing amounts of time in their role. Nearly four out of ten family caregivers, or 39%, spend more than 30 hours a week on caregiving tasks. This year, 31% report spending more than 40 hours. (Only 22% of respondents to Caring.com’s 2010 survey say they spent that much time on caregiving tasks, and in June, 2014, that figure was 26%.)

Close to half have spent more than $5,000 on caregiving expenses in the last year; 15% pitched in up to $10,000 and 9% paid $50,000 or more. Those who reported spending $50,000 or more on caregiving rose 7% compared to four years ago.

• Fewer caregivers are in the workforce today versus in 2014. This year, 35% of respondentsare employed (20% full-time) and 52% are retired. Compare that to 39% in 2014 (25% full-time).

Who Are These Caregivers?

Three-quarters of survey participants are women, a figure that’s relatively consistent from past Caring.com surveys. What has changed is the number of male caregivers. (In the May 2010 report, just 18% of respondents were male compared to 24% this year.)

The largest group of caregivers is in their 60s (35%), followed by ages 50-59 and 70-79 (each age group represents 23% of respondents). Survey respondents are also trending older, with more in their 70s and fewer in their 50s compared to years past. (In 2010, for instance, 41% of survey participants were in their 50s—there were 18% fewer fifty-somethings this year.)

Who are they caring for? Most carees are either the caregiver’s parent (32%) or spouse (24%). Over the years, the number of respondents caring for a mother or father has always surpassed those taking care of a spouse, relative or friend, but today nearly one in four now report caring for a spouse. (In 2010 that number was just 14%.)

Multi-Tasking is the Norm

The average caregiver rarely has just one or two related responsibilities. “Multitasking” might as well be her middle name.

Consider Caring.com’s 2015 survey results:

Shopping for food and personal care items take the cake (85%) as the most popular caregiving tasks. Other top responsibilities include attending their loved one’s doctors’ appointments (82%), managing finances or paying bills for the caree (81%), providing transportation (77%) and communicating with friends and family about the loved one’s condition (74%). These figures are all up from the past three years. In 2012, for example, 73% of caregivers said they managed their loved one’s money; today that number is 81%.

The list of common caregiving tasks also includes giving or keeping track of medications, preparing meals, cleaning the house, bathing or personal hygiene and visiting a loved one who lives elsewhere.

This year’s report shows caregivers have taken on more labor-intensive tasks, from bathing and personal hygiene (42% this year versus 32% two years ago) to dressing, (42% compared to 31% in 2013), and helping the caree use the toilet (29% compared to 20% two years ago).

Working Caregivers Getting Slammed at Work and at Home

Without question, even if caregivers don’t hold down a professional job, they’ve got a full-time personal one. But more than a third of respondents say they do both – with 20% working full-time and 15% who are either working part-time or are self-employed.

Working caregivers tend to face job distractions, schedule disruptions, absences and even reluctant departures from the workplace.

Consider this eye-popping figure: 71% of survey respondents say caregiving has had a negative impact on their job. That number is up 11% from 2014.

The survey uncovers significant impacts on working caregivers:

  • Most (88%) have felt some work repercussions related to caregiving
  • Two-thirds say they’re distracted on the job due to their caregiving responsibilities
  • More than half (55%) have had to change their work schedules
  • Nearly a quarter (23%) have arrived late or left early, 19% have missed substantial amounts of time and 19% think they may need to leave their job permanently because of their caregiving obligations

Up until last year, 57-year-old Kathryn Camille Bunch was a special education teacher in Austin, Texas. “It was too hard remaining at work and dealing with issues by phone with Mom’s hired caregiver,” she says. Bunch was paying the caregiver $2,400 a month from her mother’s retirement savings and her own funds.

“My school district supported ‘family first,’ but it upset my boss that I had to take off or miss work due to Mom’s issues,” she recalls. As her mother’s health declined, Bunch decided to leave the classroom altogether.

Retirement Planning on the Backburner

When caregiving is all-consuming, it can be hard to focus on anything except getting through the day. Of course, it can also have the reverse effect, prompting others to think about their own future and make a plan.

Before she stopped working three years ago, 74-year-old Roshan Khaki was an Atlanta, GA, dietician and diabetes educator. Today, she cares full-time for her husband, who has both degenerative arthritis and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). “I often think, ‘What if something happens to me?’ but I haven’t had time to consider my own future,” she says. “I’m worried but at the same time, I will cross that bridge when I come to it.” Perhaps, she says, she will move in with one of her two children or live in a condo, but she has yet to explore her options.

Khaki’s situation is consistent with other respondents who don’t have plans in place for their older selves. Caring.com’s just-released survey points to a lot of caregivers in the same boat:

  • The majority (78%) don’t have long-term care insurance
  • Close to half (49%) have no life insurance or burial insurance
  • Nearly 50% haven’t planned for retirement
  • More than half (55%) haven’t tackled estate planning
  • Very few have made plans to move to a retirement community (8%) or to independent living communities (7%)

This year’s survey findings illuminate how caregivers are faring—and the far-reaching impact that role has on their lives. The financial costs are higher than ever – with caregivers spending larger sums on their loved ones—in some cases, a whopping $50,000 or more a year. Meanwhile, more caregivers are having to make workplace sacrifices, sometimes calling it quits altogether. And when they’re home? They’re busier than ever tending to their parent or spouse, and performing tougher tasks. Theirs is hardly an easy place to be.

More Workplaces Offer Flexibility for Caregiving

Life work balanceFinally, employers seem to be getting the message that many of their workers have caregiving demands.

Increasingly, both nonprofit and for-profit companies are offering workplace flexibility, paid and unpaid leave, and resource and referral services, according to the 2014 National Study of Employers released today by the Families and Work Institute (FWI), along with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

 

The study polled 1,051 employers with 50 or more employees. “The findings indicate that the issue of family caregiving is on the radar of many employers,” says Ellen Galinsky, president of FWI.

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And for good reason. Decision-makers increasingly are in eldercare binds themselves, or have friends who are. As Galinsky puts it, “You have to walk in someone else’s shoes to feel their pain.” But there’s a bottom line as well. We know that distracted, depressed or disengaged workers – like those who have to skip out of the office to take Mom or a spouse to the doctor, sub for a no-show home health aide, or suddenly find themselves flying to another state to deal with an eldercare crisis – can be less productive and even quit. That’s expensive for an employer.

On the other hand, workers with less stress, like those who feel valued and whose needs are met, tend to have fewer mental and physical problems. For a company, that translates into lower health care costs.

“The average family caregiver also works at a paying job and is likely to be at his or her career peak. It is in employers’ best interests to provide flexibility and support to their workers who are caring for adult family members or friends with a serious illness or disability,” says Lynn Feinberg, senior strategic policy adviser at AARP’s Public Policy Institute.

It is also in society’s best interests. According to an AARP study, close to 61.6 million U.S. family caregivers provided care to an adult in 2009. AARP estimates the cost for their unpaid work was nearly $450 billion in 2009, up from a nothing-to-sneeze-at figure of $375 billion in 2007. And consider this: Another AARP report underscores the urgency of having flexible work policies in place. It estimated that in 2010 there were seven potential family caregivers ages 45-64 (as in adult children) for every person over 80 – a time when many need help. By 2030, that ratio is projected to shrink to 4 to 1, getting as low as 3 to 1 in 2050. With fewer caregivers, work will have to get more flexible.

Other findings from the FWI/SHRM study on workplace flexibility:

  • More employers are offering at least 12 weeks of leave for workers who care for seriously ill family members (84 percent in 2008 vs. 90 percent in 2014). Few offer more than 12 weeks.
  • Places with the most flexibility are nonprofits; organizations with more women on staff; those that have more women and racial or ethnic minorities in executive leadership jobs or who directly report to such executives; and those that have fewer hourly employees, some part-time workers and entry-level positions that are hard to fill.
  • Organizations with 50 to 99 employees nationwide offer more flexibility than companies with 1,000 or more.

 

>> Get discounts on health services with your AARP Member Advantages.

Some employees already receive benefits under the law. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mandates that employers with 50 or more employees who meet certain conditions  (i.e., work at least 1,250 hours over a 12-month period) are required to give their workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for an immediate family member, and guarantee that their position or an equivalent one will be there when they return. Yet millions work for smaller companies or organizations, or just don’t qualify for FMLA benefits.

With so many employees with caregiving commitments and conflicts, and many more coming down the pike, decision-makers and human resource folks must come up with other creative programs and benefits to meet everyone’s needs. It’s worth it on so many levels.

Photo: jenbrayphotography/iStock

Sally Abrahms covers caregiving, housing and age 50+ work. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Career Transitions at 50+

If you’re older and looking for work in your field or want to change careers, you’ve got company. Lots of it. A combination of living longer, the fear of outliving retirement, fallout from the recession, the need to sock away more for later or collect health care benefits, and the desire to make a difference is making work important.CAREER expert Kerry Hannon says having a great online presence can give job seekers an edge.

 

 

According to a 2014 Merrill Lynch Retirement Study, 72 percent of preretirees want to work in their retirement years, and 47 percent who have retired have worked or plan to work. Boomers, it turns out, are starting more businesses than any other demographic.

While it’s true that older people, on average, take longer to find work than those who are younger, there are opportunities.

We spoke about job strategies with Kerry Hannon, a career and retirement expert and author of “What’s Next: Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job In Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond,” and “Great Jobs For Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy . . . And Pays the Bills.”

What is the work climate like for those aged 55 and over?

CAREER expert Kerry Hannon says having a great

online presence can give job seekers an edge.

I’m not going to say that ageism doesn’t exist, but the jobs are there. It’s clear that employers do not only want employees who are wearing hoodies.

Older workers have an edge when it comes to experience and knowledge, but what are the perceived disadvantages?

Some employers believe that older workers may not have the stamina to do the job, that they’re not up to speed with technology, won’t play nicely with younger colleagues, or will have a hard time reporting to a younger boss.

How do you combat that?

Get physically fit — you will exude vibrancy and a can-do attitude. Stay on top of technology and changes in the field. Sign up for computer workshops online, at local colleges, adult education or senior centers. Do you need to go back to school to get a certification? (Many community colleges offer age 50+ retraining.) Let employers know you have a collaborative work style with workers of any age. And, show them you are savvy by having a strong social media footprint.

What does that entail?

Hiring managers will do a Google search on you. You must have a good LinkedIn profile with a professional-looking headshot. Not including a photo doesn’t preclude age discrimination, but eliminates many opportunities. According to LinkedIn, recruiters are 11 times more likely to click on a profile that has a photo than one without. Get active in industry groups on LinkedIn, post interesting articles, and participate in discussions. It’s also a great way to pull together your professional network.

How important is it for older workers to be on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+?

A great online presence gives you an edge. Using social media properly allows recruiters to discover you, and for you to unearth job openings. You can reconnect with past colleagues and pals from across the decades now working in industries or companies you’d like to join. This simple and subtle networking is essential for everyone. If you’re not adept at social media, take a class or ask your niece, son, or a kid in the neighborhood, for help.


What else do you need?

A professional e-mail address like Gmail, not AOL or Yahoo, which will date you.

Can you market your age as an asset?

Yes. You need to articulate your value. Workers 50+ tend to be self-starters, know how to get the job done, and don’t need as much hand-holding as those with less experience. A great benefit to being older is that you have a good deal of knowledge and leadership ability. Chances are you will be hired over someone with less in their quiver and in need of training. Look at your skill set and past experience as transferable to lots of different challenges and fields. Nonprofits and small businesses are good for older workers. They often need your chops, although you may have to work for less.

Older workers are competing with younger job seekers who may not command as much money. Should a worker later in life be willing to sacrifice some salary for a job?

Absolutely. At this stage, it’s always best to get in the door and sacrifice money for a job you want to do. You might be able to negotiate for nonsalary compensation to offset your paycheck such as more vacation, flextime, work from home, even four-day weeks. If you perform well, they may bump up your salary.

Does it send a bad signal to accept less money?

If you like the job and want it or need it, it’s not worth being hard-line. It is also always easier to find a job when you have a job. So accept it, and then keep looking discreetly. In the meantime, you’re keeping your resume alive and your confidence up.

What if you’re unemployed?

Do something every day. Ask for advice and talk to people doing the jobs you’re considering. If you’re thinking of starting a business, volunteer, moonlight, get in there and do the job and see if it’s what you imagined it to be. Volunteering for a nonprofit lets you test the waters, adds to your resume, and puts you in touch with people who might know of a job opening or introduce you to someone who does.

Don’t a few companies have programs that pay a stipend to soon-to-be-retired employees so they can use their skills at a nonprofit and see if it might be their new career?

They’re called “encore careers,” combining socially meaningful work with a paycheck. Those jobs can turn into full-time positions or lead to other part-time or full-time work.

What do you think makes the people you’ve interviewed so successful at making a career transition or starting their own businesses?

They haven’t made rash moves. So, if you are beginning to think about the next chapter, start planning at age 55 what you want to do at age 60 or at 60 for 65. Is it to get into a different department or company, work fewer hours, be your own boss, or switch gears altogether? Do your homework, and network, network, network!

Van Gogh at MoMA

Dementia and Art at MoMA–AARP

Van Gogh at MoMAPicture this: It is Tuesday, the day New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is closed to the public, and yet I  am in their galleries surrounded by Van Goghs, Dalis, and Cezannes.  It is one of those “life moments” now etched in my brain.

There are no crowds or distractions, just seven caregivers, their spouses and parents with dementia, and a Museum educator, all animatedly discussing Picasso’s very abstract “The Seated Bather.”

The educator: “Why did Picasso choose to paint this way? There is no torso or brain. What do you see?”

“A hollow woman,” says one man with Alzheimer’s. “An empty-headed woman,” says another. “What a sexy broad!” he continues.

There may be laughs, but this is a serious approach to improving the lives of caregivers and their impaired spouses and parents. The MoMA Alzheimer’s Project’s Meet Me at the MoMA, a free monthly 1.5 hour program that attracts around 90 participants (divided into six groups) at a time, is one of many such museum programs around the country and abroad.

ARTZ (Artists For Alzheimer’s) created a program for the Louvre and the National Gallery of Australia; it also runs free weekly museum tours among six museums in Massachusetts.

No doubt, it’s a challenge for an educator. People are at different stages of Alzheimer’s (although the programs are geared to those with mild cognitive impairment). Says Laurel Humble of MoMA: “You have to be on your toes. Some answers don’t make sense. There’s a fair amount of work to keep the conversation cohesive. I’m constantly reintroducing an idea.”

Not that it matters. As the caretaker, having that meaningful experience is a rarity. These initiatives are a break from the daily hum-drum caregiver/recipient interaction.

A New York University study of the MoMA program found other benefits: a boost in self-worth and positive mood that can last several days after a program for the one with Alzheimer’s.  And caregivers? Researchers discovered they feel less isolated by socializing with others also dealing with Alzheimer’s. Plus, they’re doing something for themselves–remember, they’re not the best at that taking-care-of-themselves thing.

“It’s my lifeline, my life support,” says one MoMA regular . “Without it, I don’t think I could do it. The program is intellectually stimulating for me and my husband. It’s not just looking at pretty pictures. Both of us get to use our mind.”

I met Tania Becker, who has just launched the Arts 4 Alzheimer’s program at the Columbus Museum in Columbus, GA. Here’s her take: “They’re so engaged! Sometimes when I walk out, I can’t tell which is the person with Alzheimer’s and which is the caregiver!”

Score! 6 Ways to Use Music with Mom

Talk to neuroscientists, physicians and music therapists and they sing the same tune: when people hear music they like or make music (singing, drumming, or dancing to it), good chemicals such as dopamine are released in the pleasure centers of the brain and make them feel good. Brain imaging and clinical studies on people’s psychological states back up these findings.Score! 6 Ways to Use Music with Mom

Music is used for depression and mood, agitation, social interaction, balance, gait, attention, pain and appetite, to name just some. Some long term care settings are seeing a link between music and the reduction of psychotherapeutic drugs.

Anyone Can Use Music

The beauty of music is that you don’t need to be a pro to use it effectively. It pauses the drudgery of the day, for both caregivers and their loved ones, and is a special way to bond.

Here are six ways to make music matter:

1. Figure out their favorites.

Music from early childhood or when they were in their late teens and 20’s seems to “stick” best. Those could be show tunes, swing, opera, or opera for instance. They may love Andy Williams, Dean Martin or Tony Bennett. You can start with famous songs like “Moon River” or “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby” or any number of others. (Google “best songs of the 1940s” or Billboard’s top hits of the ‘40s and 50s.”)

“Most people enjoy music most familiar to them,” says Alicia Clair, a professor of music therapy at the University of Kansas, who studies the effects of music on dementia, Parkinson’s, stroke and physical frailty.

Ask them what their favorite songs were/are. If that’s not feasible, play songs and see how they respond.
Engage them, if possible, by asking what they remember about the song. It is likely to remind them of a time or person. Did they used to dance to certain tunes that might bring back memories?

2. Gauge the music to the activity and time of day.

If they’re just waking up, try something calming. Have to take a shower? The tempo can be peppier to get them to the task (“When the Saints Go Marching In,” perhaps?). When it’s time for bed, opt for something soothing and slow. You can also have them put on headphones. Before bed, try a song with a slow tempo. You get the idea. A good resource is: http://soundscapemusictherapy.com/posts/song-spotlights/.

Warning: Make sure they’re not too tired, the music is not too loud and frenetic or the environment is overly stimulating.

3. Make a playlist of songs they like.

Create your own playlist of your parent’s favorite songs.
Check out: http://musicandmemory.org/request-guide/ to tailor-make a playlist.

SingFit is a mobile app and program used in both senior living communities and by individual family caregivers. It gives you the lyric cues to a song so you don’t have to remember the words. Designed for such diverse conditions as dementia, autism and traumatic brain injuries, you can sing and record favorite tunes to a playlist.

4. Decide how to deliver the music.

Is it an iPod, CD, laptop, smartphone or MP3 player? Real vinyl records? With a Mac, you can download music from iTunes. Pandora Radio lets you match a music genre (i.e. classical, country, jazz,), and singer (Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra?) or era, such as the 1930s. Spotify has thousands of songs to choose from, too.

5. Sing your hearts out together.

If you’re in the car, you can put on your playlist, or the radio and have a sing along. Try familiar oldies like “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” “Home On the Range” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”

6. Make music and dance.

Have Dad pick up chimes or drums. Drumming circles – where people come together to play – has become popular with older adults. It’s a physical workout with therapeutic benefits, too. “I know people who couldn’t dress themselves or talk but could still play an instrument,” says Concetta Tomaino, founder of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function.

Music and drumming are not impacted by the loss of memory. (To find a drumming circle in your area or start your own, go to: www.remo.com/health.

Dancing is possible under any circumstances. Even if your loved one sits all day or is in a wheelchair, they can still clap their hands to the rhythm or march in place to music.

Two computer programs of note: Virtuoso is a “piano” for playing duets. Sound Prism also makes chords when you put your hand on the screen.

What type of music does your loved one like? Have you tried singing, listening to music with them, or drumming? Hearing your stories would be music to our ears!

not-so-rare

Boomers Love Pets

Adoration for pets has been around since Greek and Roman times. The Greeks embalmed beloved cats, and Romans wild about their monkeys and Maltese dogs would dress them in expensive clothes and gold jewelry when they died. During the Manchurian Dynasty, some women breast fed Pekinese puppies along with their children. So, it’s only fitting that today’s boomers love pets, particularly their dogs, and give them the royal treatment.

We (naturally, the royal “we”) indulge our hounds with Gucci leashes, diamond-studded (yes, real) collars, and matching master and doggie outfits. We dye their hair, and wheel them around in baby carriages. Ever been to Boca Raton, FL? There seem to be more itsy-bitsy canines in strollers than babies, with empty nesters behind the “wheel.”

Pedicures and Yoga for Dogs

We treat our dogs to pawdicures (pedicures with colored nail polish) and pet spas with treadmills, and sign them up for door-to-door daycare. We enroll in “Ruff Yoga” classes, where masters and dogs practice side by side, and send them surfing. Want more action? How about summer camp for dogs and owners?

Homo sapiens, we have gone off the deep end!

Lest you write me off as one of those who sniffs disapprovingly when a dog approaches, I happen to adore them — and have owned two long-lived beauties. I was devastated nine months ago when Isabella, my beloved Springer Spaniel, died. With my three adult children settled in disparate parts of the country, Isabella was my constant companion and best buddy. I am as gaga over this species as the next boomer gal.

I just can’t grasp this pets-as-humans concept. The other day, I was waiting in line at the airport. The woman behind me turned to her dog and said, “Come on, Chloe, Mommy has to go potty.” They trotted off to the restroom.

I know someone from Chicago who flew to Boston with his dogs to get them blessed at a special church ceremony. An entrepreneur in the same city bought 10 ice cream trucks so he could travel to dog parks and hawk doggie ice cream. Wouldn’t you know the most popular flavors: Puppernutt and Puppermint.

Dogs and Bark Mitzvahs

When my hair stylist lived in Florida, he attended several Bark Mitzvahs (parties a la Bar Mitzvahs for when a dog turns 13). And, in Brazil, veterinarians perform cosmetic surgery on pets. You can buy a French chateau ($6,000-$11,000) with flower boxes, air conditioning, a Versailles bed, wooden floors and track lighting.

In an abysmal economy, the dog business is thriving. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent $48.35 billion on their pets last year, and that figure is expected to jump to $50.84 billion this year. (In 1996, pet owners parted with a mere $21 billion.)

Pets have always been special to people. They’re loyal, nonjudgmental, and terrific company. We also know they can help those with emotional problems, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, loneliness, anxiety, and high blood pressure and some dogs can detect cancer in human.

It makes sense that we can use the same sophisticated surgery to extend their lives that we have for our own. And, that a caring vet can help a judge decide in contested cases which divorced “parent” the family dog should live with (or suggest joint custody).

But not this: I once wrote a story about a record producer who collaborated with an “animal communicator.” They produced a CD designed to ease a dog’s separation anxiety when its owner went out. The songs on the tape were chosen by the animal communicator, who ran the tunes and words by the dogs, picked the ones they reacted to best, then had the producer create the recording.

No doubt it will go platinum.

sernior-housing

Elder Cohousing–AARP

Pat Darlington, 59, realized that when she got older, she didn't want to live like her 83-year-old father. It struck her when she was visiting him in Florida and realized he should no longer be driving, only to be told his neighbors had come to the same conclusion long ago. Why hadn't they let her know, the Oklahoma psychologist asked? "We didn't want to get involved," they said.
See also: Nursing home residents escape to independent living.
Their hands-off attitude became the driving force behind Darlington's decision to help createOakcreek Cohousing Community in Stillwater, Okla. Across the country, senior cohousing, like the one Darlington is planning, is turning into an increasingly popular option for baby boomers and older adults. In these communities, a group shares a property, lives in condos or attached homes clustered together, and shares some weekly dinners, outdoor space and facilities.
On the grounds is a common house, a feature of all cohousing projects, containing a kitchen for preparing communal meals or potluck, a dining and living room, and other rooms, depending on what the group wants. Options might include a media room, an office, a workshop with a kiln, or a fitness or art studio — but the common house always has two or three bedrooms for guests and caregivers, should aging residents need them.
The social interaction often extends beyond the property. If someone wants to go to the movies, for a hike or to the theater, they can send out an e-mail or ask around. There's always an instant buddy, or the space to be alone.
People in Darlington's world are buying into the concept of elder cohousing. So far, at Oakcreek, 12 one- and two-bedroom houses costing $150,000 to $265,000 have been spoken for by residents ages 57 to 84; the group needs to find another eight people to commit to houses so it can break ground this June.
Great expectations
When she reaches her dad's age, Darlington expects to be surrounded by loving, supportive neighbors. She hopes never to be in assisted living or a nursing home — or at least to stay at home as long as possible.
Darlington has seen, firsthand, the life she doesn't want. "I have patients with a ton of money,long-term care insurance and round-the-clock caregivers, and they sit in their lovely homes bored and lonely," says Darlington, a widow whose four children are scattered around the country. "I saw my dad isolated in his own house and that is not how I want to spend the rest of my life. When you go to a financial adviser, you're told to have a diversified portfolio. Cohousing is my social portfolio," she says. "Some people say, 'Why are you doing this? You're only 59.' I want to invest inrelationships now so that when I need help, I will already have them. We have choices and don't have to do 'aging' the way it has always been done."
Not that trailblazing boomers, now in their 50s and 60s, would settle for the status quo anyway. They watch their parents decline in institutional settings or cut off from society and vow not to wind up like that. "People are creatively and proactively saying that there are options that might be better," says California architect Charles Durrett, who, along with his wife, Kathryn McCamant, brought the idea of cohousing from Denmark to the United States in the late 1980s. "The trend of senior cohousing is just getting started."
Next: More than 100 cohousing communities nationwide. >>
'Senior' housing appeals to boomers, too
Don't be fooled by the word "senior." Many opting for this arrangement are in their 50s, 60s and early 70s and often still work. They're in good health when they move in. The plan is that when they get sick, there will be lots of helping hands, which will supplement, although not replace, professional help if needed.

Multigenerational cohousing, where families with young children live with residents of all ages, has been around awhile; there are more than 100 of these mixed-age communities nationwide. But senior cohousing (often age 50-plus) is the new kid on the block. So far, there are five such projects, in California, Virginia, Colorado and New Mexico, with 15 more being planned.

Both kinds of cohousing, intergenerational and senior — sometimes called elder cohousing — are attracting boomers. At Silver Sage Village in Boulder, Colo., just two of the 16 units have turned over since it opened three years ago (one death, one change of heart), and they've both been snapped up by couples in their early 60s. The rest of their group ranges from their mid-50s to their 80s. Having a broad age span ensures that people will age at different times, and there will always be those who can work, whether it's preparing a meal, tending the common garden or sitting on a committee.
Less is more
Many boomers are empty nesters ready to downsize and age in place. They like the balance between privacy and rich social interaction, and the idea of going green — both environmentally and fiscally. Cohousing residences are typically 60 percent smaller than an average new American home, occupy 30 percent less land and use 50 to 70 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a resident's previous home. Having houses attached preserves outside space and reinforces a sense of community. The 20 to 30 units might be lined up on both sides of a walkway with their front porches facing one another, for example, or maybe grouped around a courtyard. Sharing resources reduces individual costs.
Next: Residents are in complete control. >>
Durrett, author of The Senior Cohousing Handbook, estimates that an individual household can save as much as $70,000 (and gain a 4,500-square-foot common house) in a low-market, 20-unit cohousing community and $337,5000 in a high-market project. Of course, it depends on the condo, amenities and setup desired.
The nuts and bolts
The biggest draw, though, is that residents are in complete control. They make their own rules and reach decisions by consensus. They can decide to cook a communal meal or weed the shared garden themselves. Or the group might opt for potluck rather than take turns whipping up dinners, or choose to hire a gardener instead.
They can join at any stage, including after the project is completed, but those involved from the start usually find the land, and always work closely with the architect plus the developer, contractor, town zoning board or bank. An emerging field of cohousing specialists — architects, developers, consultants — is walking newbies through the complicated and time-consuming process of creating a community from scratch.
Susan Burwen, 64, says creating elder cohousing in Silicon Valley's Mountain View, Calif., is as demanding as any paid 40-hour-a-week job. The group wanted its site to be within walking distance of public transportation, restaurants, a performing arts center, a library and a farmers market, knowing that as they age, they will be driving less. (Cohousing residents drive 60 percent less than those in single-family housing.) In 2009, after a three-year hunt, Burwen found a little over an acre in downtown Mountain View with a farmhouse.
The farmhouse will be used for guests and eventually caregivers, and they're planning to construct a three-story building with 19 condo-style units designed by Durrett. Unlike most projects, where the common house is a separate building, theirs will be under the same roof as the residences. Gathering nooks, gardens and pedestrian walkways will be bountiful, as will the we're-all-in-this-aging-business-together spirit.
In the 1960s, as a newly married couple, Burwen and her husband, David, lived in a run-down Victorian near Boston with a bunch of students. "The key was that we all had enough private space and our own friends and we also had shared space and lots of wonderful, spontaneous interactions," she recalls. Now with their two sons grown, the Burwens are hoping to recapture that dynamic, without the shabby digs of yesteryear; units at Mountain View will sell for $750,000 to $1.25 million. They hope to move in two years from now. "We didn't know one another when we started and we are already a very bonded group," says Burwen.
Next: A self-selecting process >>
The bond
One reason that neighbors-to-be meet at least twice a month to work on the project, as well as attend monthly potluck suppers, is so they know one another well before they move in. Those dinners include prospective residents who want a taste of the cohousing concept. If they decide it takes too much time (around two to three years) or involvement, or don't like the group, they don't commit; a few bow out along the way, or even after they've lived there.
"It's a self-selecting process," maintains DeAnne Butterfield, 59, who moved to Silver Sage with her husband, John Huyler, 65, three years ago, after their daughter graduated from high school. "We looked at each other and said, we don't need the space or upkeep of our 4,000-square-foot four-bedroom house. What are we doing here?" says Butterfield.
They both love their new community's diversity: Six out of 16 units are designated as affordable housing; residents are both working and retired, include a botanist, electrical engineer, grocery store clerk and city councilor. They have couples, widows, divorcees and never-marrieds. The community has Christians, Quakers — some Quakers consider themselves Christian, some don't — Jews, atheists and Buddhists.
Butterfield is on the finance and legal committee, while Huyler, a professional mediator, sits on community development, which covers interpersonal relationships.
Squabbles?
Of course, residents can get on each other's nerves or have conflicts. And what if they do?

"We can always go home and pull down the blinds. But I think we're all committed to not burying our disagreements and issues," says Richard Brumleve, 72, who lives in a two-bedroom townhouse-type unit at ElderSpirit Community in Abingdon, Va. Among the 29 units are 16 rentals that fetch $360 to $505 a month. Owner units range from $150,000 to $165,000, but can be more or less, since the seller determines the price.
Next: 'We treasure each other.' >>
Brumleve, a retired English teacher who moved with his wife from Springfield, Ill., to Abingdon after reading a newspaper article about ElderSpirit, loves the discussions there on spirituality and aging. "We're not afraid to talk about preparing to die or illness or the lessening of our abilities to do things," Brumleve says. For now, like the others around him, he is adding to his abilities and has taken up watercolor painting. He shares part of a studio in the common house with a resident who is a professional painter.
The recession hasn't helped cohousing, since most of the projects are new construction, and banks are skittish about lending money. Some planned communities have folded and others have been postponed. It's hard to sell a house in this market to buy another. Cohousing consultant Abraham Paiss predicts that developers may begin initiating more of these communities. "I think senior cohousing is really going to grow in this country," says Jim Leach, president of Wonderland Hill Development Company, the largest U.S. developer of cohousing and a resident of Silver Sage.
"I realize that the more you get to know people and their lives," says Butterfield, who is Leach's neighbor, "the more you want to be with them. I think I can speak for everyone here. We treasure each other."
For more on senior cohousing, contact:
• The Cohousing Association of the United States lists resources and sponsors cohousing bus tours plus the National Cohousing Conference from June 15 to 19 in Washington, D.C.

• The Cohousing Company.

Intergenerational Cohousing

cohousing

Cohousing gives children, who may have lost family members, a sense of community with surrogate uncles, aunts and parents. — Photo by Manny Crisostomo/ZUMA Press/Corbis
A month after moving into his new home in Berlin, Mass., John Barrett received a call. Would he be interested in an alarm system, a security company wondered?
"Do you know where you're calling?" the 67-year-old corporate sales trainer asked. "I never even lock my door because I have all my neighbors around."
See also: Prefab cottages mix high-tech features, comfort.
No need for an alarm system here. Barrett and his private "posse" live at Mosaic Commons, a new intergenerational cohousing community, ages 8 months to 73 years old, 45 minutes west of Boston. He and his wife, Judy Dempewolff, are in good company; there are 124 mixed-age cohousing developments nationwide that include boomers and older adults. More than 40 are in the planning stages. (Elder cohousing, geared for those age 50-plus, is also gaining ground.)
What is cohousing?
In cohousing, a group purchases property by itself or with the help of a developer, and calls the shots at every stage, from design to construction to financing to defining the rules that will govern the community. Once it's completed, they also manage and maintain the property, with all decisions made by consensus. Most members buy their condos or attached homes, which range from $120,000 to $750,000 for one to five bedrooms. Some cohousing projects have only rental units; others are a combination of both.
In a typical project, 20 or so cohousing homes are clustered together. Usually, they have welcoming front porches that face one another or are attached to reinforce a sense of community. Walkways abound with kids riding scooters, or adults out for a stroll, and rather than individual garages, cars are parked at a distance to encourage a pedestrian-friendly, interaction-rich and safer atmosphere. Community members eat together a couple of times a week if they choose and jointly own outdoor space and a common house.
The common house, usually a separate building, contains a kitchen for preparing dinner or prettying up a potluck meal, and a dining room for communal meals. It also has a living room for socializing or holding meetings, and a couple of guest rooms that could also be used as caretakers' quarters. What else is in the common house depends on the community. Some choose a media or crafts room, office or an exercise studio, for example. "The common house is [seen as] an extension of their private home," says architect Charles Durrett, who has designed 50 cohousing projects in the United States and, along with his architect wife, Kathryn McCamant, brought the concept to this country in 1988 from Denmark.
Next: Being there for one another. »

Durrett estimates there will be about 300 cohousing communities nationwide by 2020. Although some projects have been canceled or delayed because of the recession, building them "is getting more affordable because we're constantly refining the design. Extras we had to pay for to make a project green 10 years ago are now incorporated into the figure," Durrett says. "Boomers and others want a higher quality of life while living lighter on the planet."
Informal encounters
Two years ago, when Barrett and Dempewolff downsized to their 900-square-foot, three-bedroom unit in Mosaic Commons in Massachusetts from their single-family home of 35 years, their son and daughter, now 30 and 33 and living in Los Angeles and New York, "thought cohousing was weird," says Dempewolff, a clinical psychologist. "But each has come and met a lot of people and now think it's great for us." Recently after work, her husband was walking on the path to their house when a neighbor on a porch asked him if he wanted a glass of wine.
"I thought, this is why I am here!" says Barrett. "If I had stayed in my old house, I'd be more isolated now. I like the fact that there's always someone around when I come home."
Being there for one another
But cohousing is about far more than superficial encounters. It is about developing relationships with members and caring about them. In January, Beezy Bentzen, 73, who is divorced and whose only child lives 3,000 miles away, had her hip replaced. A member of Mosaic Commons picked her up from the hospital in a snowstorm and others stocked her refrigerator and freezer with homemade soups. "I could see people passing by and no one had to go out of their way if I needed assistance with small things," says Bentzen. Cohousing members are not meant to replace hired help — Bentzen would likely have had to hire professional help or go to rehab if she had needed a lot of attention.
When a member of Craig Ragland's intergenerational Songaia Cohousing Community near Seattle was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, he paid for some outside help, but community members also pitched in to care for him. As a result, he was able to stay in his home until he died.
"Fred was a beloved man and almost everyone chose to be involved in one way or another," says Ragland, executive director of the Cohousing Association of the United States. "He had circulation problems. It was not unusual to see a kid rubbing Fred's feet."
Next: Friendships with all ages. »
Friendships with all ages
The intergenerational component of cohousing is also a big draw. At Fresno Cohousing in Fresno, Calif., where the 28 one- to four-bedroom homes go for $200,000 to $300,000, George Burman, 71, has embarked on his third "career": surrogate grandparent. The retired navy engineer, who then became a high school physics and math teacher, and his wife, speech pathologist Patricia Looney-Burman, 68, "love the intergenerational aspect." Their own grandchildren live in Colorado and two hours away in California. "It's great to watch kids tear up and down the sidewalk on their scooters or stop to talk to us," he says. "Yesterday, a 2-year-old came to our front door and wanted to see our cats. It was delightful! Senior cohousing, I think, would be very boring!" He and others travel to hear his 14-year-old neighbor, a violinist, in concerts.
Charlene DiCalogero, 51, owns a 700-square-foot one-bedroom unit in Camelot Cohousing, a second intergenerational development built on property adjoining Mosaic Common in Massachusetts. One night after dinner she was playing a board game in the common house with other adults and children, and noticed none of the kids' parents were there. "I love that I get to have relationships with children in the community as well as older people," says the college grants administrator.
Too close for comfort?
Of course, when people live in close quarters, there inevitably will be conflict. "I've certainly had some disagreements with folks," says DiCalogero. "But we all know we're here for the long haul. Someone apologizes. Time passes and people get over it. That's real life. There are also lots of other people to hang out with." If members of Camelot's 34 households are unable to resolve an issue themselves, a committee helps deal with interpersonal friction.
Burman says resentment can build between those who pitch in more in the community and those who don't. While there may be a few scheduled workdays and many committees to keep the place running smoothly, rolling up sleeves is not mandatory. Most people, though, are participatory types, and that's why they choose cohousing.
Manoj Padki, his wife, Manisha Kher, their two children, Supriya, 11, and Aseem, 9, and his mother, Sarita Padki, 82, came to Camelot two years ago. "My grandma's a writer and wrote a play," says Supriya. "We got all the kids together and another older person here helped us make costumes for the play. We performed it at the common house three months ago."
Before they moved to Camelot, Padki and his family lived in a neighborhood that had few children. "We were always driving them everywhere," he says. "But here, it's awesome. My daughter gets up in the morning, has breakfast, and heads out and is on her own. I don't have to worry about her."
While Supriya may be thinking of Camelot as friend heaven, DiCalogero considers it "a major part of my retirement plan. I'm single and I know I will always have company and neighbors to help if I have any physical disabilities. In 10 years, they will be lifelong friends and will be another family for me."

downsize

When Downsizing Seems Boring: Creative Housing Options

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Ilene Greenberg of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, has four close friends from high school who live in Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York. Two are in first-time marriages, one has never married, and there's a remarriage and a same-sex marriage.

The women, all 61, have decided that if they find themselves alone later in life, they want to live in the same apartment building in New York City. "It's reassuring to know that I am never going to be alone and that we'll watch out for one another as we age," says Greenberg. She's hearing other boomers talking about wanting to rent or buy next door to their friends, too, in the future.

Senior Housing Option #1: Home Sharing

For now, the most popular "kid" on the housing block is called "home sharing." Here's the idea: You rent out a room or rooms in your house, let's say, or live at someone else's and share common areas. Or you might move into a place new to everyone, renting or buying, or even purchase a share of an owner's home. Whatever the arrangement, it's a way to significantly shave living expenses, have companionship, and perhaps feel safer. Home-matching services are springing up to meet the demand.

Senior Housing Option #2: Cohousing

Members typically buy a townhouse or condo in a community and share some outdoor and inside space. (A few communities allow rentals.) Residents shape the community and make all decisions by consensus. The majority of the 150 or so cohousing projects nationwide are multigenerational, although a handful are age 50+ (referred to as "elder" or "senior cohousing").

Whether they include all ages or just a certain age, every cohousing project has a common house with a kitchen -- you can prepare and eat a meal or two a week with other residents if you choose -- a living room for meetings or hanging out, a bedroom or two for guests or a future caregiver, and whatever else the community wants, from a dance or yoga studio to a teen room.

Suzanne Marriott, 72, had been married for twenty-eight years and lived in a four-bedroom house. But after her husband died, she felt lost. "There was a huge gap and I needed to find meaning in my life," says the former high school teacher. She heard about cohousing, went online, and found Wolf Creek Lodge, a project in Grass Valley, California, still in the planning stages. "It sounded like a stimulating and fun way to live with people who were caring and supportive," says Marriott. She also liked the ecological aspect of sharing resources.

Marriott worked with other members for six years, finally moving into her one-bedroom condo last October. "I have privacy when I need it, but community at my doorstep," she says. Living communally has come in handy. When she had a hip replacement, neighbors took her to the hospital, visited, and brought her home from rehab. Marriott rallied the troops when another member was having chemo. And she recently returned from a Baltic cruise with two women who also live at Wolf Creek Lodge.

Marriott paid $285,000 for her condo (that included construction costs for the whole building and the common house) and now pays $380 per month to cover heat, gardening, and homeowner's insurance. Cohousing homes generally run $200,000 to $600,000.

To explore cohousing, go to nationalsharedhousing.org/ or www.cohouseholding.org.

Senior Housing Option #3: Niche Communities

These are for retirement-age (whatever that is!) people who share the same interests or lifestyle. For instance, it might be a university-based retirement community (UBRC) on or near a college campus where you can take courses. Or LGBT housing for older adults. Or, really, any affinity group. There's a nudist community in Florida; who knows, dog lovers, techies, or country music fans may decide they want to live together.

If you're an age 62+ wannabe or former actor, writer, musician, or artist, you might attach your star to one of three senior arts rental communities in Southern California. Sylvia Blackwell moved into the NoHo Senior Arts Colony in Los Angeles last February. The 85-year-old takes a creative writing course and has already penned a memoir. If the muse strikes, she might also head over to NoHo's visual arts or digital arts studios. A gleaming theater onsite houses a professional acting company, with performances open to the public. Blackwell loves being surrounded by screenwriters, actors, and other creative types. "I have a new life," says the widow. "It's nice to make new friendships at my age."

Senior Housing Option #4: Multigenerational Living

How about Mom, Dad, and maybe those adult children under the same roof with you? Oh, and maybe the grandkids!

U.S. Census Bureau data puts the number of Americans in this arrangement at around 57 million. That reflects a 10.5 percent hike in multigenerational living from 2007 to 2009. A couple of good reasons: Pooled finances go further, and don't forget the built-in babysitters and eldercare help. There's another: the frighteningly high costs of long-term care that can run $81,000 to $92,000 annually for a nursing home, and more than $42,000 for assisted living.

People from some cultures, especially Asians, African-Americans, and Latinos, are more accustomed to group family living than are non-Hispanic whites. According to a survey by national homebuilder PulteGroup, 32 percent of adult children say they expect to share their home someday with a parent.

Developers are taking note. In 2011, the Lennar Corporation unveiled NextGen, a model that's like two homes in one. Each home has its own kitchen, living room, entrance, and garage, but the dwellings are attached by an interior door that can be kept open or closed. The idea is that an older parent or in-law (or a surly teen) can live in the smaller space, the adult child's family in the other. The multigen model, priced from $200,000 to more than $1,000,000, is now in 15 states and 200 communities.

Emily and Eddie Wiseman of Jacksonville, Florida, spent two years looking for a place where they and their two kids could live with Emily's mother, Marie Small. "We had a unique need," says Eddie. Nothing they saw felt spacious or private enough until their realtor suggested a NextGen home.

They moved in last September. The Wisemans have four bedrooms on their side, including an office for Eddie, an architect. In her house, Small has a kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom. "I think the setup is great," says Small. "It gets me close to my family, and yet my house is completely separate from theirs. It gives me privacy and them privacy." The Wisemans no longer worry about her. When Small lived alone in South Carolina, "we were calling all the time," says Emily.

Eddie hopes he never moves. When he and his wife are much older, they could move into Small's space and have one of their children and their family move into the other. Or a newly married child might take the smaller place. He knows if Plan A doesn't work out, he can always rent out the one-bedroom house.

Senior Housing Option #5: The Village Model

Don't want to leave your home or community? Think "villages," formed around neighborhoods and geographic areas.

You join one (on average $400 per year for an individual, $650 for a household) and stay put with the support of volunteers (many of whom are members) and vetted, often discounted, service providers. Simply call one central number for requests or recommendations. Need a carpenter? A dog walker? A healthcare agency? What about a ride to the movies or the doctor's? Villages also offer rich opportunities to get out of the house and socialize at interesting events.

Jim Mayfield, 80, call his membership in Capital City Village in Austin, Texas, a "godsend." Because of glaucoma, he no longer drives. Volunteers take him wherever he wants three times a week (the grocery store is high on his list, as are monthly outings with his veterans group). His membership is just $200 a year on a sliding scale. "When you're alone and want to maintain your independence and don't have a lot of money, you can't afford $20/hour for someone to come over and help," says Mayfield, who moved in 2000 from New York to Texas. He's planning on leaning on his village after an impending eye operation.

So far, there are 144 villages -- the first, Beacon Hill Village in Boston, began in 2002; another 115 are in the works in urban, suburban, and rural areas. See if there's one near you atwww.vtvnetwork.org.

couples

Happily Married But Living Apart–AARP

Some of Fred Straub's male friends feel shock and awe when they learn about his marital arrangement. "They say, 'Betty lives in Louisville and you're in Cincinnati and you date on weekends? How did you arrange that?!'" recalls the 64-year-old real estate developer.

 

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Married couples live apart. — Photos: center, Corbis; left, Martin Crook; right, Martin Adolfsson (both Gallery Stock)

But for Fred and Betty, a couple married more than 30 years, the setup, in place since 2004, is definitely not cool. "If we were married to someone we didn't care about so much, maybe it would be a better option," says Fred, who rents a loft apartment in Cincinnati while Betty stays in their home two hours away. "We wouldn't have it this way if we didn't have to," echoes Betty, 60, research director for the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Louisville.

At her previous job, Betty thought she would be able to live with her husband in Cincinnati and work remotely and drive to Louisville to attend major meetings. But a large federal contract she had helped the organization get made this scenario impossible. "I was devastated," she says. "I felt like my ship had been sunk."

What has kept the relationship afloat is talking on the phone two or three times a day, being together most weekends, knowing there is an end in sight, and being grateful for two stimulating and well-paying jobs. Their salaries allow them to pay for their grandchildren's private school, clothing and travel to sports competitions as well as save for their own retirement.

"It would be a totally selfish act for Betty and me to live together seven nights a week," says Fred. "In order for that to happen, other people in the family would have to suffer some life-altering changes. We can make things happen with a few hundred dollars here and a few hundred dollars there. We look at it as smart investing in our grandkids' lives rather than the stock market. We're doing it because it will be important to them at some point even if we're not here."

More couples living separately but together

While separate households is old news to married academics, what has changed is the number of age 50-plus happily wedded couples in all fields who are finding themselves home alone Monday through Friday. The left-behind mates may decide to stay put because they believe they are going to be uprooted from friends and family, or give up their meaningful job. Even if one spouse wants to move to be with the other, selling their house right now for a good price — or at all — may be impossible.

"Living apart is a phenomenon that is likely to increase for those over 50," says Susan Brown, codirector of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University. "Two incomes have become integral to the financial health of marriage."

In this difficult financial period, getting a good job offer anywhere, especially if it includes health and other benefits, can be a feat. A recent Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College/Rutgers University study found that it took more than two-thirds of age 55-plus job hunters more than a year to land a position.

Add greater longevity — living longer requires more money to bankroll retirement — and more women in the workforce to the reasons some married couples are living solo. "Many women left work for their kids, then got back into the labor market," says Deborah Smith, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. "They may now be in professional positions where they have to work longer to be vested in their pension or move up the ladder."

Whatever the reason, there are more options today. "Our image of life as climbing a ladder and reaching a certain point and then gliding over to retirement is very out of sync with reality," says Ellen Galinsky, co-founder of the Families and Work Institute. "Reality has different paths along the road: People are going to work, stopping work, starting a new career, losing a job, moving laterally instead of moving up, or working in different places. The national workforce is changing, and that's the new normal."

Caregiving responsibilities

Betsy Bogin, 58, a Cheshire, Conn., realtor, spends one week a month, six months a year, working remotely from Gold Canyon, Ariz., where her semiretired husband, Martin Goldfarb, lives. During that time, Bogin and Goldfarb, married 34 years, take turns traveling to see each other and are apart one weekend and two full weeks a month. Bogin loves the job and the income it provides, while Goldfarb, 63, an airline transport pilot who owns and operates a charter business, loves the outdoor winter activities in Arizona, from hiking to golf to rowing crew.

While Bogin is not ready to retire and leave colleagues and close friends in her small Connecticut community, it's her two frail parents, ages 93 and 94, who make a move west out of the question, at least for now.

"It's great that Marty and I don't have to have the same dream to retire at the same time," says Bogin. "We talk to each other as many times as we ever did and sometimes even watch the same TV program at night with each other!"

Yes, Skype, text messaging, cellphones and email make it easier to stay connected today, but it's still not the real thing. Living apart can be lonely, difficult and expensive, although two salaries with benefits usually offset added living costs. "I rely on Marty for stability in hard times with my parents, even though he's here less," says Bogin. "I'd much rather have Betsy with me than 2,000 miles away, but she's on a different career timetable and taking care of her parents," says Goldfarb.

Any advantages?

Some couples may not admit it, but find having their own space and time to themselves can be freeing. Frances Moseley moved to Washington, D.C. — where she grew up — for 14 months to work for the Red Cross, while her husband, Bud, stayed in Boston as an executive search recruiter.

"Of course I missed Bud and he missed me, but he travels a lot anyway," says Frances. "I could schedule evenings with friends without checking Bud's schedule first. I didn't have to hang up my clothes and I could watch TV until 4 a.m. if I wanted!" They originally thought that Bud would relocate to his firm's D.C. office after six months — maximum. But the timing was off for selling their Boston condo, and Frances' job subsequently ended.

For Bud, the 10-hour distance turned out to be less freeing than frustrating: "We knew economically and professionally the arrangement was meeting our needs, but emotionally there was a major gap," he says. Last year, the Moseleys were apart on their anniversary. Now that Frances has moved back to Boston, they are celebrating their 35th year of marriage the way they started, under the same roof.

How to cope with unplanned separations

"I don't think anyone sets out to be in this situation," says Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist from Long Beach, Calif., and the author of The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You're Far Apart. But if you do have to live apart, knowing that the situation is temporary helps, says Tessina. She also advises not mixing up the "how much I care about you" phone calls with "I had to call the plumber today again" and all the other dreary minutiae of day-to-day living.

For those wondering whether long separations make infidelity more likely, Tessina's own private practice and research prove otherwise. "I don't find it to be a bigger issue for those separated than those married and living together," says Tessina. "There is always the opportunity. Living apart has its positives and negatives, as does living together, so you have to focus on the positives and make those as good as possible."

Lynne and Michael Brenan have embraced this glass-half-full attitude. It's not that they are oblivious to the downside of their arrangement. "It's a drag to be by myself during the week, but it just has to be this way for now, so I deal with it," says Lynne, 61, a sales executive for a specialty food company. She lives in their home in Itasca, Ill., outside Chicago, where she raised their four children, now ages 26 to 35, and has two young grandchildren nearby; while Michael, 62, manages a hotel an hour and a half away in South Bend, Ind. He gets home Friday night and leaves Monday morning.

"For now, we're not in a financial circumstance where either of us can retire," says Michael, who had a heart attack five years ago and hopes to work until he's 70. Two incomes allow them to go together to Europe once a year; this year, it's Scotland and London. And they're saving for a condo they hope to buy in downtown Chicago once they stop working and can sell their home.

Right now, their nontraditional marriage is feeling little pain. "The time we spend together every weekend is magical and more important than it might have been otherwise" says Michael. "It really helps keep the sparks alive. We didn't plan on living this way, but it has worked out well for us financially and emotionally."

The Straubs are also realists. "It's not perfect, but it's OK for now," says Fred. As Betty explains it, "It's like the mythological story where we are all born as one egg that splits in two and roams the earth looking for its other half. Well, I found my other half in Fred. It seems like the egg gets split apart Monday through Friday, but when we're together on weekends, we're back whole and complete."

 

Older adults are renovating to stay at home

Homeowners Get Ready to Age In Place —WSJ

Bill and Betsy Owens recall the growing concerns they had about their house—built in 1876—in Powell, Ohio. They loved the 12-foot ceilings, the circular stairway and the formal parlor. But when the couple thought about the future, the home’s steep steps and narrow doorways meant “it wasn’t very livable,” says Mr. Owens, age 57.

So, three years ago, the Owens built an addition. Now there are no steps from the driveway into their new kitchen and great room. A control pad with smart technology turns lights on and off, and three-foot-wide doorways offer easy access for a grandchild in a stroller or, if the Owens should need it, a walker or wheelchair.

“Our homes aren’t aging as well as we are,” says Mr. Owens, a Columbus, Ohio, contractor.

Older adults are renovating to stay at homeCall it a baby-boom building boom. Hoping to remain in their homes and communities as they age—but recognizing that living spaces can become unsafe and difficult to navigate—people in their 50s and beyond are retrofitting houses, building additions or constructing new digs with age-friendly features.

“You have to design for a ‘you’ that doesn’t exist yet,” says Louis Tenenbaum, a Rockville, Md., contractor and founder of the Aging in Place Institute, a nonprofit that educates businesses and consumers about aging in place.

The big picture is worrisome. A recent study from the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University found that less than 25% of homeowners age 55-plus have a bedroom and full bathroom on the first floor of their homes, a way to get into the house without steps, and no steps between rooms—universal design features that make life easier for all ages.

Remodeling can be pricey. But given the high cost of care in an assisted-living facility or nursing home, such improvements can make sense, experts say.

“People have a financial plan, an estate plan and an insurance plan. How about a frailty or disability plan?” asks Mary Tuuk, a

geriatrician in Denver.

Here is a look at three families who have taken the plunge.

Say goodbye to steps

Two years ago, Frank Briber made the case to his wife, Fran Pollitt: He was no longer willing to live in Fryeburg, Maine. The town has no public transportation, and Portland, the nearest big city, is 90 minutes away. “Rural Maine is a tough place to live as you grow older,” says Mr. Briber, 65, a retired banker.

The pair decided to move to Wayland, Mass., a Boston suburb. They bought Ms. Pollitt’s mother’s house, tore it down and are building a brick, French-chateau-style home.

“We’ve seen our parents get old,” Mr. Briber says. “We want to make it as easy as possible as we enter those years.” For the couple, that means minimal upkeep and no-hassle navigating.

When the house is completed in the first half of next year, it will have a gently sloped walkway—really a ramp with landscaping on both sides to disguise it—to the step-free door. The pair’s master bedroom and bath will be on the main level. The powder room will have a wide door, grab bars that look like elegant towel bars, and a vanity with space below for a walker.

When their adult children (each has two from a prior marriage) and the grandchildren visit, their quarters will be upstairs.

Mr. Briber doesn’t want to worry about mowing, so he’s creating a meadow with wildflowers. And then there is the backyard. “We could have had beautiful tiered terraces,” says Ms. Pollitt, 61, “but we can’t be going up and down steps all the time.” It, too, will be sloped with few stairs.

The couple expects to spend $3 million. The hefty price is less the result of its age-friendly features than of high-end finishes and materials. (It will be a passive-energy house—one designed to use far less energy than the typical home.) Still, if they ever have to sell, Mr. Briber says, “there are enough retired people who would buy this house in a second. There are very few homes designed with aging in place in mind.”

The bathroom gets an upgrade

Sally Evans, 67, and Brian Rodgers, 66, adore their Bellaire, Texas, townhouse and want to live there “for 20 or 30 more years,” says Ms. Evans.

But their small master bathroom had turn faucets, a deep, treacherous bathtub, a narrow 24-inch-wide door, and a step-up shower with sliding glass doors. 

Not today. The door was expanded 10 inches, and the new vanity is raised, making it gentler on the back. The couple nixed the tub and installed lever faucets. (“It’s a lot easier to use,” says Ms. Evans, “and arthritis runs in my family.”) There is also a curbless walk-in shower with a teak fold-up chair.

Oh yes, and five grab bars.

“Even though we don’t need them now, we thought, ‘Why not put them in and be ready?’ ” says Ms. Evans, a public-relations consultant. “Brian and I are in good shape and work out five days a week, so I’m amazed at how much I use the grab bars. I don’t want to take the chance of falling.” She finds the grab bar with a hand-held shower head on it “cool.”

It cost $32,500 to retrofit their bathroom; age-friendly items added just $2,000 to the tab.

No bending, no tripping

The four bedrooms in the Owens’s 19th-century home are an 18-step climb from the first floor.

“Life has a way of throwing you curveballs. It’s a pretty big deal if something were to happen now or in 20 years,” says Mr. Owens.

So the Owens looked around and decided that if they ever need a bedroom on the first floor, it will be their parlor. A full bathroom that’s already nearby makes them golden. 

Today, there are no steps anywhere on the first floor and expansive spaces to move about. “As soon as you walk through the door, you know something is different,” Mr. Owens says.

To prevent tripping, the rugs and entry mat in the new space are recessed into the hardwood floor. The wood is good for walking and wheelchairs, holds up well, and is easy to maintain. A heated-tile floor, great for cold mornings, is also flush with the hardwood in another area.

Kitchen counters have variable heights for sitting (if a person wishes to sit, or if someone is in a wheelchair) and standing. Upper cabinets are few; that helps eliminate heavy lifting, reaching for items, and potentially falling. Drawers and doors underneath the counter close automatically, requiring no hand strength.

Rather than bend down to reach plugs, the couple put outlets at least 18 inches off the floor. A keyless entry means one less thing to worry about, too.

About one-third of the $170,000 price tag for the addition (which would have run $220,000 if Mr. Owens wasn’t in the building business) was spent on age-friendly features, but guests and family of all ages are benefiting. He points out that his three children, ages 17 to 23, will “especially appreciate the no-step entry if they blow out their knees skiing!”

1

Five Myths About Baby Boomers- The Washington Post

There are 75.4 million baby boomers in the United States, people from 51 to 69 years old. They are the largest generation in American history, raised during the economic prosperity that followed World War II. Media and marketers have treated the generation as one enormous, monolithic group since their youth. But larger than the entire population of France, America’s baby boomers are a far more diverse demographic than any of their many stereotypes convey. The oldest boomer, born in 1946, was 18 years old when the youngest was just entering the world. It’s time to debunk some generalizations about the original Me Generation.

1. Boomers are wealthy.

Rather than downsizing, many empty nesters are snapping up second homes or moving into bigger quarters, seeking more prestige and space for friends and relatives to visit. For instance, the Lake Weir Preserve retirement community in central Florida offers custom homes with garages as huge as 3,000 square feet, to fit RVs, boats and classic-car collections. Increasingly, “retirement isn’t all about being practical,” Ken Dychtwald, founder and chief executive of the consulting firm Age Wave,told U.S. News & World Report this year.

Such stories of big spending have dominated popular perceptions of boomers in their later years.

But many boomers couldn’t be further from living that dream. While some benefit from multiple income streams, members of this sandwich generation often are saddled simultaneously with their children’s eye-popping college tuition payments and health expenses for their aging parents. Some have to leave their jobs to be full-time caregivers. A 2013AARP study found that about 1 in 5 workers between ages 45 and 74 had either taken leave or quit a job to care for an adult family member in the past five years. That amounted to an average $303,880 in lost income (including pension and Social Security benefits) per caregiver, according to a MetLife estimate.

On top of that, there’s a mounting number of “gray divorce” couples who, in their 50s and 60s, suddenly have to divide assets they had counted on. Given boomers’ longer life expectancy, that translates into a lot more bills for many more years.

Savings aren’t helping them much. A Wells Fargo study released last month shows that working Americans age 60 or older have median savings of just $50,000, about $250,000 short of their goal. And plans to keep their jobs longer might not work. In the same study, 49 percent of retired respondents said they left the workforce earlier than expected, frequently because of health problems or an employer’s decision.

Boomers know that their financial situation is more precarious than others think. “When I talk to audiences around the country, I hear this palpable fear that boomers will outlive their money,” says personal finance expert Kerry Hannon, author of “Getting the Job You Want After 50.”

2. Boomers are healthier than their parents.

Baby boomers have the longest life expectancy in history. The average 65-year-old today can expect to live to 84.3 — nearly three years longer than a 65-year-old in 1980. New tests to screen for health issues, along with greater public awareness about the dangers of smoking, sitting and obesity, give boomers health advantages that their parents never had.Statins to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease weren’t even introduced until 1987. Boomers are tracking their fitness, tallying their steps and counting their calories. It’s natural to assume they are healthier than the previous generation.

But the data doesn’t agree. “We have all these medical advances, fitness and technology. There’s this belief that with so many more tools available that boomers have to be doing better, but it’s a misperception,” says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise.

Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2013 showed that boomers were in worse health than their parents at about the same age. They had more disabilities and higher rates of chronic diseases. Just 13 percent of the studied boomers said they were in excellent health, compared with 32 percent of people from the previous generation. Boomers were more likely to be obese, exercised less, and had higher rates of hypertension and high cholesterol.

3. Boomers are selfish.

If you want to see how unpopular the cohort unfortunately nicknamed the Me Generation has become, just Google “baby boomers selfish.” My search returned 147,000 results, including headlines declaring them “The Worst Generation Ever.” Detractors complain that boomers stay too long at their jobs and in their homes, not making room for the next generation, spending their children’s inheritances and running up debt.

Elsewhere in this issue, Jim Tankersley writes, “the generation that was born into some of the strongest job growth in the history of America, gobbled up the best parts, and left its children and grandchildren with some bones to pick through and a big bill to pay.”

Not so fast. Boomers have been far more generous with their money than they’re given credit for, a benevolence that will continue after their deaths. The generation is poised to lead the largest wealth transfer in U.S. history. Researchers at Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy estimated that between 2007 and 2061, heirs will receive $36 trillion from deceased relatives, and $20.6 trillion will be given to charity. A new Merrill Lynch report credits boomers for an upcoming surge in charitable giving: Over the next 20 years, retirees will donate money and time worth $8 trillion.

The generation has also solidified the concept of the “encore career,” with retirees parlaying their experience and skills into volunteer roles or paid “second act” jobs that have a positive social impact. The San Francisco-based nonprofit Encore.org launched in 1997 to place skilled retirees in health-care, human services, environmental and educational fields. Encore.org’s research shows that more than 4.5 million Americans ages 50 to 70 are already in encore careers and an additional 21 million plan to pursue them. As founder and chief executive Marc Freedman told me, “The so-called ‘Me Generation’ is being shown to be the ‘We Generation.’ ”

4. Boomers are technology-challenged.

It stands to reason that people who weren’t exposed to personal computers until adulthood would have a harder time learning digital skills than those who have been using them since childhood. The personal computer didn’t even exist until the oldest boomers were a decade out of high school. The youngest were in their late 20s when the public Internet was born. In 2001, educator Marc Prensky coined the term “digital immigrant” for those born before 1980 who can find technology foreign. It’s assumed that older adults are slower to grasp new skills and that computers, digital gadgets and social media are too complicated for them to use.

But boomers, like younger generations, have integrated digital technology into almost every facet of their lives — from banking and shopping to following news and watching videos. A 2010 Pew Research Center studyfound that 84 percent of Americans between ages 57 and 65 owned a cellphone, about the average for adults of all ages. They were nearly as likely as Gen Xers to own a desktop computer — 64 percent compared with 69 percent (though Gen Xers were more likely to have a laptop). And among younger boomers, 42 percent owned an iPod or MP3 player, while 38 percent owned a game console.

They’re also far from social-media-shy. Users over age 55 are Facebook’s fastest-growing segment; 7 out of 10 boomers already have an account. They have no problem logging on for love, either. Several dating sites, including OurTime.com and SilverSingles.com, cater to the 50-plus set, who now make up 20 percent of all online daters.

5. Boomers don’t have sex.

On that note, boomers also have challenged the notion that our sex lives collapse as we age. A culture that glorifies youth and glamorizes taut bodies has grimaced at the idea of grandparents as sexual beings. Older actresses are sidelined as romantic leads in movies, and the sex lives of married couples are the butt of jokes on TV shows. Society’s discomfort with older-adult sexuality makes Viagra and Cialis ads seem almost ghoulish.

But even 48 years after the Summer of Love, people in this generation haven’t let their love lives die. In the 2010 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior , 38 percent of married men ages 50 to 59 said they had sex “a few times a month to weekly,” and 35.4 percent of 60- to 69-year-olds concurred. They didn’t trail too far behind young men in their sexual prime; among those in the 25-to-29 set, 46 percent said they had sex that frequently.

It’s not all good news, though. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sexually transmitted diseases are hitting boomers hard. STD rates doubled among 50- to 90-year-olds between 2000 and 2010. Specifically, the rate of chlamydia soared about 32 percent, and the incidence of syphilis rose about 52 percent among boomers.