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.
Call 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!”
Why would a company that focuses on baby boomers and seniors–or really any demographic–want to have a blog? Blogging can be a powerful tool for businesses. Because I blog for many companies, I spoke at Harvard Business School recently on a panel about the value of corporate marketing. Rather than repeat its benefits, I thought I would share a slide I created for the event. It says it all!
Wallack appears to be every parent’s dream (let’s hope he has a few irritating qualities. . .) Half of the proceeds from the book go to support Alzheimer’s research and care of patients. While a student at Boston University, he works in the school’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center as well as BU’s Laboratory of Molecular Psychiatry in Aging.
He’s written academic papers and travels to scientific conferences. He was presenting something serious in California when I got in touch for an AARP story I wrote about him. Last week, I see he was featured on CNN.
Not perfect son enough? I haven’t mentioned Puzzles to Remember, a non-profit he founded a few years back that donates fewer-than-the-usual-50-or-100-piece puzzles to nursing homes and day care centers.
Check out these other eight excellent books on Alzheimer’s and dementia:
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.
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.
If the down payment proves too steep, local banks may lend them the money interest-free or give outright donations to Soldier On, the nonprofit that created this community and works with federal, state and local agencies to provide shelter, support and job training for homeless vets.
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!”
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.”
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.”
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.”
For years, baby boomers have denied they are going to get old. Now, with knees that need scoping and birthday cakes with way too many candles, the defiant generation is finally thinking about the future — especially where and how to live.
Visits to their parents in sterile, regimented assisted living or nursing homes are leaving boomers dismayed. They want better choices for Mom — and for themselves. While they may be a decade or more away from needing care, they’re overhauling or honing traditional models and inventing new ones.
In choosing how they want to age, and where, boomers are helping shape the future of housing. “They have changed expectations every decade they’ve gone through; I don’t think it will stop now,” says John McIlwain, senior fellow for housing at the Urban Land Institute. Down the road, he says, “there won’t be one single trend. People will be doing a lot of different things.” They already are. The common denominator in existing and still-to-be-created models, say experts, is the desire to be part of a community that shares common interests, values or resources. People want to live where neighbors know and care about one another and will help one another as they age. That doesn’t mean they’ll become primary caretakers; if it gets to that point, outside professionals may need to help.
They also won’t necessarily retire from their jobs if they live in a “retirement” community. Today’s housing options reflect the attitude of older Americans: Stay active, keep learning, develop relationships and have fun for as long as possible.
Prices can range from $800 a month for a rental at an RV park or $1,700 at an artists’ community, up to several hundred thousand dollars to buy a unit at a university community, with monthly add-ons of $2,000 or more that include some meals, housekeeping, social activities and medical care.
“With 78 million baby boomers, housing options are virtually unlimited,” says Andrew Carle, founding director of the Program in Assisted Living/Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University in Virginia. In the next 20 years, he says, name an interest group and there’ll be a community for it. “Will there be assisted living for vegetarians or a community for Grateful Dead fans? Residential cruise ships with long-term care? Absolutely.”
Today’s niche communities are already varied. They’re geared to healthy adults but often have an assisted care component. They include places like Rainbow’s End RV Park in Livingston, Texas, which offers assisted living, Alzheimer’s day care, respite for caregivers and short-term care for the sick or frail. The Charter House in Rochester, Minn., provides a home for former Mayo Clinic staffers, among others. The Burbank Senior Arts Colony in Los Angeles attracts retired or aspiring artists, musicians, actors and writers. Aegis Gardens in Fremont, Calif., caters to older Asians.
The swanky Rainbow Vision in Santa Fe, N.M., is primarily — but not exclusively — for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) clients. While it has assisted living, there’s also a cabaret, an award-winning restaurant and a top-notch spa. With 3 million LGBT older Americans — a figure projected to nearly double by 2030 — and typically no adult children to care for them, such communities are expected to multiply.
Hands down, the fastest-growing niche community sector is university-based retirement communities (UBRCs). So far there are 50 or more on or near such college campuses as Dartmouth, Cornell, Penn State and Denison University. While residents are usually in their 70s, 80s and up — besides independent living, there is assisted living and nursing care — UBRCs will appeal to boomers, the most highly educated demographic, when they grow older, says Carle. Residents can take classes and attend athletic or cultural events at the nearby college campus, professors lecture at the UBRC, and young students can complete internships.
Five years ago, Harvey Culbert, 75, a former medical physicist from Chicago, and his wife moved to Kendal at Oberlin, which is affiliated with the Ohio college. He has audited, for free, a course in neuroscience, sings in a college group, and is taking voice lessons from a retired Kendal music teacher. “I’m always interested in improving what I do,” he says.
The concept: A group, usually composed of strangers at the start, creates a communal-type housing arrangement that is intergenerational or all older people, with separate units but some shared common space. The group may buy the property, help design it, make all rules by consensus and manage it independently. Residents eat some dinners together and often form deep relationships.
The numbers: 112 intergenerational cohousing communities, with another 40 to 50 planned; four elder cohousing projects, with 20 or so in the works. More than half are in California.
The price: $100,000 to $750,000, monthly fees $100 to $300; 10 percent of projects offer rentals for $600 to $2,000 a month.
Intergenerational cohousing is geared to families with younger children but also draws boomer couples and singles. The youngest elder cohousing residents are in their 60s. Members live in separate, fully equipped attached or clustered units, and share outdoor space and a common house where communal meals take place. The common house also contains a living room and guest (or caretaker’s) quarters. What’s in the rest of the space depends on the members; it could be a media or crafts room, or a studio for exercise and meditation.
“I think cohousing is a marvelous way to live,” says Bernice Turoff, an 85-year-old widow and member of the intergenerational Nevada City Cohousing community in California. “It’s a close community where people really care about one another. If you get sick, 14 people say, ‘How can I help you?’ ”
Charles Durrett, her neighbor and an architect who, along with his wife, Kathryn McCamant, brought the concept of cohousing to the United States from Denmark in the 1980s, says older members act as surrogate grandparents. Last year, when one of the older residents was dying, all ages pitched in to help or visit.
Today, older boomers live in both intergenerational and elder cohousing. “I’d be surprised if cohousing doesn’t double every couple of years in the next 20 years,” says Durrett. Getting popular: cohousing in cities.
Stanley Radzyminski, 90, works in the gift shop at Eddy Village Green. — Katjai Heinemann/Aurora Select
The concept: A new style of nursing home created by gerontologist William Thomas that looks, feels and operates more like a cozy house than an institution. Ten or so residents live together and get ultra-individualized care from nursing staff that knows them well and cooks their meals in an open country-style kitchen.
The numbers: 87 Green House projects serving 1,000 residents; 120 projects in development.
The price: The same Medicaid and Medicare coverage offered to traditional nursing homes; the minority paying out of pocket are charged the going rate in the area for a more conventional nursing home.
Residents’ private bedrooms and bathrooms surround a living and dining room that looks like it could be in a single-family home; a screened-in porch or a backyard offers outdoor access. As much as possible, residents make their own decisions, such as when they’ll wake up.
Proponents point to studies showing a Green House can improve an older person’s quality of life, provide at least comparable, if not better, care than a traditional nursing home, and reduce staff turnover. “The good news and the bad news is that you get to spend the rest of your life with 10 people,” says Victor Regnier, a professor of architecture and gerontology at the University of Southern California.
Stanley Radzyminski, 90, might not be able to communicate with a few dementia residents in his Green House at Eddy Village Green in Cohoes, N.Y., but says, “I really like it here. I have my own room and privacy, and if I need help, the staff is outstanding. We all want to think we can take care of ourselves, but it’s not always possible.”
Beacon Hill resident David B. Arnold Jr., 83, works out with personal trainer Jan Burgess. — James Estrin/New York Times/Redux
The Village Model
The concept: Live in your own home or apartment and receive discounted, vetted services and social engagement opportunities.
The numbers: 56, with 17 in the Washington, D.C., area alone, and 120 in development around the country.
The price: $100- to $1,000-a-year membership fee, with an average of $500 for a single member, $650 or so for a household.
Growing quickly in popularity, this model will become even more popular in the coming years, say housing experts. That’s because studies show most older people want to age in place. The first village was established in 2002 at Beacon Hill Village in Boston; in the last four years alone, 90 percent of the villages have formed.
Village members call a central number for help of any kind. That might be transportation to the grocery store or the doctor, or the name of a plumber, acupuncturist, computer tutor, caregiving agency, home modifications specialist, babysitter for visiting grandkids, dog walker or home delivery company. Because the village may have up to 400 members (although new groups may have fewer than 100), vendors find it an attractive market. The group buys theater tickets in bulk, for example, or contracts with a service provider; consolidated services save everyone money.
Villages offer plenty of opportunities to socialize, whether it’s taking yoga down the street with neighbors, attending outings to museums or movies, or participating in a book club, walking group or supper gathering.
Rita Kostiuk, national coordinator for the Village to Village Network, which helps communities establish and manage their own villages, has noticed something about the new people calling for information: “The majority are boomers.”
On the horizon: Already, demographers are seeing more older Americans moving, or contemplating moving, into cities and suburban town centers. Rather than being saddled with a house requiring nonstop upkeep or feeling isolated in the burbs, they’re within walking distance of shops, entertainment and public transportation. So their ability or desire to drive is not a big deal.
Another trend: divorced, widowed or never-married older women living together. Some who don’t know one another are keeping such agencies as nonprofit Golden Girls Housing in Minneapolis busy. Golden Girls offers networking events for women who want to live together, lists requests for women looking, and steers them to services that can help. They don’t match women, though; women do that themselves. Others opting for this setup are already friends.
David Levy, a gerontologist and lawyer by training, runs seven groups a week for caregivers. Inevitably, the conversation turns from the parents they care for to themselves. “These boomer women may be estranged from, or never had, kids, have diminished funds, and not a significant other on the horizon. They want to know, ‘What’s going to happen to me? Who will be there for me?’ ” he says.
WHEN CHARLENE DICALOGERO LIVED ALONE in an apartment in Watertown, she knew none of her neighbors. “I felt lonely and isolated,” says the 53-year-old, a grants administrator at Lesley University. But since buying a $230,000, 700-square-foot home at Camelot CoHousing in Berlin four years ago, DiCalogero couldn’t be lonely if she tried.
Camelot is an enclave of 34 compact homes with welcoming front porches that sit clustered together in this rural town, about a half-hour drive northeast of Worcester. The road and parking areas are off to the side, while pedestrian walkways wind among the houses. The development is engineered to encourage relationships with neighbors — and it seems to be working.
Passersby receive invitations to join homeowners for a glass of wine, or, for the kids on scooters, an offer of a Kool-Aid “for the road.” Those who want to can share communal dinners a couple of times a week at the complex’s common house, which also has been the site of dance classes, board game nights, and a workshop on falling safely, attended mainly by the sort of older folks who worry about breaking a hip.
The neighborhood of about 80 people, ranging in age from 80 to 8 months, is small enough that everyone knows everyone else, yet large enough to ensure privacy. That community size is by design, too, an element of co-housing since it was pioneered in Denmark in the 1960s and ’70s. Camelot, with both market-rate and affordable housing, opened in 2008 and sold its last available unit in 2012. Another co-housing development, Mosaic Commons, is just down the hill.
With a one-bedroom unit easily adapted to walkers and wheelchairs, DiCalogero, who is single, now calls Camelot her retirement plan. “There are interesting people around who will be there to help me if I get sick and can relate to me as I get older,” she says. Sure, she adds, the modest homes are “not single-family houses on 2 acres — but why would you want to [live like] that if you have a choice?”
DiCalogero is not the only baby boomer thinking ahead to how she’ll stay active and socially engaged in the decades to come. Camelot is one of 13 developments of its kind in Massachusetts, with more inevitably on the way. And co-housing is just one of many ways boomers are trying to avoid being alone in their later years, or at least delay moving into a nursing home.
Few of America’s 78 million 49- to 67-year-olds have any intention of aging the way their parents have, wedded to their independence at all costs, even if it ultimately means social isolation. Plenty of older people are moving in with their boomer children, but many others don’t want to be a burden — for them, the plan is to stay home until they can’t anymore.
But not the baby boomers, who can envision all sorts of alternate living arrangements. “To [the older generation], living alone is the only measure of success, but the boomers’ comfort with interdependence means there are many options,” says Dr. Bill Thomas, an influential geriatrician and author based in New York. “Aging in community, rather than all alone, is going to make the boomers’ experience of old age different than anything that ever came before.”
It may be time to start calling the “Me Generation” the “We Generation.”
JOANNE TULLER, a 58-year-old community health center administrator, has lived with other people — other people who aren’t relatives — for her entire adult life. She loved college dorm life, so after she graduated, Tuller moved to a co-op in Cambridge with seven housemates. This is great, she recalls thinking early on. This is for me.
More than three decades later, Tuller owns a big Victorian in Dorchester with her partner and shares it with five other adult men and women — plus one newborn. The residents buy their food together, split the cooking and other chores, and each pays about $525 a month.
While admitting collective living isn’t for everyone, “I expect that boomers are going to find the idea less radical than older people,” says Tuller. “Boomers are community-oriented, they went to college and lived in dorms, the hippie [experience] makes them more open to living with people they’re not related to.”
There are compelling demographic reasons why Tuller’s prediction is good news. For one, the pool of family caregivers is shrinking. Some 1 in 4 boomers never had children; those who did may have sons and daughters thousands of miles away. One-third of the population will face old age single — either widowed, divorced, or never married. Already, 4 million 50-plus women live in US households with at least two other women of similar age.
And since the boomer generation is so large — by 2030, the 65-plus population is expected to double to 72 million, or 1 out of 5 Americans — their economic strength, as a demographic bloc, could lead to communities built around all sorts of shared interests. Andrew Carle, founding director of the Program in Senior Housing Administration at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, envisions niche communities for dog lovers, gardeners, even cruise ship enthusiasts. “Boomers have always had the critical mass to demand more choices in anything, whether flavors of ice cream or brands in blue jeans,” he says. “You only need 300 Grateful Dead fans to fill a retirement community.”
Already, those interested in lifelong learning can live at university-based retirement communities on or near campuses. Lasell Village in Newton was one of the first, and there are four or five dozen nationwide now, near such schools as Dartmouth and Cornell. Meanwhile, popular 55-plus communities cater to physically active types. Great Island at The Pinehills in Plymouth has walking trails, fitness programs, nearby golf courses, and a full-time lifestyle director. Highland Meadows in Weston highlights its luxury units and proximity to highways leading to the city, the beach, and skiing in the mountains.
Another common form of shared housing now and for the future is likely to involve relatives, often three generations living under one roof. Between 2007 and 2009, the Pew Research Center reported a 10.5 percent increase in multi-generational housing. Meanwhile, a 2012 survey by home builder PulteGroup found that about 1 in 3 adult children expect to someday share a house with a parent.
Five years ago, music teachers Ted and Wendy Hagarty sold their home in Bellingham. At the same time, Ted’s widowed mother sold hers in Northborough. Together, they bought a spacious Colonial in South Grafton and created an in-law apartment in the lower level with its own kitchen and door to the outside.
The family knew that some multi-generational households run into privacy issues and hurt feelings, so they set clear ground rules from the beginning. “There are adjustments, especially if you are the daughter-in-law, but it’s worked out really well,” says 51-year-old Wendy. “Not all personalities could make it work, but it does because there’s mutual respect.”
Ted, who is 60, says their 20-year-old daughter regularly goes downstairs to have long talks with her 90-year-old grandmother, particularly when she’s had enough of her parents. Ted himself doesn’t “have that panic feeling of not knowing what’s going on,” he says. “And I see my mother at peace. I think it has prolonged her life.”
EVEN WHEN THEY’RE NOT SHARING their homes, plenty of boomers are finding ways to build and share their larger communities.
There was a time when lots of retirees planned on picking up and moving to Florida or Arizona, but the notion of being a snowbird no longer flies the way it used to. According to recent Census estimates, rural areas — including scenic spots long associated with retirees — are losing population for the first time, the situation exacerbated now by boomers who are deciding to keep working and to keep living in their own homes.
“The biggest trend we will see in the next 20 years is people aging in place,” says William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Some area communities are particularly well-suited to this. Earlier this year, Brookline’s ongoing commitment to quality-of-life issues like public transportation and senior housing earned it an age-friendly designation from the World Health Organization, one of only eight such places in the United States. The town holds regular forums to explore needs of older residents, and the volunteer organization Brookline-CAN (Community Aging Network) recently put out a guide listing apartments and condos with amenities such as elevators, concierge services, and underground parking out of the ice and snow.
For the most part, however, this state’s housing stock — with all its narrow doorways and steep stairs — does not tend to match the needs of our aging population, says Kermit Baker, a senior research fellow at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard. For many boomers, staying in their homes will require renovating them to make them more accessible.
Paul Morse, the 59-year-old owner of Morse Constructions in Somerville, is a contractor helping older people stay safely at home. He is among the state’s 82 Certified Aging-in-Place Specialists (CAPS), a designation earned through the National Association of Home Builders. Since 2008, the number of CAPS has doubled to 5,000 nationwide. Morse says the most common changes are widening doorways for wheelchairs and walkers; installing grab bars, higher toilets, and curbless showers; and reorienting living spaces to make it possible to stay on first floors. Increasingly, experts are adopting “universal design,” intended for all ages and abilities. Eliminating thresholds, for instance, makes moving around easier, whether you’re rolling a wheelchair or pushing a baby stroller.
A decade ago, this type of renovation wasn’t at all prevalent, Morse says. In 2011, however, 55-plus homeowners accounted for more than 45 percent of all US home-improvement spending.
“But there’s more to aging in place than renovations,” says Morse. “Being able to stay in your house is not just about having an accessible home, it’s about support.” To foster a community, Morse and his wife Karen, 56, are also deeply involved in Staying Put of Cambridge and Somerville, an organization dedicated to helping people find ways to age well in their homes and communities. The local group puts out a monthly newsletter and conducts workshops and public forums, some in conjunction with area elder services offices.
The couple also belong to a smaller Staying Put neighborhood group that is made up of 13 members, primarily boomers living in and around Davis and Porter squares. On top of meeting regularly for the last three years, they help one another shovel snow, install air conditioners, and deliver meals to members who are ill or recovering from surgery.
Taken together, the friendships “deepen our understanding of religions and cultures,” Paul says. “So our lives are enriched as we get older, as opposed to [just] stopping.”
An even more involved way to get support is called the Village Movement. Beacon Hill Village in Boston, the first of 110 such groups around the country, isn’t a housing development but essentially a big in-person social network. Founded in 2001 by friends who never wanted to move, its 340 50-plus members each pay $675 a year (or $975 per household) to stay socially engaged and get information and discounts from vetted service providers. Need a dog walker or a carpenter? Want to get a doctor referral, attend a cocktail party, or volunteer in the larger community? Paid staff and volunteers can make it happen. (The seven other Villages in Massachusetts have differing fee structures and services.)
“The connections that we had generations ago when our families lived around is gone,” says Karen Morse. “When you’re connected to your neighbors, you know them differently and are able to do things for each other. It allows for the kind of connection you might have with a family member.”
OF COURSE, as any Rolling Stones fan knows, you can’t always get what you want. For reasons ranging from a lack of family to take you in to medical issues that require professional attention, staying out of a nursing home is not always possible. Yet these days, not all nursing homes are synonymous with institutional hallways, bland cafeteria food, and prickly roommates.
A little over a decade ago, geriatrician Bill Thomas conceived of a new kind of residential facility that would feel like a home, encourage social engagement, and offer the medical care of a nursing home — and it would aim to do all of those things while remaining within reach of those on Medicaid and Medicare. Thomas dubbed his concept the Green House model — not for ecological reasons, but because they would be devoted to the idea that the old can continue to grow. There are 150 or so Green House projects in 24 states; 150 more are in development.
The Leonard Florence Center for Living opened in Chelsea three years ago. There are 10 “homes” in the six-floor building, each occupied by 10 to 12 people. Visitors step off the elevator and come to a door that looks like it belongs to a private home. Inside, there’s a living room with a large fireplace, art and ceramics everywhere, a plate of fruit and fresh-baked cookies on the counter. Each resident gets his or her own bedroom and bathroom, a flat-screen TV, and access to the Wi-Fi network.
Life in the Green House is different from the norm, too. Rather than following a set schedule, residents are in control. They wake up and go to sleep when they want. There are no special visiting hours. In each suite, meals are prepared in a homey kitchen and are shared at the long wooden table in the dining room. There’s an airy cafe, stocked by a pastry chef, and a deli in the lobby.
It all sounds awfully expensive, and this $38 million, 93,000-square-foot project certainly was pricey to build — something that makes it challenging to replicate on a larger scale, critics of the concept say — with some $28 million coming from private donations and tax credits and the rest covered by a mortgage. And yet 70 percent of residents pay for their stays with Medicaid and Medicare, a percentage of government funding similar to traditional nursing homes.
One of the residents is Lou Sanders, a 95-year-old widower and former military technician. He’d watched his own mother in a nursing home. In a place like that, he says, “you’re losing not only privacy, but your dignity.”
But after four years of living with his daughter, Shelley Diffily, it was clear he was going to need more medical help than she and her family could provide. His blood pressure sometimes dropped dangerously low and he was facing the early stages of Parkinson’s. “I knew I wasn’t heading in the right direction,” he says.
After a period in assisted living, Sanders and Diffily, who lives about 30 minutes away in North Reading, looked at a nursing home in North Andover. It was very nice and clean, but didn’t feel right. “I didn’t want his life to be reduced to half a room with a curtain in between and a little dresser,” Diffily says. Then she heard about the Green House.
About 18 months after moving in, “I couldn’t be in a better place,” Sanders says. “I feel like a person as opposed to being a patient — it’s like a family here.”
As for Diffily, she says one of her concerns is not knowing where she’ll end up in her later years. The 58-year-old has two sons in their early 20s, but she’s resolved not to become a burden to them. “I don’t want to wind up in a nursing home,” she says. “But if I do, I hope I can get into a place like this.”
Sally Abrahms is a freelance writer based in Brookline specializing in aging and baby boomers. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walking out of the doctor’s office to her car, Clare Marie Ackroyd slipped on wet grass, fell and broke her right shoulder. When she got home from the emergency room later that day, her arm was in a sling, and she couldn’t dress herself, fix a meal or even sign a check. That’s an inconvenient situation for anyone, but for someone who lives alone, it can be a total nightmare. Ackroyd, 62, is divorced and has only one child, who lives in England, but her eight-week convalescence has been far easier than she expected. Ackroyd lives in ElderSpirit, a cohousing community in Abingdon, Va., and her fellow residents have rallied around her as her shoulder heals. One of them has taken on the assignment of helping her shower, dress and make breakfast. Others prepare and deliver lunches and dinners for the rest of the week. Just as important, emotional support has been constant too. “It’s wonderful because I feel all the love and care from these people,” says Ackroyd, a former librarian, who had moved into ElderSpirit from Bath, Maine, just two months before the accident. “This experience has really opened me up and shown me just what the community is.”
Cohousing, which debuted in Denmark in the 1970s, is a semi-communal concept in which separate living units–usually attached condo-style–are clustered around a “common house,” which, at the very least, has a kitchen, a dining room and a third area for gatherings and activities. The idea is to bring back a time when neighbors were an integral part of one another’s lives, sharing meals and recreation–and providing companionship and a helping hand. That concept has been co-opted recently by older people looking for a way to combine their autonomy with access to a supportive community. Elder cohousing features single-story units; step-free entrances; grab bars; and wide, wheelchair-accessible doorways.
The first senior-cohousing development, called Glacier Circle, opened in Davis, Calif., last December. ElderSpirit’s residents started moving in during the spring and summer. The common house in each cohousing project is tailored to the resident group’s interests and needs. For instance, the one at Silver Sage Village, a 16-unit development that broke ground in Boulder, Colo., in August, will have a gourmet kitchen, dining room, library, crafts and multimedia rooms, plus two bedrooms for caregivers or visiting family members.
Ackroyd, a self-described nomad who has lived in Ohio, New York and Massachusetts, as well as Maine, says she chose ElderSpirit because she wanted to be part of a caring community that shares her interest in spirituality and a desire to assist one another as its members age together. In addition to three former nuns who came up with the ElderSpirit concept, its residents include a substance-abuse counselor, a city manager, a painter, an attorney, a secretary, a female police officer and a teacher, all now retired, plus a speech therapist and a tennis coach who are still working. They came to ElderSpirit from 10 states; there is even a resident from the tiny European country of Andorra. Although ElderSpirit members must be 55 years or older to buy or rent, the current residents range in age from 62 to 84, with the majority in their 70s. Once they have all moved in, the community will consist of nine men and 30 women, including seven couples.
Proponents of elder cohousing see it as an affordable and creative alternative to assisted living and nursing homes. Sixteen of ElderSpirit’s 29 units are federally subsidized rentals that cost from $300 to $350 a month for a one-bedroom and $484 a month for two bedrooms. The remaining 13 homes have sold for $90,000 to $100,000 for a one-bedroom and $113,200 for two. All residents chip in $150 a month for expenses, including maintenance and, when the common-house kitchen is completed, communal meals available to all. And everyone makes a commitment to help one another as they grow older.
Prospective elder-cohousing residents, attracted by newspaper ads or word of mouth, meet with a developer, architect, banks and other financing agencies before ground is broken to come up with a project to fit the personality of the group. They get to know one another through regular meetings as the project develops. Impatient or authoritarian types tend to drop out because it takes about two years to complete a project and all decisions and rules for the community are by consensus. New members can jump in at any time, even after the project is built, but must pledge to abide by the agreed-upon bylaws.
“People 55 and older are at the beginning of a revolution to reinvent the kind of housing they want to live in for the rest of their lives,” says Zev Paiss, 48, a co-founder of the Elder Cohousing Network in Boulder, Colo. “There have been no models before about how to grow old and stay in your home but be surrounded by a group of neighbors with a connection. This is something people are craving.” Interest in the elder-cohousing movement is spreading. Charles Durrett, who brought the housing concept to the U.S. and is the author of Senior Cohousing: A Community Approach to Independent Living, says he receives calls daily inquiring about the idea. Durrett and his wife Kathryn McCamant are the architects of Silver Sage and are also designing projects in the Sierra foothills of Grass Valley, Calif., and Arvada, Colo. ElderSpirit, meanwhile, is helping groups in Florida, North Carolina, Kansas and Ohio start other elder-cohousing developments with a spiritual component.
Ackroyd and her shoulder notwithstanding, current elder-cohousing residents tend to be healthy, active and independent, so no one is sure how the concept will work when increasing numbers of residents become frail and in need of assistance. Advocates say that when residents get sick, they will pay for and arrange their own care but that the communal-living arrangement may offer an advantage since infirm members could share the expense of hiring a health-care provider to tend to several of them. And, of course, members will continue to enjoy the support and physical presence of people who have become part of their lives. “I expect to live and die in the community I took part in creating,” says Catherine Rumschlag, 80, one of the former nuns who helped found ElderSpirit. “We’ll help each other. I don’t want to go to a nursing home with strangers.”
Still, being a pioneer has its growing pains. The ElderSpirit group ran out of money when it unexpectedly had to pay $250,000 to construct a retaining wall on the property. Residents are looking for funds to complete the interior of the common house and four adjoining apartments. In the meantime, they try to keep team spirit going with communal meals about twice a month. One was recently held at the town’s senior center, and residents have picnicked on the nearby Virginia Creeper Trail. At other times, there are informal meals in one another’s kitchens.
Silver Sage is still in the planning stage. The Boulder community’s 16 homes will range in size from 800 to 2,000 sq. ft. and cost from $100,000 to $695,000. All the porches will open onto a courtyard with an amphitheater. Architecturally, says Durrett, “it is embracing. You can almost draw a pair of arms and say, ‘We’re all in this place together, and we’re going to solve common problems together.'”
Annie Russell, 66, who is divorced and works for the company developing Silver Sage, moved into a nearby intergenerational-cohousing project three years ago. “I love the shared meals, the camaraderie in the kitchen when we’re chopping vegetables–and the children,” says Russell. “My son isn’t married, and I don’t have grandchildren. Two more babies were born this year, and they get passed around the common house.” But Russell has already put money down on a unit in Silver Sage because she feels she will have more in common with its residents than with her current neighbors, many of whom are young families “wondering where to find the next baby sitter and getting dinner on the table.” At Silver Sage, by contrast, there are monthly meetings at which members discuss aging issues. “People are going to get sick and die, and we want to have a plan about how we as a community are going to embrace and support that,” says Russell. In the process, they’ll also be pioneering a new way for the elderly to live.
A piece on renting vs. buying in Money Magazine quotes all five words of mine: “It’s not your problem anymore.” Here’s the story, which provides smart arguments for both boomer housing options. It’s an issue I have been grappling with, too.
The age 50+ business is alive, well and thriving–and from unlikely quarters. It turns out many very young entrepreneurs are designing aging in place technology products as well as services for boomers and seniors are in their 20s and 30s!
In a piece I wrote for Kiplinger’s Retirement Report, I interviewed a now 32 year-old. At the age of 28, he created a special credit card that protects seniors from scams and unscrupulous marketers. It was his fourth start-up!
To read more about these whiz “kids,” take a look:
Young Entrepreneurs Fill Need in Senior Market
Start-ups focused on baby boomers and seniors strive to help keep an aging population independent and connected.
At age 32, Sherwin Sheik watched his sister, who has multiple sclerosis, search unsuccessfully for good, affordable help through home care agencies. His mother ended up leaving her job as a molecular biologist in Los Gatos, Cal., to care for her. And he knew his beloved uncle, with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS, had repeatedly hired agency caregivers who didn’t show up.
Four years ago, Sheik founded the online company CareLinx, which matches families and paid caregivers. By eliminating agency fees, families save an average of $10,000 to $15,000 a year, and caregivers earn more. “Traditional agencies were charging families $25 to $30 an hour while paying caregivers $10 an hour” says Sheik, a former investment banker. Caregivers “weren’t being compensated for the hard work they did.”
Today, Sheik’s grandparents, ages 97 and 93, get daily help from caregivers hired through CareLinx. “I am delighted and proud that Sherwin is devoting himself to helping people who are at a very vulnerable stage of their lives,” says his mother, Shahla Sheik, 67.Sheik, now 37, is among a growing number of entrepreneurs in their twenties, thirties and early forties who are developing products and services for seniors. For many, the idea evolves from a personal experience with a parent, grandparent or sibling.
As astute business people, these young entrepreneurs also realize that a swelling-by-the-day older demographic will need their products to stay independent and connected. “Students from the top business schools are setting up companies in this space — something I haven’t seen before,” says Stephen Johnston, co-founder of the San Francisco-based Aging 2.0. His company mentors start-ups that focus on baby boomers and seniors.
Mary Furlong, author of Turning Silver Into Gold (FT Press, $25), agrees. “The intellectual talent and business experience of young entrepreneurs migrating into the longevity marketplace is astounding,” says Furlong, president and chief executive officer of Mary Furlong & Associates, a company in Lafayette, Cal., that advises clients in the 50-plus market.
Here’s a look at senior-focused companies that have young adults at the helm.
Caregiving. As boomers age, so will their caregiving needs. A growing number of seniors do not have children to take on caregiving tasks, and those who do tend to have fewer kids than in the past.
Sheik’s CareLinx (www.carelinx.com) gives each family an adviser to shepherd it through the hiring process and for follow-up. The firm vets caregivers, does background checks, manages the payroll and taxes, and insures and bonds the caregiver up to $1 million.
As with CareLinx, Making Care Easier (www.makingcareeasier.com), a free Web site and app, was born out of a personal crisis. At age 35, Harvard Business School graduate Renee Fry was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her mother temporarily moved across the U.S. to care for her. Three years later, the tumor grew back. This time, Julie, Renee’s younger sister, moved to Boston to take on caregiving. Julie had expertise in elder services as marketing director of a large association of home care and hospice providers.
Then the light bulb went off for the siblings, who both hold business degrees. Friends and family were willing to help, but they needed to know how. What was missing was a way to coordinate care, share information and find caregiving products, such as walkers. Making Care Easier, which was launched in April 2014, has 68,000 users. “It’s not enough to offer a way to coordinate care, but to connect you to products and services that matter to you,” says Fry.
After you fill out a brief online survey to determine your needs, the company sets up a secure family “dashboard.” You can send requests for help to friends and family members and share comments, medical information and expenses. Your private site provides checklists and joint calendars.
Finances. Kai Stinchcombe’s grandmother had always contributed to one cause or another. As her memory started to decline, though, she lost track of how much she was giving away. Stinchcombe watched the toll those bogus expenses took on his own mother.
His 93-year-old grandmother, who lives independently in Indiana, went from doling out $50 a month to $40 a day. She once wired $2,000 to a stranger who called and claimed to be “needy,” and she spent an unnecessary $6,000 on hearing aids. “She is very polite and won’t hang up the phone when someone calls,” says Stinchcombe, 32. His family didn’t want to humiliate her by taking away her bank account or credit card.
So in 2011, along with business partner Claire McDonnell, also then age 28, Stinchcombe conceived of TrueLink (www.truelinkfinancial.com). It is his fourth entrepreneurial venture.
TrueLink is a special Visa card that protects older people from scams and unscrupulous marketers. It recognizes patterns of transactions that other credit cards would permit and blocks them. Such questionable transactions include magazine subscription companies, sweepstakes and misleading deals on TV. “We weren’t looking for something in the aging market — we kind of stumbled into it,” Stinchcombe says. “We wanted to solve a problem. But we had to find out if enough people have the problem so we could build a business around it, raise venture capital and hire staff.” The answer was “yes.” Two-thirds of customers are daughters getting TrueLink for a parent.
End-of-life planning. In 2010, at age 30, Abby Schneiderman decided to create a Web site that provided articles on end-of-life planning. She noticed information sites for brides-to-be, house hunters, expectant parents, baby boomers sending kids to college, and retirees or those planning for retirement. “There was no reason this life stage didn’t deserve the same treatment,” she says. She and co-founder Adam Seifer created Everplans (www.everplans.com), which offered more than 500 articles on topics such as writing a will and appropriate attire for a funeral.
A year after starting Everplans, Schneiderman’s brother died in a car accident. “We had no access to the right paperwork and no idea what my brother would have wanted,” she says. “My family was left to make a huge number of complicated, expensive and stressful decisions at a time when we shouldn’t have had to.”
Schneiderman says she and Seifer realized that they “could create something more powerful and go beyond content to help people get a plan in place ahead of time.” They turned Everplans into a platform where people can create, store and share all the important information that their families need in one place — such as a will, advanced directives, medical records, insurance and names of advisers.
The free version provides access to certain areas of the site. For $75 a year, you can store a wider array of documents.
Communicating. The inspiration for Andreas Forsland’s company came after he spent weeks by his mother’s bedside in intensive care during the summer of 2012. She was unable to speak as a result of a breathing tube and ventilator, and she could not write, either.
Forsland says he wondered whether he could put sensors into an elegant stone she could hold or wear as a necklace or a bracelet. A swipe upward or a tap on the stone could indicate whatever preprogrammed message he chose — “I’m hungry” or “Everything is okay.” And a downward swipe or two taps might be “I miss you” or “I have to go to the bathroom.”
In 2013, Forsland, 40, who lives in Santa Barbara, Cal., co-founded Smartstones (www.smartstones.co). “We help people who are locked in,” he says. “They’re capable but can’t express themselves.” The product’s original intent was for seniors who had a stroke or a neurological disease such as ALS, but he is also finding interest from parents of children with autism.
Forsland’s mother, Sarah, 73, recovered, but she wears the prototype, a stone necklace, and uses it to “speak” daily with her son. The stones use a wireless Internet connection. “It’s beautiful and looks like jewelry,” she says. “I keep in touch with my son with a gentle swipe or tap, asking ‘Are you there?’ ” When Forsland was recently in Asia, he stayed in touch daily with his mother through their stones. Sarah says it “lowers my level of anxiety knowing I have the stone and can be in touch with Andreas without a cellphone.”
When the product comes out later this year — you can preorder on the site — you can buy a two pack for yourself and your loved one for $179, or even five stones, perhaps for grandkids or other adult siblings, for $399. Of course, Smartstones is not intended to replace conversation or the cellphone, but it is useful to convey simple messages. “We are making it easier to communicate with family, friends and care providers,” Forsland says.
This digital estate planning document states what you want to have happen to your social media — Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, email account — when you die. Just as you need an executor of your estate, you’d have to appoint a legal online executor.
As more older people go online — a 2012 Pew Research Center study found one-third of Internet users age 65+ go on social networking sites on a typical day — grow older and pass away, who has a say in their social media content is likely to become a mainstream concept. No doubt it will spawn lawsuits, or at least bad blood, among those who want to keep a loved one’s posts on the site and those who don’t. (Ultimately, those cases will be decided by state law.)
In the meantime, with a death certificate, Facebook will either remove a deceased person’s profile/account or change it from active to a memorial page. People can share memories and photos of the person and keep the timeline, but the status updates won’t pop up. (“Hi, I’m no longer among the living” or “Back in five. Gone to meet my maker.”)
Twitter and LinkedIn will also deactivate an account with a death certificate. LinkedIn and Google require an authorized representative of the estate to make the request.
Google recently introduced the Inactive Account Manager. If your account becomes inactive, Google’s “Grim Reaper Manager” will warn you by text message and email that it’s inactive (a prank-proof move). If it’s not a false alarm — you’ve really expired — you will have already told Google what you want done with your Gmail messages and other services or else appointed others to make the decision.
For those who just can’t say goodbye, there are services that allow you to keep your online presence even after you’re gone. You heard correctly. DeadSocial lets you compose Facebook, Twitter and Facebook messages for future times (birthdays, other important dates or whenever) when you’re no longer around. LivesOn, which plans to launch (unclear when) has this cheery motto: “When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting.” And, if i die is a Facebook app that allows you to create video or text messages that get published postmortem.
So much for a digital afterlife. If you’re still here and haven’t come up with a Mother’s Day or Grandma present for this Sunday, how about downloading a free app called EasyFamily Social, in English or Spanish? It simplifies Facebook (six big buttons) and makes it easier for older adults to share photos and messages with family. The company has a campaign to get 17 Million Grandmas on Facebook.
A little motherly advice: if you download that Facebook app for Mom or Granny, you might want to save the social media wills/digital legacy talk for another time!
Caregivers: There’s a fitness movement afoot that may make you jump for joy. In the last year, adult outdoor playgrounds with low impact-exercise equipment have been springing up around the country.
Some are incorporated into kiddie playgrounds, known as “multigenerational playgrounds.” Others are near the children’s area, while still others are separate older adult areas (“senior playgrounds”).
Designers have skipped the swings in favor of balance beams, sit-up and chin-up bars, cross trainers, stationary exercise bikes, fitness stations and walking paths.
What does that have to do with caregivers? You can take your grandkids and both of you can get health benefits. Or, go with your parent, relative, spouse or friend. While they’re on the body flexer, you can be doing pushups! Off caregiving duty? Walk (good move!) to the playground and work on boosting your muscle strength, balance, stability, and range of motion.
One reason these playgrounds are gaining ground is because exercise is good for the body and the brain. Studies show that physical exercise may help ward off — or at least mitigate — obesity, depression, diabetes, heart disease and memory loss.
Grown-up playgrounds are also an antidote to isolation. Physicians and social scientists say that too much aloneness can lead to loneliness, depression and poor physical health. On the other hand, social interaction — getting out and being with people — has positive health benefits.
The healthcare company Humana and the nonprofit KaBOOM! have partnered to construct a slew of multigenerational playgrounds. Since last year, they have built them in Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando, FL, Seattle, WA, New Orleans, LA, Greensboro, NC, Albuquerque, NM, Tucson, AZ, Nashville, TN, San Antonio, TX, Alburnett, IA and Thermal, CA.
No sweat! This month is Tampa, FL’s turn (in time for the Democratic National Convention), with another to follow in Charlotte, NC. You guessed it, ready to roll at the Republican convention.
Non-Humana playgrounds include Springfield Township, OH, Ithaca, NY., and four in Florida’s Miami-Dade County.
The City of New York is hot to trot, too. They’ve built an adult playground in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium and hope to construct two dozen more around the city by 2014.
We’re not exactly on the cutting edge. For nearly 20 years, China and Japan have had outdoor exercise areas for the over age 60 set. Austria, Germany and other parts of Europe have them, too. And, a couple of years ago, the Hyde Park Senior Playground, affectionately known as the “pensioner’s playground,” debuted in London.
The best part about adult playgrounds? No hefty gym club fee. No loud music. No twenty-something, ridiculously toned bodies.
Just wrote a fun piece for the new PBS boomer website Next Avenue (tagline: “Where Grown-ups Keep Growing”).
Introducing three adult sons and their father who are in a thriving family meat business. The four just received their MBAs and have attended night graduate school together to snag other advanced degrees. Read on!
As soon as the professor in the Suffolk University Master’s of Business Administration course took roll call in September 2007, the cat was out of the bag:
Thomas Demakes? Here.
Elias Demakes? Here.
Timothy Demakes? Here.
Andrew Demakes? Here.
Not that patriarch Tom, 69, and his three thirtysomething sons, who graduated this May from the Boston school’s five-year night MBA program, were trying to keep their kinship under wraps.
MBAs for the Family
Tom thought an MBA would help the Demakes clan get better at running their fourth-generation national meat manufacturing business, Old Neighborhood Foodsin Lynn, Mass. (The family also owns Thin ‘N Trim, a sister company that sells low-fat, low-sodium deli foods, chicken sausage and chicken hot dogs.)
And yet, being in the same classroom with Dad “could be embarrassing,” recalls Elias, a sales manager like his brothers. “My father says what he wants when he wants, and there were times I’d start to sink under my chair!”
But other students in the class were envious, telling the Demakes sons they’d love to get a degree with members of their own families.
Make that degrees.
A History of Enrolling Together
The four Demakes men have previously taken a real estate appraiser’s degree program as well as one in commercial real estate.
Why the focus on real estate if meat is their bread and butter, so to speak?
Tom insisted that the “kids,” as he calls them, work for someone else before joining Old Neighborhood Foods, and they all chose real estate, commercial and residential. (Tom also owns investment property.)
Although his sons grew up working at his plant every summer, Tom didn’t want to pressure them into coming into the business, the way his dad did in 1967 when Tom returned from Vietnam. Timothy and Andrew joined Old Neighborhood Foods around the time they started the MBA program; Elias began there two years ago.
The businesses currently bring in annual sales of nearly $100 million. They have 375 employees at two locations, supplying more than 100 products to supermarket chains, hospitals, restaurants and sandwich shops.
Tom led the charge for the gang to get their latest degree, paid for by their company. He has long insisted that they continue learning every chance they can. “My father is the consummate professor,” says Elias. “You can’t just hang out and relax!”
Business School vs. Real Life
Tom, who graduated from William & Mary, was intrigued by the Suffolk MBA program because he wanted to know what business school taught these days and how the curriculum related to real-world experience.
His conclusion about the instruction: “Some is a little idealistic, some is spot-on.”
Tom also wanted an MBA so he’d stay in step with the current business environment and his employees.
“I have a lot of younger people working here,” he says. “By going to school with hundreds of men and women like my kids, I got a sense of how they think and what is important to them.”
Not in the Curriculum
The Demakes took the same entrepreneurial and branding courses, sat in the same classrooms, were often on the same teams and worked on papers together. In one marketing class, they met an advertising CEO who wound up redesigning their websites.
One subject not in the curriculum: complaining.
Although the brothers sometimes found it tough to juggle full-time work and academics, they knew they couldn’t grouse to their dad about it.
Andrew says that while they were taking one or two classes a week, “we traveled a lot and sometimes we were tired. We would do whining and moaning on our own. But with my father, it’s not much of an option.”
How Their MBAs Helped
Ideas picked up in the MBA classes led the Demakes clan to rethink ways to sell current products and come up with new ones.
For instance, they previously sold shaved steak only to sandwich shops, restaurants and food service institutions. Now they’re offering it in supermarkets, too. “Business school reinforces ways to grow business and extend your brand,” says Elias.
The Demakeses say that getting their Suffolk MBA together deepened their bonds with one another.
“Business school has given me a chance to know my sons better and for them to know me better,” says Tom.
Marill Demakes, Tom’s wife of 35 years, is fiercely proud of her husband and their kids.
“When have you ever heard of a father and three sons going to grad school together?” she asks. “It’s very inspiring.”
Another Degree Ahead?
Now, with their freshly minted MBAs, Tom is floating a new idea: Why don’t he and his sons all go to law school?
Elias is intrigued. “Being able to represent my own company would be quite a feat and an asset to our business,” he says. “But I’m not sure my father will be able to get my brothers on board!”
If history is any guide, the four of them may soon be sitting in another classroom.
Lately I’ve heard of lots of people married for decades who are getting a divorce. Last week, a friend told me about a couple I know married 43 years who just called it quits. He found his high school love on Facebook. .
Divorce is so rampant among boomers it is now known as “grey divorce.” The reasons vary and the implications economically, psychologically, and professionally are enormous. I interviewed experts, as well as divorced and divorcing men and women for a recent story I did for AARP.
Why do you think so many long-married couples are saying “see ya?” How has being single in later life impacted people you know?
And, a cool idea for family caregivers:
Until recently, if you were confined to your house, a hospital, or long-term care, you might get a visit from a chaplain or a weekly religious service at the facility. But for the more spiritual and religious, that feels like putting a penny in the money basket at church—a nice gesture, but inadequate.
The advent of online religious and spiritual offerings may be the answer to your prayers. Want to know why?
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.
Divorced boomers, like Edith Heyck, are finding creative ways to make it on their own after a split. — Photo by Robyn Twomey/Redux 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 onetime legally bound partners have gone their separate ways later in life — or are single by choice or circumstances — has many personal and societal ramifications.
More on Gray Divorce
What happens to your Social Security after a divorce? Read Everything you need to know about dating after divorce. Read How divorce hurts adult children. Read Join AARP Today – Receive access to exclusive information, benefits and discounts.
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.
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.”
Sally Abrahms, coauthor of What Every Woman Should Know About Divorce and Custody, writes about boomers and aging.
Okay, talking taxes is a lot less riveting than my last post on how senior centers are trying to woo boomers (that’s riveting!), but figuring out how to get a tax deduction for taking care of a parent, relative, or in-law is worth it. Do you qualify for a $3700 deduction for caregiving or can you deduct your relatives’ medical expenses?
New subject: I want to put in a plug for my friend Kerry Hannon’s book What’s Next? She writes for AARP, Forbes and USA Today. And she’s working on a new book AARP Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … And Pays the Bills. Stay tuned.
I know it’s hard to believe, but you can join a motorcycle riding club, throw pots in a ceramic studio, learn to blog, work out a session with a personal trainer, and have uber fitness facilities at–yup, you read it right–a senior center.
Read about how senior centers are changing to snag a younger demographic in my latest Huffington Post piece.
More news: a milestone last week in NYC: the opening of the country’s first LGBT senior center called the SAGE Innovative Senior Center. Check out its debut.
The Huffington Post has decided it’s time to give those boomers their own section! “Huff/Post 50” launched today, and has a piece I wrote entitled “A Not-So-Rare Breed of Boomers.” Here’s the link: http://huff.to/o7oiDh
It talks about what crazed beasts we humans are with our dogs. There’s even a mention of my fabulous Springer Spaniel Isabella (alas, deceased).
Confession: I wasn’t dying to go to the brunch at my mother-in-law’s assisted living place out of town today. The musicians who play these gigs could easily be residents.
The visit is particularly tough for me because my 91-year-old mother died just a month ago. In the lobby is my mother-in-law (happy 92nd next week) is wheeling my mother’s cobalt blue walker (the Range Rover of geriatric gear), which I gave her, along with lots of my mother’s jewelry.
She looks fabulous in the chunky, alabaster glass necklace and matching earrings. Compliments are flowing about her gems from fellow residents and their families. I am thrilled I have given them to her, and I know my mother would have been pleased, too, but it feels weird, too. I’m feeling a bit blue.
But then, at dessert this woman Roz I have never met comes up and asks me if I am my mother-in-law! Hmmm. Then she asks me if I’d like to hear her play the piano. Why not, I think? I can do this!! So I follow her into the other room.
She can barely see and has just confused me with a nonagenerian, so I’m hardly expecting mad piano skills. The woman is amazing! She plays vivaciously from memory and belts out the lyrics to “If I Were a Rich Man,” and then some songs from her era I haven’t heard.
A 14-month-old great, great granddaughter of another resident is carried into the room and starts to dance. The pianist is delighted with her audience–the baby, her mother, and I-all folks who have just met Roz. I clap and the baby is twirled. After one song, Roz shows infant a brightly colored velcro toy on her walker; the little girl is fascinated.
After six consecutive songs, Roz rises and takes her walker. I tell her my name and she says, “Sorry, I can’t remember names. It’s so embarrassing living here for four years with the same people and I have no idea what their names are.”
I tell her, “You may not remember names, but they can’t play the piano like you.” She thinks about it and says, “Yes, but wouldn’t you be embarrassed if you couldn’t remember?”
What I will remember from today is not to underestimate people, regardless of age.
But then, I’m writing a story that is not letting me forget it.
Once my piece is published in November, I’ll link to it and explain more. Here’s the teaser: a concept called Creative Aging that is gaining fans nationwide. You heard it here first!
The premise is that creative expression is essential for older people and that arts programs can yield dramatic physical and emotional benefits for elders–fewer falls, more mobility, less depression, more social engagement, better sense of self. You’ll have to wait for the substantive stuff.
In the meantime, check out the National Center for Creative Aginghttp://www.creativeaging.org/ to learn more, find out if these programs are offered for your parents or grandparents, or how you can be part of one.
Staggering statistic: 61.1 million Americans care for older friends or relatives (AARP). Here’s another: Caregiving costs U.S. businesses nearly $33.billion a year in productivity (MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving).
Okay, it’s a dilemma for both sides. In my AARP Bulletin piece http://aarp.us/oslBAh, I talk to working caregivers, some of whom feel penalized for having aging parent responsibilities.
I also ask negotiator extraordinaire Susan Hackley, executive director of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, for strategies to discuss caregiving responsibilities with your boss.
Here are a couple of her tips (read the rest in my story):
1. Level with your boss and explain you can do your job and take care of Mom, Dad, or a spouse.
2. Describe the problem and have solutions ready, from working from home a day or two a week or leaving early and making up the time. Invite your boss to discuss his/her concerns.
Older workers get a bad rap: too slow, not productive enough. But what about a company that seeks out the 70, 80, and even 90-year-old set? At the Vita Needle Factory in Needham, MA, I visited a factory where grey hair, or no hair, is the norm, where the annual gross sales are $11 million, and employees are valued for their loyalty, quality of product, work ethic.
Some don’t even need the paycheck, but do the manual labor to stay connected, hang out with peers, and have a sense of purpose. Did I mention they have to walk up 19 steep steps to get to the factory floor? Rather than a sense of drudgery, visitors see productivity and optimism. It made this 50-something feel like a slacker!
Do you think we value older, older workers and if not, why not? Would you would want to work at that age? What would you rather be doing?
Young@Heart is singing rock ‘n roll, dancing, and touring Europe—in their 70s, 80s, and 90s!! I interviewed this Northampton, MA, group for TIME and found them riveting! I love their sense of fun, enthusiasm, and energy. Rather than sing Sinatra, they’re gyrating to the Clash, Coldplay, and the Talking Heads.
Just read a piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/125272069.html) that says one-quarter of all divorces happen in 20+-year-long marriages and terming boomers “the most divorce-prone generation in history.” Stats show 23.4% over age 70 are divorced, while it’s 35.7% for people in their 50’s.
That validates what I’m seeing. I know of several couples married more than 30 years who, in the last two years, are splitzville. Lots of speculation why, from better health, longevity, and expectations, less stigma, to being at different stages to no commonalities. Any thoughts?
Also just ran across a Wall Street Journal piece on Generation X parents–the kids of those boomer divorcees–who vowed not to behave like Mom and Dad. It doesn’t always turn out that way. Here’s the link: http://tinyurl.com/3zaqfy8
In his Huffington Post piece, Aging Guru Ken Dychtwald mentions a 2011 survey conducted by heavy hitters (Age Wave, SunAmerica, and Harris Interactive) of 1,000 men and women ages 55+ who are either pre-retirees or retirees on their attitudes toward retirement.
1. It will be good and bad. Boomers will have fewer government entitlements and less money, but they’ll stay active, keep learning and growing and leading interesting lives. They’ll also be more careful with, and educated about, their money.
2. 70% expect their adult children will need financial help from them
3. 78% respondents believe they can still have a good retirement if they’re more financially disciplined
4. 77% of pre-retirees want to work in retirement, more for personal satisfaction than even money.
For the last six months, I have written a monthly newsletter for MetLife Mature Market Institute (MMMI) on aging and boomers. These snappy snippets called Quick Facts give the most up-to-date information on a range of topics from retirement to finance to older workers and other areas.
Some people have so many friends that the thought of making new ones is exhausting. But many baby boomers feel the loss of easy friendships created through the kids when they were younger–steady encounters on the soccer field and elsewhere. You don’t have to be a sadsack or have few or no friends to want to be part of more people’s lives. (more…)