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

Older Actors Are Taking To The Stage–WSJ

WallStreetJournal-logoClovis Clark, age 59, is a professional nurse. But she also has spent time recently as a conniving, murderous sister and a madam in a brothel.

Her latter roles came courtesy of an Atlanta theater group, the Past Prime Players.

“I love this,” says the Ellenwood, Ga., resident, who has performed in dramas, comedies, murder mysteries, skits and monologues. “Acting is an opportunity to become someone else.”

The 50-plus crowd is stage-struck. Across the country, growing numbers of older adults are joining theater companies and signing up for classes in acting, directing and playwriting. Many—empty-nesters or newly retired—have never set foot on a stage and are seeking new outlets. But many others, like Ms. Clark, caught the acting bug in high school or college, before pursuing other (paying) careers.

Return engagements

Now, they’re back. And finding new rewards.

“The experience of acting is very different as a 50-something-year-old,” says Karen Sellinger in Albany, Calif. She majored in theater in college but opted to be a psychologist.

Now, at age 60, she’s taking classes at Stagebridge, a senior theater company in Oakland, Calif.

“There’s not this dog-eat-dog competition,” Ms. Sellinger says. “It’s a…community where we’re all rooting for, and supporting, each other.

“We’re all struggling with health issues and memory,” she adds. But “I’m not thinking about my stage of life on stage. I don’t feel my knee hurt. Age is not a part of it.”

Stagebridge is evidence of the trend. Currently, 250 people take one or more of the 30 classes taught weekly in acting, playwriting, improv, storytelling, singing and musical theater, among other subjects. The number of courses has doubled in the past five years. At least half of the enrollees are ages 50 to 70.

In all, the company has eight performing troupes that visit schools, senior centers, public theaters and adult day centers. Every other year, the nonprofit commissions a play in which both professionals and students act.

“The appeal for many is that they know they’re going to be working with a group of people,” says Stuart Kandell, the founder of Stagebridge. “What they may not realize is that the group becomes a real family. Laughing, depending upon one another, making mistakes and recovering together builds a real bond.”

Bonnie Vorenberg, president of ArtAge Publications’ Senior Theatre Resource Center in Portland, Ore., which works with theater groups across the country and internationally, says she now has 791 senior theater groups in her database—up from 79 in 1997. While the growth is welcome, new organizations, she says, invariably face a steep learning curve.

Put another way: “King Lear” isn’t always the right play to start with.

“What works well for older actors is a very narrow genre,” Ms. Vorenberg explains. “Plays can’t be too long—short work is best, at 10 to 20 minutes—[and] they can’t be too difficult because that would require more rehearsals, and people will say, ‘I’m not doing this.’ But they can’t be too easy because then actors won’t be artistically challenged.” (Some companies have actors read their scripts on stage; others require them to memorize their lines.)

Scriptwriters, directors and actors say that, increasingly, shows with modern, realistic themes resonate. Audiences—and, in particular, older theatergoers—want to see older adults in positive roles, whether it’s having a new job or being sexually active.

Says Mr. Kandell at Stagebridge: “Theatrical literature has mirrored the popular cultural views of how we see older adults: either as pathetic victims trapped in nursing homes or as super grannies surfing huge waves and running marathons.”

Money trouble

Another challenge for senior theater groups: money. Actors are usually amateurs—not a big draw for donors. And funding for aging doesn’t usually go to the arts. Rather than considered life-enhancing, theater groups often are regarded as a frill.

The challenges haven’t deterred Monciella Elder, 61, from becoming a theater director and playwright. In 2009, the professional singer and actor had to stop performing due to multiple sclerosis. “I was so depressed,” she recalls. Then a nearby senior center asked her to run its drama club. Soon after, she left to found Past Prime Players in Atlanta.

Ms. Elder has taken the 18 or so actors, ages 57 to 68, “from ground zero,” she says. She trains them in voice projection, character development, improvisation and acting, along with lighting, sound and set design. In the past four years, she has written and directed more than 20 plays and skits.

For casting, she puts commitment before auditions. Actors must agree to attend twice-weekly, two-hour rehearsals, and three or four a week closer to production.

Her troupe has played at churches, women’s conferences, dinner theaters, schools and senior centers, as well as large venues in Atlanta, New Orleans and Atlantic City (where Ms. Clark played her role as a lady of the evening). Along with lighter themes, Ms. Elder has tackled spousal abuse, death and loss, and sexual orientation.

Before every performance, the actors tell the audience, “We may be past our prime, but we still love to play.” Through her work, Ms. Elder also hopes to dispel stereotypes about aging and to inspire others in their 50s and beyond. Her message: It’s never too late to follow your dreams.

Right on cue, after every performance, Ms. Elder says her phone rings with inquiries from audience members who want to join the Past Prime Players.

At a recent rehearsal, she suggested the group take a week off. They wouldn’t hear of it.

“I can’t get them to go home,” she says. “They’re enjoying themselves so much.”

Homeless Veterans and Affordable Housing

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.”

Boomers Love Pets

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.

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."

Boomers Who Made the Decision to Downsize

Why Downsize? Creative Housing Options

two-seniors-dancing_

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.

Boomer 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."

 

Young Entrepreneurs in the Aging Business

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!

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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.