ELDER MUSIC: Eleven Eleven Eleven
The Gatekeepers Program

How Do You Want to Live?

In last Monday's post, I told you that I was in Providence, Rhode Island for a conference on “Connected Aging” at the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) and that the overall issue to be addressed was the need for our culture

”to look at aging differently, that by framing aging through the lens of care and increasing weakness, we’re missing whole opportunities to facilitate healthy aging – ones that support optimal personal choice in how we age...”

Among many interesting comments, Frank Paynter of Listics Review responded:

”That bit about seeing 'aging through the lens of care and increasing weakness' really spoke to me. How do we realistically re-frame that perspective while taking into account the limitations that have been piling up over the last few decades? I'm looking forward to your report!”

It will take more than one report to fill you in on what was for me an exciting day of new perspectives about aging.

To begin, I often write here about how, in retirement, we lose the daily camaraderie of the workplace, that can contribute to isolation and loneliness if we don't find other ways to connect with people.

Last Monday, I discovered that - at least for me (and probably many of you) - it's not just the general day-to-day, give-and-take of office banter. More importantly, I desperately miss the ongoing exchange of ideas that can't be avoided with a bunch of really smart, interested and interesting people. I got to do that again on Monday and it was thrilling to be in that milieu again.

Along with five talented and knowledgeable BIF facilitators, we were 12 invited participants from around the U.S. Without meaning to slight any others, here are a few:

• a woman who runs a dance class for aging Parkinson's patients

• a woman who for the past four years has been sharing a real-life Golden Girls home

• a man living in a condo that is a naturally occurring retirement community who for 12 years there has made it his daily job to show his neighbors how to enjoy their lives – with amazing results

• a man who teaches poetry writing at an assisted living center who says it is his work to “connect the dots in life”

• a woman who runs a rural non-profit where volunteers, mostly old women, make urgently needed home repairs such as roofing for those who can't afford them

• a corporate manager who is creating new visual experience and design solutions to aid elders and others navigate large retail stores

Most of these people are elders themselves – or they can hear it knocking on their door – and in the coming weeks and months, I'll do my best to get some of them to sit still for an interview for TGB so we all can benefit from their ideas and perspectives. You will find every one of them an inspiration.

There are so many new thoughts running about in my head that I will need to parcel them out one post at time.

One big takeaway from the meeting is that old and old-ish people all over America are individually “reframing the care and weakness lens” of aging by applying their knowledge and experience to enhance the lives of other people, often elders who may not be equipped, either physically or constitutionally, to do it for themselves.

Or, they are experimenting with new ways of being old – the Parkinson's dance class; community living arrangements; other projects that refuse to operate under the decline and disease definition of old age by focusing on people's assets rather than their debits.

These dynamic people I met are putting their personal talents, past training and experience to work on a small, sometimes individual, one-on-one scale to improve the experience of aging for others and, thereby, for themselves. The BIF people want to harness their innovation to apply on a larger scale.

Sometime during the afternoon session, there emerged a question that embodied the day's goal of finding new ways for us to continue to contribute, to grow, to stay connected and maintain purpose as we age.

When I heard it I said, ”YES” in as big a way as that looks in print because in six simple words, the question makes clear everything I've been trying to say about old age for the past decade.

Here it is: How do you want to live?

It can be applied broadly to the public policy sphere as would include Frank Paynter's (and my own) concern with accounting for the inevitable exigencies of age without defining old age by them and it is equally relevant to personal, individual lives.

Either and both ways, it is a crucial question. Nothing can change in regard to aging without find good answers to it.

Therefore, if you are so inclined today, I would like you to take a whack at that question and consider what it means to you personally, to your community or to our overall culture - or all three.

Does thinking about it change what you personally want in your elderhood? Does it give you some ideas about how we might work to change the culture of aging? What new ways could we find for elders to continue to use their experience and knowledge to contribute?

Give it a try. There are no dumb answers.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: Armistice Day


Well, this really gets my blood going! I'd love to read interviews with such interesting seniors doing such good work. I know what you mean about missing the exchange of smart interesting people and surely blogs can be just that. I'm writing these days in answer to your essential question on how I want to live. We're the ones who will change the culture of aging by finding good answers to this question.

What a rush! I miss that conversation, especially with other women. One of the ways to remedy that is to get back out in our communities in some way. Great information Ronni.

Ronni, these are fantastic ideas.

Tell us everything.

The head librarian at my local library read my book and asked me to present a motivational seminar on any topic.

I haven't done this for 10 years.

Thought of a title:

"Get A Move On."

Meaning, seniors, take your collective life skills and put them to use. Where? In a school, food bank, senior home, animal shelter, everywhere you can make a difference.


"Uncle Sam Wants You."

(In Canada, it would be..

"Follow the Moose.")

Ronnie, this is fabulous. I can't wear to hear about the women with a "golden girls" house. I've been thinking and thinking about how to find one of those - especially on my limited income. Can't wait to hear what she has to say.

I want to live
in a small village type setting where I can walk out my door to a place with a cafe, library and shops
near the ocean
where I can meet up with people who enjoy getting together
where I can live within the means I will have
with less stuff to take care of than I have now
and a fenced in yard for my cats!

Holy crap! Maybe we're completely, 100% wrong about how we view aging. I mean, wrong in a way we've never seen before. Maybe we shouldn't treat age as different. Younger people need certain things to be physically and mentally well - how different is it for elders? Not at all! Why then have we been seeing ourselves as different, as a separate class or group? At all ages, and within age groups, humans differ greatly from each other. Maybe age is an artificial distinction. I am speechless at the possibilities of this new idea. Thanks, Ronni and BIF.

I think that I have a handle on life as I age....with a few changes. Perhaps a one story cottage instead of a three story condo. How about finding new ways of lifting books at my volunteer job. More laughter, more blogging, more writing, and more photography will make Mage less of a dull girl. Thanks for going to this, and thanks for stirring us all up.

I disagree - not with your enthusiasm but with the thought that elders are no different from five-year-olds, 25-year-olds and 55-year-olds, etc.

Our personal concerns are different. Our health is different. Our needs are different as is our experience, knowledge and our status in society.

You would not expect a teenager to be as responsible or take on as much in life as a 40-year old and to say that age is an artificial distinction is to deny reality of aging.

Nevertheless, we can find ways to take waning health (yes, it will happen to you, too, if you live enough) into consideration without making it the primary definition of getting old as we do now.

More to come over time.

This is all very exciting! I would be interested in follow-up information, links to websites or what ever is available to learn more about the programs these people are describing. I am especially interested in the one about rural women doing home repairs. Though my husband and I recently found ourselves in "retirement" years before we had expected to, we are looking for something more. Perhaps some of these ideas could help. Please keep sharing more about this, Ronni!

I have found I MUST have work in my life. Volunteering fills that bill for me, and the online work I do for a national Cairn terrier rescue keeps my computer skills growing. I returned to painting and I'm enjoying learning more than I ever got in college. I'm fortunate to have a few friends who enjoy a lively conversation about ideas, but I'm always on the look out for more. When I hear someone say they're bored, I'm puzzled as to how that can be. I guess I am living the life I want to live! Now that I've had that little revelation (thank you, Ronni) I think I'll take a break from picking on myself for all the stuff I'd like to do but don't seem to have time for.

Ronni, I disagree with your disagreement with Lynne. Each of us has to find our own reality within our minds. How we each perceive our world can help us cope with our aging reality (been there). We can either wallow in our fears or expand into life.

How do I want to live? I want to be useful to my family and my friends and the less fortunate.

I always thought that a great time to have lived would have been during the early days of film, working with the giants of that new industry--learning, developing film's potential, exploring ideas, grabbing the world's attention...and having a lot of fun, too. That's just how I feel about what it means to be older today -- so many people like you and those you met at BIF have been turning the world on its head about what aging means and so many of us are eagerly embracing it. We won't be around to see how good I trust and pray it will continue to get, but without the pioneers of today, the movement and momentum wouldn't have even gotten started. You are a true inspiration.

I'd like to see cooperatives of artists, writers, and craftspeople like those seen in Sweden. Everyone has their own private space but studio space, common areas, as well as household duties, cooking and meals are shared. Many in suburban areas have flower and kitchen gardens, and keep hens for eggs.

This provides companionship, mental stimulation, useful employment and conversation, as well as mutual support.

I keep writing about this idea on my blog but it seems that Americans and Canadians are essentially terrified of living in community. sigh...

I ask this sort of question every time I visit my mother at her assisted living facility. She should be at home but at 95 and going blind with macular d she couldn't stay there. I looked into costs of 24/7 help and it was prohibitive. It's one thing to be in your 60's, 70's and 80's and still be healthy. The golden girls home life is a great idea. If mom could have had this, I think she would have liked it. Someone who still drives, someone who likes to cook or can assist vision impaired roomies with cooking...being able to do something meaningful instead of looking forward to your three meals a day and watching TV. This current formula is not what I want. Yes, the facilities try to incorporate music, games, trips to the store and lunch, but you come back to your "room" that isn't your home. A lot of people die around you. Not a pleasant experience. I would like to see a concept like the 55 and older developments where you can age in place and still have amenities like the pool, gym, walking paths for use until you can't do it. Then stay in your home or buddy up. There would have to be nursing care incorporated into the development and it would have to be affordable.

Good for you on making the trip, taking the time to be there and share with us. Most elusive is how we find in-person opportunities to have these conversations with our peers.

Just a caveat here in geriatric studies.....It seemed that all the classes I took set about in the beginning dispelling myths about the elderly and aging. However, as our studies and projects developed it seemed that the myths began to get perpetuated...and we ended up back where we had started. It was very disheartening and I think almost an unconscious consequence. Perhaps looking at the assets of aging instead of the liabilities will carry us into the future with a reduction in our agism attitudes and perceptions.

Three versions of how do I want to live:

I want to have the maximum possible control over my own life.

I want to have the maximum possible control over how to meet my basic needs and over activities to give my life enriched meaning.

I want to live in a safe environment which affords me the maximum possible ability to make choices about meeting my basic needs, as well as those activities which give my life enriched meaning.

I did not think about how I wanted to live. But I retired to Cape Cod five years ago and today, at 75, I can say I'm living the life I want to live. I am active in an adult education community and in a quilt guild.I have a daughter, a granddaughter and 3 great-grandchildren nearby who respect my lifestyle and who could count on should I have physical disabilities (which I don't, for now). I live in a beautiful place, I have enough money to be comfortable although not to do some of the traveling I wish I could. But I traveled a great deal earlier so I don't feel deprived. I am mentally alive, physically able, and have a support network, I am giving to my chosen community. I'll keep on doing what I'm doing until I can't.

Where to start? I want to live by managing my own health (including Type 2 diabetes); staying mentally and physically active; having a good life with my new "old" husband; staying in our small house and having some improvements made; and reading and writing. I want to continue to drive (at least to the super-market and back). So far, so good.

I love this post. I am now living the way I always wanted to live but couldn't because of the pressure of a demanding job. I am a free-lance writer, covering art events in the SF Bay Area. I also advocate for justice in the arts; my latest columns are about the German government's lack of honestly about the 1 billion dollar treasure trove of Nazi era loot that was recently discovered. I also paint and do calligraphy. I walk every day and am looking for a dance/ exercise class for "seniors." I will be 69 in month and while there are health issues, life has never been better. Like many here, I will do what I am doing until I no longer can.

This is a most important topic. I know that I want to live in a caring community with plenty of opportunities to interact with all ages. I volunteer at a small library and this is a wonderful place for me to do my own contributions. I am healthy and strong and I hope to stay that way for a long while, but if I don't ,I do hope I will find another way to contribute something to my community.

Last week my 88 year old friend moved into a senior living apartment. I'm looking forward to seeing it.

I keep a close watch on where my friends go, and reflect on why they chose their new home.

I can't seem to put myself in any of these "boxes." Boxes mean places with rules, army style, no personal space or privacy.

"Zero fun sir."

Maybe it's because I worked in a profession that was run by the sound of bells. There is absolutely no privacy in a school.

We live in the house we renovated, a short walk to bus stop. We volunteer, swim, pilates, badminton, walk, ride in a cycling group, travel, go downtown every weekend.

We're busy every day.

Not bored.

Our cohorts are adamant about not going into a senior home, but who can predict the future?

I tell my mom "there is no finish line," that I will be the last one to leave the dance floor.

Is that just big talk?

So far, there is no building out there that we are attracted to for future living.

We don't want to be alone, yet we like our privacy.

We wish to be useful.

We don't want to be treated like toddlers.

If I end up a widow, I'd rather live in a tiny, one room home with garden, than a mini space on the 12th floor of a condo.

Of course I'd want a cat or two. Senior cats. With attitude.

And I'd want to live close to bus stop, library, stores, rec center.

So far I don't see little homes like that around Montreal.

But you never know.

I would LOVE to work on an all-female renovation team.

Where do I sign up for that?

Absolutely love this…

”to look at aging differently, that by framing aging through the lens of care and increasing weakness, we’re missing whole opportunities to facilitate healthy aging – ones that support optimal personal choice in how we age…”

There appears to be this culture of sorrow once we hit 30.

Ageing provides continuous opportunities for strenght and empowerment.

Thank you

I've talked briefly about living in a 'commune' situation with my mates as we get older. At this stage I would still want my own space, but have friends close by for companionship and help.

I want to live as the creative curious woman that I am, not conforming to anyone's ideas of how I should act, dress or be at a certain age. I cherish this time of my life when I can do as I wish within my small means.

Hi, Ronni,
Thanks for all you do! and all you will do!
I am an RN with two extra years of study in Social Gerontology. I think the most important way we can change the ageing millieu is by learning to differentiate between aging and illness. We look at illness and call it aging. We need to be better educated. Old is not synonymous with illness....and illness brings a whole different ball game to anybody regardless of age. It is true we see more illness among the aging and aged, but illness is no respecter of age. The young can become ill and die.
And many of us will not experience crushing illness as we age. Many of us will experience cruching illness, but that is a separate issue than ageing. What to do if I get sick (?) is a far different question than how am I going to chose to live as an old person while I am well enough to keep truckin'? How am I going to deal with the changes that will surround me as I age?
One old woman gave me the best advice I ever got: "You just do what life calls on you to do."

Ronni, despite the travails of air travel today, I'm glad you were able to go to this conference. It seems to have accentuated the possibilities and assets of older age rather than the negatives and liabilities (we all hear plenty about those!). I don't have a lot to add since I'm late to the comments.

I think everyone has to find her/his own way, but I couldn't agree more with Riverwatch. Just because we're older doesn't necessarily mean we're disabled or ill (often interpreted as incompetent or less-than). It's true that age brings some limitations and that disability and/or serious illness may well be down the road if we live long enough. Still, these need not define elders as a group or as individuals until/unless they happen.

I also vote with the readers who noted that control over how we live (and I will add, for me personally, how I die) is vital. The old woman Riverwatch quotes at the end of her post probably had it pretty close to right on.

I want to get old surrounded by friends. From the workplace or someplace else. I don't want to transform in a grumpy old man that shouts at young people for living their lives.

Ronni, this post has gone over and over in my mind since reading yesterday morning.
Do I stay in my cottage by the woods, enjoying all I do and I am slowing down and isolated. I love it at this time. A healthy nonstop lady who just turned 79 or spend my last years in the big city and closer to children, grandchildren and people?
I have put my name on a waiting list of a retirement home with a 2 year waiting list - just in case. So will see how "this ones" life continues...

I am so happy that a friend referred me to this site. I have just retired from working in senior living for over 25 years. I retired because of my husband's declining health and wanting to spend more time with him - I am glad I can afford to do this, but at 67 I was certainly planning on working much longer - I loved my work and feeling that I made a difference in lives around me. Now I will be searching for that fulfillment in other ways - and hoping I can be a blessing to others.

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