I grew up in suburban Oregon and California so I had a good deal of experience with suburban living before I moved here to Lake Oswego, Oregon, four years ago.
I also lived for 40 years in New York City and I always believed that it is an ideal place to grow old. (Other densely populated big cities like Chicago and Boston may also be, by my knowledge is of Manhattan.)
That city is made up of many dozens of small villages – most of them geographically much smaller than any small town.
Often they are no more than five or six square blocks, but because each tiny village is so densely packed with people, all the necessities and amenities of daily life are contained within the village borders, walkable for all but the most infirm.
And even then, even before internet shopping and delivery, it is almost possible to live in Manhattan without ever leaving home. My next door neighbor, a healthy, young Wall Street trader, phoned the corner bodega for delivery of his morning coffee and bagel every day of the week for years.
Laundry, cleaners, grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants (eat in, take out and delivery), varieties of clothing shops, hardware stores, libraries, medical offices, local social services and pretty much anything you need or want is contained within each little village or close enough for an easy walk.
When it's not, public transportation in Manhattan is among the best in the world. There is no need to own a car and therefore none of the fear American elders in suburban towns, or sprawling cities like Houston and Los Angeles, have of one day turning in their car keys.
Over the weekend, The New York Times published a story about how more elder New Yorkers are choosing to age in place nowadays rather than make the traditional escapes to retirement in Florida and the American southwest.
As you might imagine, it being New York City, there is a good deal of contention among residents of different age groups in large residential buildings about how to deal with those who need more help as they grow old.
Elder residents, reports The Times, become forgetful, wander the halls in their night clothes, leave gas stoves on or water running among other issues that can be either dangerous or just annoying to other residents.
But some buildings that have become transformed into NORCs (naturally occurring retirement communities) are creating a variety of ways to deal with and help their elder residents.
”Often, doormen are the first line of defense. 'Me and the other guys know who looks good and who doesn’t look good,' said Michael Lydon, who has been on the service staff of an Upper East Side co-op for 27 years.
“We’ll say, 'Have you seen Mrs. So-and-So recently?' People who are elderly have a routine, like going to Gristede’s on senior citizens’ days. If they break from that routine, that makes us think we should go check on them.'”
Many NORC buildings, according to The Times, are finding other creative and important ways to serve the needs of their elder residents such as one that keeps a list of residents with special needs, such as those who use canes, walkers or wheelchairs, for use if there is an emergency and the building needs to be evacuated.
Another allows deliveries directly to apartment doors of elder residents rather than requiring the packages be left at the front desk as with younger residents. Others arrange for classes or social gatherings in the building and at least one brings in a registered nurse each week to check blood pressure and medications.
Although some building management companies avoid any kind of help to their elder residents citing the possibility of litigation, others welcome the opportunity to help and are finding new ways to do that:
”Seniors? Bring them on, said Dean Feldman, an associate broker at Halstead Property and a resident of Schwab House. 'I know that co-ops aren’t social service agencies,' he said.
“'But we can all do a lot to support all the elderly people in our buildings.' This could include designating 'floor captains' who would take note of newspapers piling up in front of a door and of mail uncollected.”
I bring all this up today because, as we know, the percentage of old people is growing dramatically throughout the world and there are not now, nor will there be, enough “homes” to help those who are no longer entirely independent.
With a little help from such enlightened people at Mr. Dean Feldman, elders themselves are going to have to figure out care for ourselves as we age. One way I write about here from time to time and am working on in my area is the Villages movement.
There are other solutions too and it will take all of them together to help us help one another age in place. We can learn from one another in different places and environments and there are some good ideas in this New York Times story that I'm sure can be applied in a number of ways elsewhere.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Trudi Kappel: Tomatoes for Victory