In every survey taken over many years, about 90 percent of old people say they want to age in place – that is, stay in the home where they are now and have lived for many years.
In addition, it is almost gospel among the leading authorities, organizations and other experts in the ageing community that when health allows, remaining in one's home in old age is the better choice. It has certainly been my mantra in these pages over many years and I generally believe it.
Although I live in a NORC (naturally occurring retirement community), that was a mistake. When I bought my condo, I didn't know the population here is about 85 percent old people and although I can't afford to move again, I have believed over these five years that given the choice, I would prefer living in a mixed-age neighborhood.
Now, a professor at the University of Florida, Stephen M. Golant, who is a gerontologist and social geographer comes along with with some interesting arguments for elders living in what he calls “age homogeneous residential enclaves.” He is speaking, he says, about
”the 93% of Americans age 65 and older who live in ordinary homes and apartments, and not in highly age-segregated long-term care options, such as assisted living properties, board and care, continuing care retirement communities or nursing homes.”
We old folks, Golant's 93 percent, don't move much but when we do, he says, we often avoid living near young people.
”The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 allows certain housing providers to discriminate against families with children. Consequently, significant numbers of older people can move to these 'age-qualified' places that purposely exclude younger residents...
“Others may opt to move to 'age-targeted' subdivisions (many gated) and high-rise condominiums that developers predominantly market to aging consumers who prefer adult neighbors. Close to 25% of age-55-and-older households in the US occupy these types of planned residential settings.
“Finally, another smaller group of relocating elders transition to low-rent senior apartment buildings made possible by various federally and state-funded housing programs. They move to seek relief from the intolerably high housing costs of their previous residences.”
Golant also tells us that only two percent of elder homeowners and 12 percent of elder renters move each year so we are not talking about a large migration. But I am reminded that when we here have discussed housing, the preponderance of opinion is that readers want to live in mixed age areas and not be “stuck” with all those old people, as they often put it.
Golant argues that because throughout our lives we congregate mostly with people in similar stages of life, there is no reason not to do so in old age. In fact, he says, old people are happier with their own age group:
”...studies show that when older people reside with others their age, they have more fulfilled and enjoyable lives. They do not feel stigmatized when they practice retirement-oriented lifestyles.
“Even the most introverted or socially inactive older adults feel less alone and isolated when surrounded with friendly, sympathetic, and helpful neighbors with shared lifestyles, experiences, and values – and yes, who offer them opportunities for intimacy and an active sex life.”
Golant also has an answer for those who believe everyone benefits from communities where old people function as caregivers and nurturers of youth while the young learn respect for their elders:
”In question,” he writes “is whether these enriched social outcomes merely represent idealized visions of our pasts.
“A less generous interpretation for why critics oppose these congregations of old is that they make the problems faced by an aging population more visible and thus harder to ignore.”
And one more thing. Golant points out that it is much easier for home healthcare workers, nurses and other aides to serve more people when they are not traveling over entire cities or wide rural areas to reach their clients. And
”...how much easier it is for a building management or homeowners’ association to justify the purchasing of a van to serve the transportation needs of their older residents or to establish an on-site clinic to address their health needs.
“Consider also the challenges confronted by older people seeking good information about where to get help and assistance.
“Even in our internet age, they still mostly rely on word of mouth communications from trusted individuals. It becomes more likely that these knowledgeable individuals will be living next to them.”
Although Galant supports the Villages Movement for many of the above reasons, he gets it wrong in missing the important intergenerational aspect but that is not anywhere near enough reason to dismiss his work on age-homogeneous living for elders and the suggestion that it can help prolong independent living.
He is not saying that we should all rush off to join a NORC or 55-plus community. What we should do - those who, like me, have slighted such living arrangements - is to recognize them as viable alternatives and welcome them onto the list of choices we have as we grow old.
Much of Golant's article on this is taken from his book, Aging in the Right Place that I would like to read but it's too pricey for my book budget right now.
Nevertheless, the online article at The Conversation, where you will find more detail, is persuasive and worth a read.