Women growing older with grace and gusto

Where do you want to grow old?

Perhaps, like me, you’re beginning to wonder how you’ll live out the last years of your life.

This Baby Boomer generation of ours has, I believe, advantages and disadvantages. We have the strength and determination to believe we can enter our old age with more vim and vigour than our parents. And sometimes we believe that determination will make us untouchable. How could those glorious young hippies and activists we were ever become old and infirm?

And yet some of us have already become carers for our parents or seen friends in this situation. Often, we’ve seen one parent (statistically the woman) outlive their mate by many years. We’ve seen poverty and we’ve seen dementia. It brings home to us some of the negative possibilities of old age.

The positives

We know what to do to stay or get as fit as possible as we age, and to have a good life. It’s not rocket science: eat delicious healthy food in moderate amounts, have an active mind and body, invite people into your life that you love, get involved in things you care about, be interested in everything, enjoy yourself.

We live in a time where medical care can often help us (although not at the expense of being kept alive past the point at which we would wish it – this can be a double-edged sword).

Our sheer numbers mean we have political and financial (some of us) clout that previous generations simply didn’t have.

So what happens next?

I don’t know about you, but the notion of being in a residential home where bored, underpaid carers tell me what to eat and when, have me playing bingo and put me to bed at night doesn’t bear thinking about. I actually hope to live in my own home until I leave feet first, but if I become infirm, that might not be possible.

I heard the other day about a “women-only seniors home that the women would run themselves” in France. That sounds like a possibility. Apparently there are other models springing up, although a cursory Google found only improved design. But… do I want to live only with people my own age, no matter how positive the arrangements?

I’m not sure, but in my 60th year, this is something I need to begin thinking about.

What about you?

Have you any thoughts or plans about how and where you’d like to live when you’re older, or are you sticking your head firmly in the sand? Isn’t it up to us to figure out where we go from here? Please share in the comments – let’s pool our ideas.

Photograph above by Adam Price

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27 Responses to Where do you want to grow old?

  1. This ‘chimes’ with the things I have been thinking about. I am 67, very happily married to a wonderful man of 70. It would be easy to delude myself that this will go on for ever, but it will not. I have huge respect for the Quakers, who are encouraged to make plans for their own old age, but how t do that? I have no idea whether I will be alone, or ‘leave first’. I have no idea whether I will have the health, financial resources and emotional well-being to make choices. What part will my family play. I think that the best that I can do is to be alert to the possibilities, as self-aware as possible (although even that may become elusive) and make my decisions as soon as I need to. It would be good to hear what others’ ‘plans’ are, to enable my thinking to be well-informed!!

  2. I like your idea of women-only seniors home run by the women themselves. Not that I might choose something like this (beguines, maybe, yes). But I think that we are going to see a lot of alternative ways of growing old and very old. I expect baby boomers to put as much creativity in growing old and dying as they have put in living.
    I would really like to be close to a monastery, for example, to attend the offices.
    I also believe in a bucket-list: what do I want to do while I still can travel and walk.
    And then of course write a will, where does my belongings and money go; what to do with my body if I get very sick (unplug me, please) and give away parts of my body that can be of use still.
    I find growing old beautiful, maybe because gratitude and wonder grow with age. Mind you, not all people seem to grow old this way.

    Interesting topic, Tess 🙂
    claire recently posted..An Ecumenical MorningMy Profile

    • We’re thinking alike – I just re-started my bucket list. Perhaps that’s an idea for another post!
      Although it’s not for me, I like the idea of the old anchor-holds (like Julian of Norwich)which had a window set into the church walls.

    • You wrote what I was thinking. Monastery, bucket list, will, etc.

      One of the reasons I moved to this home was because it is so close to a monastery. It is just a few minutes away.

      I’ve been working away on a bucket list. This house was on that list.

      My husband and I are in the process of working on our wills.

      Told someone the other day that I’m finally getting the freckles I so desired when I was a child and that person looked at me like I was losing my mind. Don’t mind those age spots at all!
      Eve recently posted..Young WomanMy Profile

  3. I applaud you addressing this topic, Tess. I’m only in my mid-40s, so I haven’t made concrete plans about this sort of thing yet, but when I was doing research on end-of-life stuff for a client a while back, I really became aware of how prevalent the “head in the sand” mentality is in our culture, and realized it wasn’t too early for me to start at least thinking about this.

    I agree with Claire; I think we’re going to see big changes in the options over the next decade or so.
    The Pollinatrix recently posted..An Extra-Spectral YearMy Profile

  4. One interesting thing about the boomers, you know they will still be wearing jeans when they are in their ’90’s — I think dressing young makes you feel young in meaningful ways. On health, you often hear that people who are elderly survive best if they have the will to live, and others depart more quickly if they have nothing to live for. No matter how you plan, for sure, growing old will take a thousand adjustments. If there is someone you love who truly needs you though, you are probably willing to cope no matter what it takes. Maybe that’s what makes a great friendship survive long, also, you are always willing to make the adjustments, to bend, to forgive, to adapt, to take the time to put in that extra effort.

  5. I remember going to visit my Great Aunt Margaret in a high-rise assisted living bldg when I was about 5 or 6 years old. Residents had their own apartments, but there was communal dining and a huge, sunny activity room on the top floor, with a library and arts and crafts area (and probably the occasional game of bingo:)). I thought it was wonderful, but my parents seemed to shudder at the prospect. I still think it was a nice mix of privacy and community, and would probably like to live somewhere similar myself someday. I can be a bit of a recluse(even now, at age 50) so I think it will be important for me to “build in” some daily connection with other people.

    I, too, am hopeful that we’ll come up with some new and creative ideas for aging together. Things like co-housing (families sharing homes with communal gathering spaces) and intentional communities (with a wide range of ages) seem to be becoming more popular. I loved the piece on Baba Yaga’s House in France. I want to live there based on the name alone!

    • Oooh! I love that idea too, of co-housing. I am flat broke; I have no idea what I am going to actually live on when I am old.

      I must confess, at the risk of sounding morbid, I think about this quite a lot. I think it’s been because of the chronic health issues I have had for the past 13 years. For a lot of that time I have felt like I was 87, and very aware of how vulnerable I have found the experience.

      I am hopeful that now I have begun to gain an understanding of why my body has been in chronic ill health that now I can spend the 45 years until I AM actually 87 straightening my health up, so that, in truly paradoxical fashion, I can have a better 87 when I’m actually there than the ones I have had in my 30’s and 40’s, haha 🙂 I would love some kind of privacy/dependency deal the way Jane describes it here (although the high-rise part isn’t very palatable).

      Thanks for writing about this, Tess. It’s important … and like so many bubbling creative endeavours going on around the world these days, inspirational when you see people coming up with creative ideas.

      My friend who is also childless and has had CFS issues for even more years than I have talked in passing before about moving in together when we’re old. I like the idea of a group of people sharing a house and therefore being able to afford to share an on-call nurse and home assistance and that sort of thing.
      Sue recently posted..Hope and WhimsyMy Profile

      • Sue, yes I have no pension to speak of, and think I’ll have to keep working until I drop. The financial side is scary.
        It’s interesting and inspiring the way you describe your journey into better health. Don’t suppose I’ll still be around when you’re 87 but I have this vision of you being all spry and hale and hearty!

  6. At almost 65 I have some things in place. I have a will and medical power of attorney set up. I have no family but a couple of friends that are family to me. I have made them promise that if I start showing signs that I am needing assistance that they will step up and tell me and be firm even if I am not politely responsive.
    I would like to think I will be able to stay in my home until the end but if not possible I will go to a Christian community near here for my last days.
    This is a conversation we boomers must have without our rose colored glasses on.
    Patricia recently posted..Psalm 92:1 nltMy Profile

  7. I will be 60 in a couple of months. I still work very hard on my honey farm. When I can no longer drive or work the farm, I plan to sell it. This will be based on what my body is telling me rather than my years. And then?
    I’m with Tess in that I don’t find any of the current options palatable–nursing homes, assisted living. The French idea sounds wonderful in that the women themselves are in charge of their living arrangement. And I don’t mind the idea of living with other elderly as opposed to a community of many ages, where the younger people usually don’t get it and take charge or try to. I’d like to interact with all ages, but not have the young in charge of me.
    I do not wish to be a burden either. A friend and I have been discussing the option of suicide. In my state it is still illegal so I guess I would have to just stop eating and drinking. (This is what my mother did.)
    So I guess, right now, my option is to move to an apartment in a walking neighborhood until I cannot manage that and then just lay down and not get up!

    • Hmmm… that’s a good thought about younger people not getting it, something to consider.
      There’s been a lot of discussion here in the UK about assisted suicide recently, although in the context of crippling disability. I’m not sure how I feel about it.

  8. I actually have a really good idea of what I want to do and it does sort of involve the type of place that Jane has described. It’s actually on my wish list of things to do.

    I’m still sort of mulling it over, but I know exactly where I want to grow old. (Not sure about the WHERE of place yet, though, that’s the big questions as it needs land that is inexpensive. Possibly here, where I just moved.)
    Em recently posted..Road Post: Dickens Meets TravelMy Profile

  9. I wanted to share a comment someone sent me by email, describing a care home where seniors were left to doze in front of a blaring TV all day.
    That reminded me of something else I’d find very difficult: being subjected to unwanted noise in this way. I’m lucky that I live in a very quiet neighbourhood, but noise (and cigarette smoke) can be incredibly intrusive. Again it’s all down to the ability to choose.

    • Oh, yeah, absolutely. That would drive me insane.

      The way we treat old people – bundling them up into wait-for-death-centres is truly and rooly just disgusting, and ages future than ours (hopefully) will look with horror on our complete lack of respect.

      My mum worked in a personal care hostel for many years and I always grumped and complained about how horrible it was. From her perspective, she didn’t see too much bad about it but from mine it felt like a damn prison, treating people like they’re children.
      Sue recently posted..Chooky CasualtyMy Profile

  10. Tess, You’ve reminded me of a concept I’ve been meaning to write/post about. The progressive physician Andrew Weil talks about “compressed morbidity” as what we want to cultivate. His mother, for example, was hale and hearty into her 80’s — and then had a swift decline of just a few months, ending in a peaceful death. That’s compressed morbidity, and it’s what everyone I’ve ever talked with about death wants, though almost few seem to have heard of the term yet, itself. I’d like to help spread the word about it.

    Your being a good non-rule-follower like myself, I would love to get your input/comment on my next to last post, How To Break The Rules At Christmas. Come over and visit?
    Alison Wiley recently posted..Diamond-Cut Survey Takers Speak UpMy Profile

  11. I’m 67 and have many of the necessities in place: will, pension, power of attorney. I hope to “age in place” in this house, although the garden will be too big for me to manage and I hope to share it with others who don’t have a garden. On the other hand that may be naive and I may need to face up to the fact that I should be consider moving from my peaceful and lovely spot sooner rather than later.

    The most important thing for me to do right now is to de-clutter what I no longer want, and give all the family history materials to cousins who will want it or to local history societies, archives and libraries who will be glad of it. I’m deeply involved in creative things now and find it hard to allocate and actually spend the time to amass the family stuff and plan where to deposit it.

    I am sure that I don’t want to leave my precious possessions to be dumped by those who don;t appreciate it. A list is with my will. I need to get it into a codicil to make the transfer of the material legal.

    I’m currently doing a project based on “Archives” and will try to bring materials, fabrics and small objects together in a crazy sort of quilt of text, coins, jewellery and photographs on fabric for an exhibition in April. The deadline will help me bring the family history things together and then be able to pass them on.

    • Suella, welcome to my blog and thanks for your comment. I always think it’s very thoughtful to organise one’s things in such a way – much easier for others to deal with when the time comes. I was having a discussion the other day with some people about Wills, and there seems to be such superstition about it – as if making a Will is inviting the inevitable!
      I absolutely love the sound of your Archives project, it’s given me some ideas, thank you.

  12. I am saddened by so much negativity about both future care, and care homse, as much as about age. There is also lots of positivity too, which is good to read. I’m a baby boomer – I was 60 in June. I also own care homes (UK) and am a nurse, so see many different sides to this. The single most important thing at extreme old age is about having CHOICE – but that choice comes from many different places. It might be about where to live or it might be about who cares for you. Or even little things like what to wear or what and when to eat. A good care home should only ever give choices, and never tell older people how to live their lives.
    How to choose a home – if that is what is the decision – will vary from person to person. And for the person who said she didn’t think she wanted to live solely with people her own age, we have a resident age profile which spans from around 60 to over 100 within one of our three care homes.

    There is no ‘one size fits all’- and in my experience there is no ‘bundling people up’ or forcing them into care homes. In many cases it is the reverse – people who are lonely and frightened alone but have insufficient ‘risk’ actually find it very difficult to enter a care home unless they can fund it themselves. They are actively prevented (by the funders) because of where the different budget streams come from, and the impact this would have on the local authority budgets. Currently people lose their rights to centrally sourced benefits (Housing benefit, attendance allowance, etc) which come from central government and which is payable to the individual at home, while the full cost of a care home – including the fact that this includes accommodation, utilities, furniture, maintenance, carpets, food, and staff to cook and clean as well as the 24 hour care, has to be paid for in total from the local authority budget which is not compensated for the loss of that person’s housing benefit or attendance allowance, the only contribution the council can collect to go towards this is the individual’s state pension (less an expense allowance which the resident keeps). So naturally the council would rather pay for half an hour twice a day (for example) to someone in their own home (which as I’ve said is funded from elsewhere in the public purse) than for the 24 hour care and accommodation costs to the council of care in a care home, which is thus much more expensive to the council, although is often actually cheaper to the wider state if you factor in all the collective benefits funded to help someone stay in their own home.

    However, just looking at this from the boomers point of view, ten years ago there were four ‘economically active (working and tax paying) adults for every one person drawing out of the social fund. Now there are three; in another ten years – when I’ll be 70, and the boomers have largely retired – there will only be two. Now, do I want my children/the next generation to have their taxes DOUBLED just to stand still? No of course I don’t. But this is the often not thought through meaning behind the demographics. There are just not enough working people paying taxes to fund the state as we have come to know it. And not only are there not enough tax payers, there also aren’t enough children growing up to become the carers of the future. who will physically change my incontinence pad when I can’t do this for myself? Who will collect my shopping when I can’t leave the house – or put it away/cook it when I can’t get out of my chair unaided? The reality is that some of the utopian ideals we have – just might need to be rethought, based on a falling birthrate and higher work aspirations and opportunities for the reduced working population as there is less and less competition but less and less public funding to keep the state ship afloat!

    • Mary, apologies for only just having approved your comment – I saw it on our LinkedIn discussion but it slipped under my radar here.
      You make some really excellent points here, and I think you’re right – choice is the single most important thing.

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