20 April 2018

Aging in Place: Living in My Own Home as I Grow Older

Photo: Karen Sheahan
Focus talk given on 19th April 2018 on the topic of "Aging in Place: The Village Movement"
      —Carol Goldman

Carol has been a member of TOP/WE for 40 years. She has served on the board several times. She has often led the planning process for creating upcoming series. She has given several focus talks. She has authored a chapter in the book "Sacred Dimensions of Women's Experience". She is an exhibiting artist; she has created and presented stories of women in the scriptures; she is well known as a mental health advocate.

     I want to share thoughts about where I want to live as I age. I welcome the inspiration of Atul Gawande’s 2014 book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (New York, Penguin Books, 2014). Atul is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He regrets that older individuals often do not get information that would enable them (and their families) to make appropriate decisions about their medical treatment and locations where they might live. Atul writes that he was grateful that “how [his grandfather] wanted to live was his choice. … For most of human history … elders were cared for in multigenerational systems, often with three generations living under one roof. … [The] elderly were not left to cope with the infirmities of age on their own” (pp.16-17). Now “choices for the elderly have proliferated” (p. 21).
     I am seventy-eight years old. I own and live in a duplex townhouse condominium in Watertown, MA. The condo complex has twelve units grouped together. I pay a condo fee every month. The condo association arranges for landscaping, shoveling, and other management details. My neighbors and I look out for each other’s condo when we take trips.
     I have gone through a decision-making process. From my current perspective, I am clear that if I am physically and emotionally able, I want to continue living in my condominium as long as I can.
     Several factors determine my decision. Whatever one’s decision, there are tasks and arrangements that may need to be carried out now. I often feel overwhelmed as I outline these steps. As I reviewed what I had written for today, I wondered if I could and would carry out the tasks needed to help me achieve my short and long-term goals.
     I hope that each person will go through their own decision-making process.
     I have been married to my current husband, eighty years old, for forty-five years. We have lived in the condo for forty years. We brought up our children in the condo. The children moved out in various stages before they attended college.
     My husband has developed many physical issues. He recently underwent three hospitalizations for different reasons and stayed for twenty-eight days in-patient at a treatment center in Brighton, MA for rehabilitation of a dislocated shoulder.
     My attempts to carry on conversations with my husband about where we might live as we age have met with brief responses. My husband thinks that he will die soon at home or in a hospital and does not need to go through an extended decision-making process. I estimate living for fifteen more years. He stresses his concern that running the condo without him would be a strain on me. He wishes I would consider a continuum of care option starting with independent living (that would have assisted living and nursing care facilities on the same campus). That option does not appeal to me; I am competent to live at home alone and arrange for help and companionship as I need it. I want to have as much independence as possible and make informed decisions about my own life.
     I am currently competent to live at home alone.
     To enter the condo from the street entrance, you go up three steps from the ground. Inside the condo has three levels. The ground level has a half bathroom, a kitchen, and a combined living/dining room area. There is a small outside back porch with a big shared back yard. The full bathroom, linen closet, master bedroom, and two small rooms are on the top level; you go up a large flight of twisting stairs to get there. In the basement are the washer/dryer, file cabinets, book shelves, a storage pantry, closets, and two desks with large personal computers; you go down a steep stairway to get to the basement.
     When I had both hips replaced starting in 2010 (four years apart), it was a struggle to get up the stairs to the bedroom. I stayed in a rehabilitation facility until I could climb the stairs. I have several accommodations in place like grab bars in the shower, bars on the raised toilet seat, and banisters on the stairs. If I were older and living alone, I might rearrange the house for more compactness.
     We decided not to do work inside of the house. Last year we had all the windows in the home replaced for safety and efficiency measures. I might have other work done on the house if it would be useful to me.
     Over the years, my husband and I have accumulated a lot of “stuff”. After a lecture in a WomenExplore Series dealing with the importance of confronting one’s stuff, I found a center that focuses on the skills useful for dealing with hoarding. Since 2012, I have attended various classes and groups on de-cluttering. I hired a woman who specializes in downsizing to come to my home and help me with this challenge. Working together, we have made progress in sorting and discarding items. Organizing my stuff is a priority. I want there to be room for providers, service people, companions, family, and friends to visit my home. Now I meet most people outside my home. I do not want to be isolated as I age. I want to ensure that my home meets safety codes. I want my condo to be accessible to me as I become more restricted physically.
     The accessibility of my home is a factor in its suitability for me as I age.
     My fifty-year old son, a lawyer, lives in San Francisco, CA; he travels extensively. My forty-nine-year old married daughter lives in Boulder, CO with her two children, ages seven and ten. Both of my children lead very busy lives. I wish to stay in my home in Watertown.
     Every few months, I meet with my younger brother, who lives nearby, and have informed him of my wishes. He has agreed to help me manage my over-all living arrangements if something happens to my husband and if I request help. My cousin has agreed to be a back up to my brother. My brother and cousin have both agreed to be my health care proxy and durable power of attorney if needed.
     We regularly visit my husband’s family who live in the Nahant, MA area. I attend occasional functions hosted by my own family who live in the Newton-Brookline area. I feel that running my home as I age will be my job with help as needed. My local families will undertake minimal hands-on tasks and social visits.
     Availability and interest of my family is a factor in my choice.
     Financially, because of a trust, social security benefits, and long-term financial investments made with my financial planner in conjunction with my husband, I have the money to pay for several choices which could be very expensive.
     I am financially secure in exploring options.
     I have a very active life in my current location. Although I do not drive, I utilize the local taxi services. I go as a helper when I travel with my husband, who qualifies for the MBTA Ride.
     I utilize several medical and mental-health professionals in this area. When they retire or leave, they refer me to excellent replacements within their departments. I am happy with my extensive body-work practitioners nearby: my personal trainer at my athletic club, my physical therapist, my chiropractor, my massage healer. I appreciate the familiarity and consistency I have with my providers.
     I have made several friends in the Boston area with whom I maintain active relationships.
     I like having my Watertown condo as my “home” base. I enjoy traveling and attending retreats. I will continue to travel as much as I can.
     Location and transportation options are important to me.
     I have belonged to several communities for over forty years: My husband and I participate in a Reform Jewish congregation in Belmont, MA. We attend services, classes, and special events. I belong to a separate more participatory Jewish Renewal congregation in Waltham, MA which I attend on my own.
     At WomenExplore, I have created rituals, delivered written and oral presentations, served on the board, led lecture-planning and Advisory Committee sessions. I currently answer any telephone enquiries.
     I regularly attend my Wellesley College Class of 1962 and my Newton High School Class of 1958 reunions.
     Local community is important to me.
     I thank the WomenExplore Advisory Committee for including the topic: “Aging in Place” as part of our “Exploring…” Series. I have resisted thinking about my living arrangements as I grow older. This topic has helped me clarify my priorities. However, I am reassured that there are several programs and resources available to me on this upcoming journey.

08 April 2018

Demographers Define the Differences Between Generations

Focus talk given on 29th March 2018 on the topic of "The Millennials: New Approaches to Old Problems"
—Barbara Villandry

     You know I’m interested in how demographers and advertising researchers like to define generations of Americans.  Each of these generations is different from their parents, but also similar.  “Cohort” is the term social scientists prefer to “generations” to indicate “people within a delineated population who experience the same significant events within a given time period.  Sociologist Karl Mannheim emphasized that the rapidity of social change in youth was crucial to the formation of generations, and that not every generation would come to see itself as distinct.  In periods of rapid social change, a generation would be much more likely to develop a cohesive character.  But this isn’t an exact science.  There are as many differences in attitudes, values, behaviors and lifestyles within a generation as there are between generations.
     I remember my grandmother telling me that during the depression, she had to visit her banker to beg for one more month to get current on the mortgage of the family home.  She never got over that experience.  The family owned a jewelry store, so you can imagine how difficult a luxury business was to keep afloat during the Depression, but they managed to do it, and they were able to keep the family homestead. 
     But coming of age during the Great Depression didn’t impact my mom and my aunt the same way.  My Aunt Eleanor became thrifty beyond reason.  In 1940 at the age of 19, she went to Manhattan to try to break into the entertainment business as a dancer and a singer. She learned to make a dime stretch a long way.  After five years in Manhattan, she joined my mom working for my grandfather in the jewelry store.  When my grandparents died, my mom and her sister inherited the store, and kept it going for a few years, but they had very different philosophies about how to run the business.  My aunt didn’t want to buy new merchandise, and my mom said customers wouldn’t keep coming in without new stock.  They sold the store.  My aunt retired in her 50’s, and mom went to work for another local jewelry store. In her retirement, my aunt developed a real interest in investing in the stock market, and mom became the ultimate American consumer.
     Both mom and my aunt were part of what Tom Brokow coined as “The Greatest Generation.”  This includes people born between 1901 and 1925.  They survived the Great Depression and lived through WW II.  They were the first generation to have telephones, and a radio in the home, and were said to have a strong sense of right and wrong.
     Folks born between the mid 1920’s and the mid-1940s are called the “Silent Generation;“ they focused on their careers rather than on activism, and this cohort was encouraged to conform to social norms.  As young adults during the McCarthy Era, many members of the Silent Generation felt it was dangerous to speak out.  Elwood Carlson, a professor of Sociology at Florida State labeled them “The Lucky Few” because even though they were born during the depression and WW II, they moved into adulthood during the relatively prosperous 1950’s and early 1960’s.  This generation had higher employment rates than the generations before and after them.
       I missed being a Baby Boomer by three months, but I’m this close to being one.  Generally, Baby Boomers are born between 1946 and 1964.  This generation was the wealthiest, most active, and most physically fit generation up to the time they arrived on the scene.  They were among the first to grow up expecting the world to improve with time.  This cohort gets its name because of the phenomenal increase in births during this period:  76 million.
     In the U.S., this generation can be segmented into two broadly defined cohorts:  The Leading-Edge Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1955, who came of age during the Vietnam War, and the other half of the generation born between 1956 and 1964 called Late Boomers or Trailing-Edge Boomers.
     Boomers grew up at a time of dramatic change.  In school, we were taught to “duck and cover,” as the response to air raid sirens that could predict a nuclear attack.  Some of our neighbors were building fallout shelters and stocking them with dehydrated food and bottled water.  President Kennedy led us through the Cuban Missile crisis, NASA put a man on the moon, a wall divided Germany into Communist-controlled East Germany and independent West Germany.  Young men could be drafted and sent to Vietnam, and the number of male students on campus seeking educational deferments was high.  So were the numbers of men crossing the border to Canada to avoid the draft.  Students were protesting the Vietnam War.  Flower power became a term.  Folks were living together in communes.  Some were touting free love, others open marriages.  Haight-Ashbury became the center for the counter culture.  The women’s movement was marked by women burning their bras and demanding to be heard.  Desegregation was a movement.  Baby Boomers were the first generation to grow up with television and rock and roll. Have I left anything out?   President Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated.
     The first Baby Boomer cohort are strongly Democratic, the second half strongly Republican.  The later Baby Boomers came of age during Watergate and Nixon’s resignation.  They remember the oil embargo and lines at the gas station, raging inflation, economic recession, lower employment, the Iran hostage crisis, Ronald Reagan and the AIDS crisis.  Their key characteristics are that they are less optimistic, they distrust government, and they are generally cynical.
     Generation Xers were born between the early to mid-1960s and the early 1980s.  Society was again changing, and these children were called the “latchkey generation,” because they had reduced adult supervision as children compared to the previous generations, a result of increasing divorce rates and increased maternal participation in the workforce prior to the availability of good childcare options outside of the home.  As adolescents and young adults, they were dubbed the “MTV Generation.”  In the 1990s, they were sometimes characterized as slackers, cynical and disaffected.  Some of the cultural influences on Gen X youth were the musical genres of grunge and hip-hop music, and indie films.  In midlife, research describes them as active, happy, and achieving a work-life balance.  This cohort has been credited with entrepreneurial tendencies. 
     The declining birth rate of this generation is attributed to the introduction of the birth control pill in the early 1960s.  Increased immigration partially offset these declining birth rates and contributed to making Generation X an ethically and culturally diverse demographic cohort.
     Politically, in the U.S. the Gen X childhood coincided with a time when government funding tended to be diverted away from programs for children.  One in five American children grew up in poverty during this period.  Gen Xers came of age or were children during the crack epidemic, which disproportionately impacted urban areas and the African American community. 
     The emergence of AIDS coincided with Gen X’s adolescence.  Some sex education programs in schools were adopted to address the AIDS epidemic, which taught Gen X students that sex could kill them.  Gen Xers were the first children to have access to computers in their homes and schools.
     Strauss & Howe wrote of Generation X: “They are already the greatest entrepreneurial generation in U.S. history; their high-tech savvy and marketplace resilience have helped America prosper in the era of globalization.”
     Finally, the millennials, born in the early 1980s, through the mid-1990s.  This generation is generally marked by an increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies.  It was the generation negatively impacted by the Great Recession.  This is the generation that was born into the age of terrorism. 
     The experts differ in how they describe the Millennials.  Strauss and Howe ascribe seven basic traits to them:  special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured, and achieving.  Psychologist Jean Twenge wrote a book calling them “Generation Me.”  She says they are confident and tolerant, be they also believe they are entitled and are narcissistic. 
     American sociologist Kathleen Shaputis has called millennials the “Boomerang Generation” or the “Peter Pan Generation” because they tend to delay some rites of passage into adulthood for longer periods than most generations before them.  They also tend to live with their parents for longer periods than previous generations.  This could be attributable to the high cost of housing and higher education, and the relative affluence of their parents. Data from a 2014 study of U.S. millennials revealed over 56% consider themselves as part of the working class, with only approximately 35% considering themselves as part of the middle class.  This class identity for people who believe themselves to be in the middle class is the lowest polling of any generation.
     Research by the Urban Institute conducted in 2014 projected that if current trends continue, millennials will have a lower marriage rate compared to previous generations, predicting that by age 40, 3.7% of millennial women will remain single, approximately twice the share of their single Gen X counterparts.  The data showed similar trends for males.
     According to a cross-generational study comparing millennials to Generation X conducted at the Wharton School of Business, more than half of Millennial undergraduates surveyed do not plan to have children.  The researchers compared surveys of the Wharton graduating classes of 1992 and 2012.  In 1992, 78% of women planned to eventually have children dropping to 42% in 2012.  The results were similar for male students. 
     Another large study of millennials found that they are frequently in touch with their parents an average of 1.5 times a day.  They use technology at a higher rate than other generations.  This group is referred to as “digital natives.”  They have home computers, tablets and smartphones.  They watch tv on their mobile devices. 
     Millennials use social networking sites such as Facebook to create a different sense of belonging, making acquaintances, and to remain connected with friends. 
     Millennials are on a track to be the most formally educated generation.  In 2008, 39.6% of millennials between the ages of 18-24 were enrolled in college, which was an American record.  Along with being educated, millennials tend to be upbeat.  About 9 out of 10 millennials feel as though they have enough money or that they will reach their long-term financial goals, even during the tough economic times, and they are more optimistic about the future of the U.S. 
     Additionally, millennials are more open to change than older generations.  According to the Pew Research Center 2008 study, millennials are the most likely of any generation to self-identify as liberals and are also more supportive of progressive domestic social agenda than older generation.  Finally, millennials are less overtly religious than the older generations.  About one in four millennials are unaffiliated with any religion, a considerably higher ratio than that of older generations when they were the ages of millennials.