Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Boomers aging into old age housing? Gimme shelter!

Right after my mother turned 80, she moved into a congregant living facility.
It was time to leave home, the house she’d live in for 44 years, where she’d raised her kids, seen my father through a long illness, and been a widow for nearly 30 years. Worrying about whether the lawn was mowed, the walk was shoveled was getting to be too much. The new folks next door were a bit difficult. They were sloppy about putting their trash out, and milk jugs, tampon cartons, and Styrofoam Dunk’s cups would blow onto my mother’s property, and those lazy, good for nothing neighbors would do nothing about it. You’d think that someone might be ashamed about letting an 80 year old woman trying to retrieve their trash from the steep rocky hill that abutted her yard, but apparently not.

Anyway, from everyone’s perspective it was time for her to move to a place where she didn’t have to worry about house stuff, and her kids – none still in Worcester – didn’t have to worry about her.

Her new digs were pretty darned ideal.

She had a generously-sized one-bedroom apartment with a full kitchen and plenty of storage. There was a balcony that fit a couple of chairs that looked out on a pond. (The official name of the pond was Curtis Pond, but we knew it as The Electric Pond because it was near an electrical substation. When I was a kid, I thought the water was electrified, and that you would be killed if you stepped toe in it.)  Even better than the view of The Electric Pond out back, the front of the building was directly across the street from her parish church, where she’d been a parishioner since she’d moved to Worcester more than 50 years earlier. It was the church where she’d baptized her kids and buried my father, and the place where much of her social life revolved around. Her home away from home.

My mother’s congregant living place was by no means luxurious. But it was well kept up and comfortable. The grounds were lovely, there were plenty of activities for the “congregants,” and the staff were wonderful. Residents got breakfast and dinner, light housekeeping, and someone to check on their whereabouts if they didn’t come down to breakfast. Bonus points: my mother had a couple of friends who already lived there. Further bonus points: it wasn’t crazily expensive, and my mother could easily afford it.

When we moved her in, my sisters and I kidded her that – having lived with her parents until she married – my mother was moving into her first “single gal pad.” We also raved about how much storage there was. (Less than a year later, when she died, we were cursing that way too ample storage.
All in all, my mother was very happy at Goddard House, and we were very happy to have her there. Part of our sadness at her death was regretting that she didn’t get to enjoy more years of life unencumbered by a too-big house with a too-big yard.

As my Chicago cousins go through the search process to find a place for my Aunt Mary who, nearing 90, is ready to move into an assisted living situation, I hope that they’re able to find a place as good for their mother.

Anyway, the day before my mother fully moved in, I was transferring her frozen food for her  when the woman in the apartment next door popped her head out and asked if I were the new resident.

It was my 51st birthday. So my answer was, errrrrr, no.

Fast forward fifteen years, and I’m still not ready to start thinking senior living – independent, congregant, assisted, skilled nursing. Maybe another fifteen or twenty years from now, which seems to be about the time in someone’s life when they need to get themselves into a more supportive/assistive living situation. I’m in a great location, and, with my recent reno, I made a couple of senior-friendly improvements: the tub is now a walk-in shower with bench and grab bar; the steep and twisty stair case is now equipped with a railing. But there’s nothing I can do about the steep front steps to the building, and the puny landing at the top. I suppose that breaking my neck while toppling backwards down those steps wouldn’t be the worst way to go, I don’t intend to find out.

Whether we like it or not, us first wave boomers are embarking on the beginning of the end and, whether we like it or not, are having to figure out our end of life plans. Just think, only yesterday, as a high tech product manager, I was sitting around the table talking EOL strategies for products that needed to go. Any day now, I’ll be sitting down to figure out my person EOL strategy.

Anyway, when I do decide to move on (short term, not permanent move one…), there’ll apparently be plenty of choices.

I really don’t picture myself in a golden-ager community, but if I’m going to be staying in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I’ll have an increasing number of options. I’m already seeing – or perhaps, for the first time, paying attention to – ads for all these incredibly nice looking communities where incredibly well-dressed, incredibly fit older folks (mid 70’s?) seem to be just loving their new digs.

But do I want to live in a place where all the women where sweater sets and pearls? With perfectly coiffed heads? And perfectly coiffed and toothed husbands? Hell, no.

Regrettably, I have yet to see an ad for a place that looks really appealing, that looks like a place I’d fit in. I.e., one populated by a bunch of grey-hairs in jeans and “interesting” sweaters who look like they’re heading out to go door-to-door for Bernie Sanders. Where the main features of the place are the library and the geezer-ed center, not a lap pool and tennis courts.

But I suspect that there will be more choice as time goes by. After all:

…as the first baby boomers turn 70 this month, the number of “old old” is expected to nearly triple in coming decades, from 7.3 million in 2015 to more than 21 million by 2050. (Source: Boston Globe)

And those ads we see running? They really don’t think that us Boomers are going to be flocking in any time soon.

“Part of the marketing efforts you see today will help bmer. “Strong operators are basically constantly marketing because they have to keep that front door full with a line.”

In addition to being savvy marketers, I bet they have excellent models to predict when there’ll be an opening, too. Actuarially speaking.

Part of that marketing effort is promoting communities for the 62+ demographic, even if the residents are in the 80+ demographic. And part of the marketing and product management effort is putting in more and more amenities to appeal to us younger geezers. Kayaking! Wine lockers! Tai chi! Plus the ability to stay put as we need an escalated level of care if we ever decide to grow old and die. As if!

Much of what’s going up in Massachusetts is upscale, which is not surprising, given that there is a lot of money around here.

But the reality for most baby boomers is not going to be deciding whether to go kayaking or break open a bottle of Shiraz. It’s going to be figuring out how to retire on whatever it is we did or didn’t save. Hoping that Social Security and Medicare will still be around. Praying that we don’t get Alzheimer’s. Or that we do get Alzheimer’s and spend those final years grayed out, unaware.

There used to be a Clairol (I think) ad that went, “Hate that gray? Wash it away.”

The truth is, there’s only so much gray that we’ll be able to wash away and, if the boomers live long enough, our bulge of a demographic is going to need the ability to stay in our homes or move into places that are clean, comfortable, safe and affordable. Forget about tai chi. For a lot of us, it’s going to be gimme shelter.

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