While our parents may have lived out their adult lives in the same home and community they raised us in, adding a ramp and picking up a few throw rugs as time went by and their health declined, most Boomers will not follow that trajectory.
Many of us have moved many times by now, often several times after retirement. Sometimes the mountains or the coast or a lake beckon; we move, then change our minds for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the house and yard, wherever it is, get to be too much, and renting an apartment has hassle-free appeal. But sometimes we love our house and our community, and we don’t want to make any major changes, or for many reasons, we simply can’t move.
Clearly, we have more options than our parents did but ideally, we won’t wait until the last minute to figure out what will be best.
Aging in the right place
Gerontologists are beginning to revise some of their theories about aging in place, which has been touted as one of the best residential options for seniors. Leading the discussion is Stephen M. Golant who published a 416- page book in 2015 titled Aging in the Right Place. The book has been reviewed in various gerontology journals and has been described as the “most comprehensive one-volume overview of residential options for older individuals to date.”
Although the book is clearly intended as a textbook for students and researchers, reviewers recommend it for seniors and their families, journalists, housing and service professionals, and particularly for policymakers at all levels.
Golant dedicates several chapters to stay-at-home coping strategies while other chapters address various housing alternatives, from senior cohousing to assisted living and continuing care retirement communities.
After outlining the various challenges each of us can encounter as we age, he argues “place matters.” We don’t grow old in a vacuum. While he notes there are many popular guides and rankings related to place, those objective qualities of place don’t necessarily predict residential satisfaction. He introduces the concept of “residential normalcy” which describes the emotional fit that people have with their environments, that is, residential comfort (feelings) and residential mastery (competency and control). In the end, Golant says what’s really at stake is what it should mean to age in America.
Liveability in the Athens region
A quick glance at AARP’s Livability Index shows that Athens and nearby communities fall in the middle of the scoring when compared with other towns and cities in the U.S. (Athens, 48; Watkinsville, 52; Madison, 46, Greensboro, 37; Monroe, 42). In Athens, the new 2018 Comprehensive Plan does address some of the community challenges related to the increase in an older demographic.
Policy goals range from increasing the amount of and access to affordable housing; expanding the Housing Rehabilitation Initiative; possible increased use of accessory dwelling units, allowing in-law suites, and targeting “troubled multi-family developments” for major redevelopment, especially mixed income. Other ambitious goals suggest reconfiguring large, existing or proposed commercial centers into “blocks” that promote walkability, and considering contingency plans for the mall that might include senior living.
In the meantime
Your eyeglasses are the assistive living device you’re most familiar with, and maybe a hearing aid and your 7-day plastic medication container. It turns out there’s a lot more assistive technology, or AT, than you can imagine. In fact, the Tools for Life program (TFL) at Georgia Tech has tested over 15,000 items, from weighted spoons for tremors to Reminder Rosie with thousands of programmable voice messages. The TFL program is set up to demonstrate equipment, do assessments, find funding resources, establish lending libraries around the state, facilitate reuse, and train individuals and groups.
“We focus on ability, not disability,” explains Rachel Wilson, AT specialist at Tools for Life. “What’s most important to you?” is the question she says they always ask.
Closer to home, the Disability Resource Connection at the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Commission on Research Drive manages the TFL program for its 12 counties. Toshia Lewis is one of two staff members who do assessments, demonstrations, and presentations to senior, civic and church groups about AT. She encourages people to think outside the box.
“Instead of paying for an aide, a piece of equipment can sometimes eliminate that need,” she points out. The local TFL program has several dozen items for testing on temporary loan; they include AT for communication; computers; daily living; hearing, vision; mobility seating and positioning; recreation, sports, leisure, and vision.
For more information, call 1-800-474-7540, ext. 103 or 211. For information on the statewide program, go to www.gatfl.gatech.edu.