It’s interesting to see how people are living out the final years of their lives.
I’ve always been curious about different ways we can all feel cared for, supported and in community at the end of a long life. Do we have that support system? Do we have family nearby? Do we feel isolated? Do we need help?
This support and regular connection used to be given by extended family or longtime neighbors. Now, families are so scattered, and with neighborhoods full of rentals and more transient people, a feeling of stability and security has become lost.
Lots of elders want to age in place, to finish our lives in our own homes. This may require having services or other support over time as our needs change. This way, we can maintain the quality of our lives and still have help when we need it. Good planning for this includes looking at and finding help for our personal needs, adjusting our homes to our older bodies, making sure our finances are able to support us and being able to maintain these adjustments as our situations evolve.
A group that has taken this to heart is the North Animas Village, which incorporates seven of the contiguous neighborhoods of Dalton Ranch. They have created a nonprofit, supportive community based on the concept of The Village, based in Beacon Hill, Massachusetts. Their purpose is neighbor helping neighbor and enabling seniors to remain in their own homes by assisting them as they become less able to meet their needs themselves. Things such as home maintenance; personal necessities; and social, educational and fitness activities are provided by volunteers who themselves may need help at some point. This sense of community also prevents feelings of isolation, so common in seniors.
It has taken these folks two years of determination and hard work to realize this dream. They are now launched and ready to continue growing their membership. (For more information, email email@example.com.)
I have just read a piece about a place south of Albuquerque called the Center for Ageless Living. It houses 45 low-income New Mexicans on 6 acres and is a source of community for a population that often feels alone. The beautiful campus boasts many amenities for its residents, including a wellness center, spa, restaurant, theater and, most particularly, a shared garden for fresh food. The focus here is healthy eating, which many elders do not get when living by themselves. From my reading, it seems like a great place to live for good health and aging services.
Several of us tried to create a senior co-housing community here in Durango a few years ago. These are neighborhoods specially tailored for seniors, with the emphasis on independence, inclusion and ease. We had many people interested but could never find the right space for the right price in the right zoning that was able to support several households. We wanted to be able to walk to places here in town when we could no longer drive. Impossible here in Durango?
There must be more creative solutions to elders’ living situations here. With all the new building and development going on, I’m looking for some forward-thinking contractor to build something that serves us!
Successful and dignified aging for most of us means maintaining control over our own lives and not feeling burdensome to our children, if we have them. We’re looking for independence and autonomy, in spaces that bring real life and opportunities to our later years.
Martha McClellan was a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus to the other end of life and written a book, “The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game.” Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.