Bluhm: We should embrace life’s challenges as we age
I don’t want to grow old. OK, so I know the alternative is not exactly a pleasant thought. And my minister says that, “Old age is a privilege denied to many.” Yes, this is true. It’s just that old age is rough. Less mobility, loved ones dying, aches, pains and all manner of problems. Loneliness, homes that are not accessible and declining health are but a few of the issues we face as we get older. Who was it that said, “Growing old is not for sissies?”
How old are Americans becoming? Well, in the year 2000, Americans over the age of 65 represented about 12.9 percent of the population, or 1 in 8. By the year 2030 there will be an estimated 71 million Americans over the age of 65, which is about 19 percent of the population. And frankly, most American communities were built for the young and mobile. Millions of single family homes have master bedrooms on the second floor, lawns to mow, mailboxes a stroll away, and entire neighborhoods designed where everyday errands require driving.
Hey, all those multi-story, single-family homes with big yards are great for young families. Car-dependent suburbs are good for people with a means and mobility to drive everywhere. Now it is becoming increasingly clear that the housing and communities we’ve built won’t work very well for an aging population. It seems we are headed for one huge clash between housing stock, community design and aging demographics.
A Harvard report in 2011 claims that less than 1 percent of housing units in America have accessible features like living spaces on ground floors, wide doorways and hallways, no step-entries, walk-in showers and lowered light switches. In other words, we have created a world for only the young, active and healthy!
Downsizing is a word I hear often. Yet, most folks have a hard time “transitioning” to a smaller space. Is it because of all the things we have collected over the years? Yes, it’s only “stuff,” but that tea set that great-grandmother bought over from England has meaning. The coffee cup that sits quietly in the cupboard that belonged to Dad and the piano that was the center of family gatherings are not easy “things” to give up. Everything that we have placed in our home carries a treasure trove of memories. And if you get older and start losing your memory, maybe being taken from all things that are familiar doesn’t help matters!
As we age, the way we live has to change. Therein lies the problem. Whether it is parting with our belongings, or realizing that the house in the suburbs is simply not as functional as a one level place in town, collectively we all have a lot of thinking and planning to do.
Is age just a number? Is attitude the key to happiness in the “golden years?” Birthdays seem to sneak up faster than they are supposed to. Age brings challenges and change. Maybe even wisdom (still waiting for that). Dear Readers, don’t be afraid of growing old. Life happens. And if we are lucky, it happens for a very long time.
Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local Realtor. Have a story or a comment? Email Judy at firstname.lastname@example.org.