One of the world's many paradoxes is that while we live on planet crowded with children and youth, there are more elderly people than ever before. Indeed, if all goes well, many people reading this can expect to live to see 100 (or even much more advanced ages). As we've noted many times before, a large aging population creates both pressures and opportunities.
One prime question: as we get older and can expect to live longer, do we really want to spend our long senior years in some sort of home? According to the NYT, 80% of us say no, that we'd rather age at home, and that is spurring a drive towards innovative models of keeping seniors in the homes (and thus active in their lives):
ALONE in his row house on Beacon Hill, with four precipitous flights of stairs and icy cobblestones outside the front door, John Sears, 75, still managed to look after himself after he was hit by a taxicab and left with a broken knee. That is because Mr. Sears was one phone call away from everything he needed to remain in his home...
Mr. Sears required both practical assistance and peace of mind: Transportation to and from the hospital. An advocate with him at medical appointments. Home-delivered meals from favorite restaurants. Someone at his side as he hobbled to the bank and the barber. Someone else to install grab bars in his bathroom. A way to summon help in an emergency. People to look in on him.
All these services were organized for Mr. Sears by Beacon Hill Village, an innovative nonprofit organization created by and for local residents determined to grow old in familiar surroundings, and to make that possible for others. Community-based models for aging in place designed by the people who use them are the wave of the future, experts say, an alternative to nursing homes and assisted living centers run by large service providers.
Beacon Hill will publish a how-to manual next month, intended to guide others through the complexity of creating a business plan and surveying community needs. That manual will encourage imitations..."
Copy-left, community-based innovative distributed eldercare -- expect to see a lot more of these sorts of efforts, as more and more of live to see our second century.
I believe the level of dignity, respect and the sensitivity that we provide for our elders is more important than I have words to express. (Perhaps someone else can explain this for me).
Copyleft? How exactly is this related to copyleft?
Anyway, I think this is a good idea. Allowing seniors to live in their own homes also adds a certain grounding to a neighborhood, a certain stability that is lost if each generation simply cycled through and moved away. Worldchanging has had many stories about reviving urban cores. I think this may have a small positive influence in that direction.
I think it's becoming clearer that enforced retirement may not be the good idea that it was 75 years ago. If I were that age, if I wanted to work and if I could work, I think I should be allowed to work. Working is both mentally and physically theraputic. And by many measures seniors are getting healthier all the time.
The problem is how to provide this growing population of people jobs that they are capable of and that give them dignity.
In the States there are many seniors who have no choice but to continue to work to suppliment Social Security checks. Some of these seniors don't view this as an entirely bad thing. Working keeps them engaged in the world. Some have said they'd prefer to burn out on the job than to fade away in obscurity.
It's also very important to notice that all of this assumes that medical technology only improves very slowly. I don't think we can take that as certainty.
People often talk about the challenges many Western countries face with an aging population that will have more elderly people than younger ones to support them and do the work.
But it doesn't have to be a problem. I am inspired by the wealth of wisdom we have available in our older population. They may not have iPods or Bluetooth headsets (or they may!), but they have learned all those life lessons that we go through so painfully in our own relationships, jobs, families, etc. And we are starting to have the ability for these folks to participate in society in their unique way, benefitting all.
If we want to, that is. We aren't really set up for a geriatric population right now, but unlike a few decades ago, we could be, given the communications infrastructure and greater ease in electronic consumer devices.
The most helpful way to do this is not for younger people to engineer a solution, but to empower the older folks to set things up as they want. Connect them together so the ones with retirement wealth can help those without. How about geriatric angel-investors that help other retirees set up businesses and community groups? I think we could see an explosion of creative housing and community solutions evolving if older folks can begin to act on their visions.
I think of them (someday to be me, should I make it!) as old-growth forest. Planting trees is a wonderful thing, but it's pretty easy and quick. Growing a 100-year-old redwood takes time and effort. Let's treasure those we have.