that I was told that applying to Grants.gov was strenuous and complex and that is an understatement. The difficulty presented was so challenging that hopefully the weak of heart give up and those who continue find the pot of gold. All I can do now is wait.
The year after World War II ended, 1946, more babies were born in the United States than in any previous year in the nation’s history, according to history.com. The birth rate continued to escalate during the next 20 years, creating what came to be known as “the post-war baby boom.” Now, the oldest members of this generation are entering their 70s.
At the same time members of this high population generation are entering retirement years, life expectancy is increasing. Life expectancy in America in recent years has reached an all-time high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2030, approximately one in five Americans will be older than 65.
A loosely structured organization called Conscious Aging Atlanta Group meets monthly at Charis Books & More in Little Five Points to discuss issues and ideas related to having a high quality life in later years.
Conscious Aging has no formal structure such as officers or an official membership roll. It is “lightly facilitated” by Lorraine Fontana, who describes herself as “an elder member of the activist community here in Atlanta.”
Fontana said she hopes other members will volunteer to facilitate when the topic of the evening is of particular interest to them. While there are no official rules, the group has guidelines—agreed to at the start of each meeting—designed to promote an atmosphere of respect to encourage participation while allowing others to participate.
“We’re a generation that always has spoken our minds. We don’t just accept things as they are; we seek to make them better. That hasn’t changed now that we’re older,” Fontana said.
The group that gathered Oct. 5 was all women, but that’s not the case every month, Fontana said. “The group is different every time. We have men come to some meetings, but generally we have more women.” The meetings are open to all who are interested in aging-related topics.
She explained that people come because they want to direct their own lives. “The group is called Conscious Aging because we want what happens to us as we age to be the result of our decisions, not decisions others make for us. We want to think about and talk about what the next chapter will be like,” Fontana said. Topics under discussion or planned for future meetings include health and wellness—including mental health—social contacts and community, housing and living arrangements, accessibility and disability, ageism and intergenerational connection.
“I would like to have us invite someone in to take about legal issues,” one member said. “I want to discuss such matters as creating a power of attorney or a living will.”†Members also expressed interest in the emotional and practical issues of caring for a parent or a spouse or partner who is ill or disabled.
At one point, members talked about societal perceptions of older people and language used to describe them. Several said they did not care for the word “elderly.” “While elder suggests a person seasoned in wisdom, elderly evokes an image of someone disabled by age,” Fontana said.
Members also said they want people to know that they are still active and able. “After all,” one in the group pointed out, “the presidential candidates from the two major parties are 69 and 70.”
Fontana said she has been a social activist all her adult life and has no desire to give up such activity because of her age. “I can’t march at a demonstration anymore, but I still want to be there and show support for things I believe in,” she said. “I think people who organize rallies should think of those of us who want to participate, but aren’t able to march or stand for long periods.”
The group, which has only been around a few months, spends its hour-and-a-half sessions in discussions during which attendees share personal experiences and recommend resources, books and websites. However, Fontana noted, “We hope that this group will grow from a place of sharing and expression into concrete actions, collaborations and community.”
Historically, the family with its extended network was responsible for the various nurturing, educational and economic functions required to maintain and support its members. Over the course of the last century, however, America has become highly segregated by age. Family functions were assumed by a range of age-specific institutions. Children attend age-segregated schools, adults work in environments without children and adults over 65, older adults live in age-segregated housing, and both children and older persons are cared for in age-segregated facilities.
As a result, the old do not have relationships with the young, the young do not understand their elders or the aging process. For the past decade, older Americans, families, youth and children have all struggled with the severe cutbacks in essential health and social programs. The myths and stereotypes that result from separating the generations in combination with shrinking resources fosters tension between the generations.
Intergenerational programs increase cooperation, interaction and exchange between people of different generations by actively bringing together younger and older people. Through intergenerational programs, people of different generations share their talents and resources and support each other in relationships that benefit both the individual and their community. These programs provide opportunities for individuals, families and communities to again enjoy and benefit from the richness of an age-integrated society and have proven particularly effective in meeting numerous needs of individuals and the communities in which they live.
The benefits to older adults, children, youth, and communities are numerous. Studies show that active and engaged older adults remain in better health. Older adults who volunteer live longer and with better physical and mental health than their non-volunteering counterparts. Volunteerism and civic engagement among youth has many benefits including developing skills, values, and a sense of empowerment, leadership, and citizenship. Communities overall are strengthened because resources are used more effectively and there’s an increased sense of diverse groups of people coming together.
What is intergenerational exactly? And how is that different from multigenerational?
Intergenerational – implies that multiple generations are intentionally communicating, working together, and connecting. An intergenerational program values and maximizes the strengths of each person and generation and focuses on facilitating interactions between the generations.
|We need something like this here in Florida.
|Whatever happened to the “typical” American family of four: Mom, Pop, and two kids? This is an important question because every time a change in federal health care policy or any retirement program is proposed its impact on that supposedly typical family of four is at the center of the debate.
But lost in that debate is this simple fact: That type of family, a married couple with two children, is a very long way from being representative of U.S. households, if they ever were. The 2010 Census revealed that married couples are, for the first time, less than half (48%) of U.S. households, those with any children under age 18 are just 20%, and those with two children are 8%, or less than one in 10 households.
In a 50-year period, the number of U.S. households has more than doubled, rising from 53 million in 1960 to almost 117 million in 2010, a 120% increase. At the same time, the number of married couples with children actually slightly declined, from 23.9 million to 23.6 million — not a huge number change, but a notable change in direction for the married population.
The 2010 Census revealed
that married couples are,
for the first time, less than
half of U.S. households.
|What has increased the most is the number of people who live alone. The 7 million counted in 1960 (then 13% of all households) jumped 350% to 31.2 million, and now accounts for 27% of all households. People who live alone also now rank as the second largest household type, right behind mrried couples with no children under 18, who account for 28%.
Bottom Line — There Is No “Typical”
Today, no household category can be described as typical. This is because, unlike 50 years ago, no one type reached even a third of the total, as the charts below show.
The Impact on Finances and Home Health Care
An accurate picture of the nation’s household structure is essential to gaining a deeper understanding of what resources families and other types of households need for their retirement planning as well as provisions for home health care.
Many retirement programs, such as Social Security, have spousal benefits that are not available to the now majority of households who are not married couples. But equally important is that unmarried individuals must fund their own retirement programs as well as pay all their household living expenses without the benefit of the second income that twothirds of married couples have.
From a health care planning perspective it is harder to control costs when patients can’t convalesce at home because no family members are there to help them. Unlike 50 years ago, many former hospital-based medical procedures are now done in an out-patient clinic, and recovery is expected to be done at home. That can be quite difficult for people who live alone or for those whose spouse must go to work.
Regarding longer term care, many elderly would prefer to be cared for at home rather than spend their retirement savings on a stay at a nursing home or rehabilitation facility. But almost half (45%) of householders age 65 or older live alone, making home health care delivery to them considerably more expensive.
There are no easy solutions to helping the many millions of single individuals plan for their retirement and manage their short- or long-term health care expenses. But it may help to fully acknowledge that Mom, Pop, and two kids are most certainly not the “typical” American family today.
Where grown-ups keep growing
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
Kerry HannonKerry Hannon, Contributor
The past few weeks have been a little stressful in my family. We’ve been grappling with where my 85-year-old mom might live in the next chapter of her life. It’s time.
She might move into an apartment in an assisted care community or move in with one of her two daughters. One comment she made about the assisted living communities she visited says worlds to me: “Everyone is old, and they’re not all that friendly.”
That raises the question: Why must old people cluster together where they live and where they socialize? I think it could be much better for them to mix with multiple generations.
Time to Make Centers Multigenerational
That’s why I say: Let’s get rid of senior centers.
I’m not suggesting abolishing places for older men and women to get together and to learn things. I’m suggesting turning traditional centers into places where young and old spend time together.
This idea is actually catching on.
As Nancy Henkin, the founder and executive director of Temple University’s Intergenerational Center asks: “Instead of a senior and a youth center, why not one energetic community center where people come together and intentionally nurture trust and empathy through interacting with each other?”
Intergenerational offerings are buzzy these days. As Next Avenue reported a few months ago, one of the recent winners of The Eisner Foundation’s Eisner Prize for Intergenerational Excellence was Bridge Meadows, of Portland, Ore. — a community of adoptive parents, foster children and low-income elders, run by Derenda Schubert. (The Eisner Foundation was created by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner and his wife, Jane.)
“If we don’t have multigenerational solutions and invest in one group at the expense of another, we’re not going to get anywhere,” Trent Stamp, executive director of The Eisner Foundation, told Next Avenue.
What Centers Offer Today
To be clear, the nation’s 11,400 senior centers often do a good job offering adult daycare or activities to more than a million people a day. They typically feature an assortment of programs and services including meals; health, fitness and volunteer opportunities; educational and arts programs; and bingo. And compared with their peers, senior-center participants generally have higher levels of health, social interaction and life satisfaction, according to the National Council on Aging.
But senior centers tend to have the same stifling, stodgy, old age-vibe my mom found at assisted living communities.
So I’m intrigued that at the Aging in America Conference I’ll be attending next week in Chicago — the annual extravaganza from the American Society of Aging — there will be a full-day program called 2015 Senior Centers Summit: A Window to the Future. Leading experts will grapple with how to make intergenerational connections at senior centers and how to design and create buildings boomers will want to seek out.
Growing Interest in Using Them
There’s a growing demand for these new and improved centers, it seems. In a study of adults age 55 to 70 that will be presented at the conference, Senior Center Use Among Baby Boomers: A Change Is Coming!, University of Utah professors Marilyn Luptak and Frances Wilby found something surprising: “More than two-thirds of all respondents expected to be using senior centers in 2025,” reports Luptak.
That’s surprising because today, only 16 percent of those surveyed (mostly women) reported using senior centers. “To appeal to active boomers, many aspects of traditional senior centers need revamping — from schedules to activities to infrastructure,” Luptak says.
The New-Fangled Senior Centers
Some senior centers are already shifting focus.
You can now find yoga and Zumba classes on certain senior center activity rosters, as well as instruction in computers, job counseling and resumé writing. In Utah, senior centers are joining forces with community centers, libraries and rec centers to make them more appealing as well as to combine resources, says Wilby.
But what I’m really pumped about are the centers for all ages.
For instance, The Weinberg Center for Balanced Living at the Manny Cantor Center on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, has a vision that combines a settlement house of yesterday and a community center for today and tomorrow offering events and programs for people ages 0 to 100+. Membership is free for community members 60+.
My Second Home, in Mt. Kisco, N.Y., brings together people 50+ with physical and/or cognitive impairment and children from a daycare center next door. A pioneer in the intergenerational arena, My Second Home was established in 1998. Some of the shared child and senior activities: art projects, dancing, drumming, gardening, storytelling, and eating breakfast together.
Two weeks ago, The Family Services of Westchester opened the Lanza Family Center for All Ages in White Plains, N.Y., modeled after My Second Home. It’ll offer spaces where the various age groups will interact during planned intergenerational activities as well as through informal encounters. Children, teens and older adults will garden together, share meals, sing songs, cook side-by-side and participate in events that allow them to form lasting impressions and enrich each other’s lives, according to the center’s director Rebecca Lapel.
The goal is for young and old to break down age barriers and “develop an understanding for each other and maybe what they’re going though in their particular stage of life,” notes Lapel.
These are just a few examples, of course, of the future makeup of intergenerational senior centers.
Community Spaces for Young and Old
“There are a number of different ways that generations can come together in community spaces. For instance, libraries with intentional cross-age programming, senior centers in schools, adult-child day care centers, and multi-generational community centers,” says Henkin.
She’s quick to add that she isn’t trashing the old senior center.
“For years, senior centers have been funded by the federal government and they have served their purpose,” says Henkin. “The original intention was to reduce isolation, to provide nutrition and to promote socialization and that has worked.”
The problem is that traditionally the funding sources have been age-segregated, says Henkin. “Most backers for children, youth, and older adults have not yet recognized the need to come together as allies to develop a comprehensive, shared agenda. For many years, we had programs for young people and programs for old people. I propose we change the norms and values in communities and our society, so we can have places like My Second Home that are good for people to grow older, but also good for people to grow up.”
Why A Common Space Is Key
She thinks senior centers are just the ticket. “One thing we’ve learned is the importance of physical space — the gathering spaces that are welcoming for all generations and all ages,” Henkin explains. “We need to look at the physical infrastructure and think what do we have in our community where people can actually come together and build relationships.”
But success means more than plopping 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds together in a room. “You can’t throw people into a setting and expect magic to happen,” Henkin says. “The programs can’t just be older people teaching kids how to read, or kids teaching older people technology. That is one level and that’s good. But we need to go deeper and develop programs that in the long run help kids and older adults understand the needs and the strengths of the other person.”
The real magic that will come of that: “When a kid looks at an older person and says, if I’m lucky, I will get there,” says Henkin.