Friday, 5 April 2013

The next 21st C sequester: gentrified ghettos for geriatric newbies

I just came across this article tweeted by Aging 2.0 Katy Thomas Fike. Here's what I think.

I know there are a lot of CA retirees in their 80's living in these kind of places right now. For people with means, they are selling the family homes and snapping up progressive care villas. My now 87 year old neighbor moved into one when his wife died after 10 years of decline. Sold the family home and is now in a fully equipped apartment with total freedom, built in companionship, exercise facilities, fabulous dining etc. In fact it was so nice, that when I visited him recently, I told him I would have moved in, in a heartbeat.....except it is a silo for old people. A virtual ghetto. Yes, people come to visit and yes, as one partner fails, they get moved into the next level of care while the other partner continues to live fully functionally, for as long as possible. But the critical difference for the still functioning partner, from my observations, is something quite rare. They have total peace of mind and  have already made their decision. This is where they will finish their lives, in comfort, with medical care on tap and with dignity. So far so good.

My problem with these elite, fantasy islands is that it is an isolationist model. It's an extension of the out of sight, out of mind denial of ageing construct so popular with the still young. Let's put the old people somewhere we don't have to see them or interact with them! And look what we have to look forward to, here comes another totally detached generation, with  no experience of being with older people and no intergenerational connections being fostered.

I still saw its appeal and it is hard not to like this very pristine, while other worldly existence. Surreal in its perfection, particularly when the close to flawless California weather gets thrown into the mix. Part of the reason for that is that these retirees are empty nesters and their kids are gone. Some of those kids have had to move out because they can't afford to live in California anymore. Many others are working every hour God gives them in order to be able to afford to live there! They don't have time or interest in dealing with their parents in their gilded cages. They are quite obviously being very well taken care of and benign neglect is convenient and not guilt inducing.

I looked at the profile of the 81 year old retired head of Proctor and Gamble and his wife and wasn't sure how to feel. Both appear to still be quite hale and hearty, living in the lap of luxury along with other well heeled, like minded retirees. This is the model first established by these people's parents, when Florida was the preferred retirement destination for all the older residents of the northeast US, who could afford to be snow birds. Baby boomers appear to be replicating that model in Colorado at the moment.

As usual, it really does come down to money and whether you have saved enough. Not likely.  The predictions for most of the baby boomers is that they will not have and they won't be moving in to one of these swanky cocoons. Even if they do, they still could outlive their money. The model works currently because it is not yet at capacity and these are the people who downsized and managed to get out of the money markets, relatively sound. Regardless, advocating the ghettoizing of old people does seem the wrong way to go. Particularly as their numbers grow and we benignly agree to full participation in the new sequester, squandering the sum total of such accumulated talents, experiences and wisdom.

Deborah Gale

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