A better way to spend your last years?
Photo Credit: High Point Community Garden, Seattle, WA
I remember feeling as a young child that locking older people away in their own buildings until they died was a terribly wrong thing.
Since then, I’ve always been captivated by intentional intergenerational living– places designed for babies through centenarians to thrive together. This is one piece of holistic living, meaning that a more comprehensive view of people’s needs (psychological, physical, social, and spiritual) should be taken into account and seen as a whole.
Not many such models exist in our culture; the closest I’ve gotten personally was living and participating in intentional communities (an eco-village out east, and Circle Pines Center in Delton, MI), housing cooperatives, and currently living vicariously through some of my good friends, who live in multi-generational co-housing, which is really catching on in the US, and is starting to plan for its members who will need greater accessibility and care.
Even mainstream corporations have started to catch on to this appeal- more assisted living facilities are forming cooperative agreements with daycares nearby to facilitate regular intergenerational exchanges.
A very unique, grassroots group in Boulder, CO called Holistic Community Living has started an innovative, community-based model that puts assisted living right in the middle of a vibrant part of the city with built-in action and connections.
I’m also starting to learn about the AgeSong Communities in Northern CA, which are privately run, but seem to be doing an admirable job lessening the boundaries between aging and full, real community life.
And close to home, I’m feeling lots of pressure lately to find a place where I’d feel better about my mom spending her last few years of life. She’s been frustrated, bored, and incredibly negative lately in memory care, surrounded by 27 people whose dementia is significantly worse than her own.
The benefit I thought she’d derive from having an open interior courtyard area that’s always accessible to her for gardening has been outweighed by the oppressiveness she feels by being segregated from “normal” people. Did I temporarily lose my mind, right along with her, to have let the salesperson convince me that this would be her new happy home away from home? While she was hospitalized, I had less than two weeks to make my decision, and though the current living situation kept her safe temporarily, it’s no kind of life for someone as aware as she still is.
I’m consoled only by reminding myself how incredibly unhappy she was just a year ago, living on her own terms, before she agreed to make her first move to the south to live in a retirement center near my sister. But unfortunately, she quickly was losing independence, and needed a different level of care.
It’s too easy for family caregivers to beat themselves up about not doing enough, and not doing it “right”,
parents with dementia (or even without) who are mourning losing their lives as they knew it will multiply that guilt exponentially, so I try to remember that this is a learning process, and that it’s quite likely that Mom may NEVER be happy, even if I meet a generous benefactor who builds us the holistic, intergenerational assisted living of our wildest dreams, (with gardens galore, of course).
She’s not going to get her old self and her old connections back, and though some people can let that go, my mom is not in that camp, and I need to accept that she’ll probably be mourning that forever.
So forgive me if this blog title drew you in to find out how to move in. It doesn’t exist yet- at least in my neck of the woods But I’d like to put the call out for others with this vision to start speaking up, share the emerging great models in your area, and take small steps toward more integrative care options for the future.
If I ever need lots of care to continue my life, I’d like to live a in place that’s surrounded by beauty and life- wouldn’t you? I wrote a bit earlier about St. Ann’s Center for Intergenerational Care in Milwaukee, WI, which is one inspiration for this vision. It’s stunning to me how few of these models seem to exist, but now that the generation of the 60’s is at the helm, directing the future of elder care, I look forward to big changes as to what assisted life will look like in the near future.