JIM WAUN

At 83, with an average resident age of 88, I’m the new kid on the block. I’m trying to learn the ropes, master names, stay out of the way, and see what I can learn from my new community and its peers.

As you might expect, more residents know my name than I know theirs. The dining room staff began calling me by name after the first day. They also remembered that I like a large glass of mixed orange and cranberry juices for breakfast. They know certain characteristics of their residents well.

I’ve relearned a lesson about groups of people that applies to the super-aged like everyone else. Many, if not most of those who are 90 and above share obvious recognizable characteristics like gray/white hair and degrees of impaired vision, hearing and/or other physical impairments and limitations.

But it’s a mistake to consider them as a homogenous group. Each has a unique life story, world view, hopes and dreams. You can’t accurately or safely say that all old people are the same. Immersed in diversity, I’ve discovered that generalizing can be tricky.

As I recently wrote, my never-talkative grandfather, who died in his early 70s, lived his final years in nearly mute, lonely boredom either in his bedroom, sitting in the living room watching television or outside gazing at traffic as it trickled by in the tiny hamlet where he was born.

My healthier, more vigorous father spent 25 winters in Florida pursuing recreational and cultural actives before moving into the retirement community where I live now. He lived nearly four years here and died at 95.

The emphasis then was on safety and security. As a barber, he easily made friends and enjoyed occasional musical programs produced by Michigan State University faculty. There were no educational programs available. He kept his mind active by listening to classical music, reading and doing cross word puzzles nearly daily.

Since his day, times have changed and continue evolving. The community is now a nonprofit organization controlled by a community board. Instead of providing income for stockholders, excess revenue, profit, is invested in capital improvements and staff development.

The elderly population is swelling in numbers as the Baby Boom generation ages. People are healthier and live longer. Many recognize that the pursuit of pleasure, fun and games has a natural course and diminishes in intensity with age. They eventually want more out of life.

The community is keeping pace with changing times. It has active exercise programs and clinics to help keep residents healthy, active and independent.

The most intriguing program I’ve found is a course that Dr. Gordon Rohman, an 88-year-old retired MSU English professor, has been teaching for several years here.

I was able to attend the last few sessions of his latest course on great literature, their authors, and the movies made from them. The room was packed each time with residents and people from the Lansing and East Lansing area.

I have had a couple of opportunities to talk with Rohman. He’s given me copies of his writing. He’s a role model for aging and keeping an active mind while doing something he loves.

His popular courses, provided in the context of a residential retirement community, demonstrate that the emerging elderly want opportunities for continued learning and personal growth and development.

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