JIM WAUN

The process of living in retirement and old age is evolving.

My grandparents, born not that long after the Civil War, never lived to be my age. By the time they were in their 60s they were worn down, tired out and still penniless. My grandmother died too young of dementia and untreated high blood pressure.

After she died, my grandfather moved in with one of my uncle’s family. Grandpa would sit on a lawn chair in the driveway with the garage door open watching the occasional car go by in good weather. He watched TV the rest of the time and died in his early 70s.

My father fared better. Following retirement, he and my mother wintered in Florida for 15 years. After she died with Alzheimer’s, he continued going south in wintertime to play golf and shuffleboard. But death and disability took their toll on his group of friends. The glory of retirement and aging was essentially over by the time he was in his mid-80s.

He had social security and modest savings and could afford to move to the retirement center where I live now. For a few years he enjoyed occasionally going with us to programs at the Wharton Center and attending performances of world-class musicians from Michigan State University as they polished their tour programs before the center’s residents.

For exercise, he walked inside and outside until his mind faltered as he developed dementia from mini-strokes. He was moved to an assisted living unit where there was little to no intellectual stimulation; not even the crossword puzzles he’d worked on his whole life. He was appalled by the constant noise of a blaring TV, the paltry exercise “classes,” and make-fun group socialization activities he was subjected to.

My generation is generally healthier and able to be more active. Many retire earlier. Fewer are worn out at retirement. Some find part-time work to supplement their income, sometimes necessarily and sometimes as a hobby. With advances in travel and information technology, we have more opportunities for learning, personal growth and enrichment than my parents. Fewer today are as destitute and vulnerable as my grandparents.

In other words, vibrant life is no longer essentially over at retirement. The concepts of retirement and aging are being reinvented. Though there are others in various stages of development, the best example of redefining aging and building new lives after retirement I found is the Oak Hammock Community, at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida.

Oak Hammock’s focus is on life-long personal growth and learning and optimum health and fitness. It has affiliations with the University of Florida and other area non-profit resources. It’s also affiliated with Road Scholar, the world wide, nonprofit, small-group experiential educational and cultural travel service for people older than 55.

Members have university privileges the same as faculty and alumni, and are able to take university-level classes without tests or grading.

Oak Hammock has a full range of housing available for residents, from free-standing homes to apartments. It also has facilities for providing rehabilitation, skilled nursing care, assisted living and memory care.

Burcham Hills Retirement Community, where I live, has important similarities with Oak Hammock. Both are community based and non-profit and both provide a full range of housing, personal amenities and non-acute hospital health care services.

With its affiliates, Oak Hammock is currently able to provide more opportunities for continued personal growth and development and college level educational experiences.

I predict that, with unique sets of local and regional nonprofit affiliations, the trend is underway towards a future where retirement and aging will be seen as normal stages of human development rather than periods of gradual decline while awaiting death. Places like Burcham are already well on the way.

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