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More Questions No One Asks

April 22, 2014 06:00AM | Print this page
by Kay Ann Van Norman

More Questions No One Asks

My last article explored why no one really questions why an elder may be using a walker, and the expectation that it’s a permanent aide once prescribed. Here’s another question to consider.  How do you perceive senior living communities in your city or town? 

Who lives there and why? Is it choice or need-based?  Do you know which ones are independent versus assisted or skilled nursing communities? There’s a big difference but I’ve noticed that even communities who market a focus on wellness, social connection, and meaningful activity advertise how close they are to healthcare.  What message or expectation does this reinforce?

Do local senior living communities seem disconnected from, or vital to, the fabric of the broader community? Are they someplace you think you would like to live some day, or a place you may have to live some day?

What if there was a completely new senior living paradigm?  For example, what if senior living communities were viewed as a valuable resource to the broader community – a place where elders worked together on community challenges, and a resource that young people and town leaders alike could turn to for perspective and advice?  

Clearly that would require a fundamental shift in the mindset towards aging, especially towards aging with any kind of physical or cognitive challenge. Thanks to the disability movement, young people with challenges are given tools, resources and encouragement to overcome the challenge, live fully, and contribute to society. Unfortunately, older people with physical and cognitive challenges are often given only resources and tools to “cope” with challenges. There’s a profound difference between the mindset of “coping” versus “overcoming – resulting in profoundly different expectations and outcomes.

If the primary purpose of senior living was to actively support elders as agents of positive change in the broader community, the image of senior living communities would be very different.  For example, elders in what I call a purpose-driven senior living community, could decide to spearhead an initiative to combat childhood obesity, and might grow organic vegetables for school lunches, create walking trails on the senior living grounds, be walking buddies for children struggling with weight, and anything else they determine would address the issue.

Elders as resources, as partners in community, would change the entire paradigm of senior living, without interfering one bit with the ability to provide shelter, food and transportation, and assist elders with activities of daily living, medication management, and other traditional “care services." These services would be a “given” for those who need it – just not the most important mission of the community.

Under this paradigm senior living communities could become centers for environmental action, living history farms, animal rescue operations, organic farms – the list is extensive. Empowered elders, valued for their skills & experiences (regardless of challenges) could trigger and support positive change for many community initiatives. And considering recent research on the power of purpose to improve health outcomes and quality of life, it seems like a no-brainer! 

What do you think? 




Tags: boomers retirement senior_living_community kay_van_norman purpose

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