“I live alone without a spouse or children, and I wonder apprehensively, ‘Who will care for me in my elder years?’…. It’s time to tap into the power and potential of neighbors to help support and care for older people, while seniors contribute by helping young families.”
Getting older opens a whole set of unfamiliar issues and discussions. I used to worry about my older relatives. Now that I’m turning 65, the concerns that I had for them are the same that I have for myself. It’s funny how our lives shift in just a few decades.
Things that cross my mind are: Will I isolate myself, will I outlive my money, and what will my long-term needs be?
But there’s a big difference between my parents’ older years and mine. I live alone without a spouse or children, and I wonder apprehensively, “Who will care for me in my “elder” years?” Oh, sure, I have siblings, but they’re older than me and will likely need my help, not the other way around.
I know that if I plan wisely, there’s a chance that in my elder years I’ll receive similar types of care as my relatives enjoyed. I know that now is the time to put a plan in place, but first I need to explore how I want to live later on, because if I wait until I need help or want more companionship, it may be too late to find a solution.
As I figure out how I want to live, I’m making changes.
The Value of Intergenerational Connections
The first has to do with children. Children have never been a big part of my life, but I do appreciate their energy and enjoy spending time with them. We’re similar in some ways, and I’d like their encouragement to be more like them in the ways that we’re dissimilar. Young people have high hopes, and so do I. They’re always ready to try something new, and I’m not. Having access to their influence could change my life. And that’s what encourages me.
I want to live in a town or urban area where people of all ages converge and together unravel some of the country’s complex challenges; where every person is respected and valued, and allowed to participate and contribute; where aging adults find meaning and purpose, even at the end, through compassionate relationships and continuing engagement; where an active component of neighborliness exists—one of social and emotional value. I want to live in a place where everyone enjoys connection and fun, and shares stories, laughter, grief, understandings and concerns.
Last year, when I moved back to the area where I was born and raised, it never occurred to me just how involved (again) I’d become with the people who live here. It’s a small Czech community, and many of the residents are kinfolks. The local librarian is my cousin, a former high school English teacher. She is involved with programs that include students from the high school. Through my encouragement, she’s willing to help design and sponsor local intergenerational programs.
Building Intergenerational Activities
The teenagers in the community are engaged. It’s the older generations that I worry about, because they are inaccessible. I know it’s because they don’t want to be a bother, but I think they spend too much time alone, and that’s not healthy for anyone. So my cousin and I hope to remedy the generational divide. Trust me; it’s as much for me as it is for them.
Intergenerational connections make magic, and that begins with activities. Since in our culture, people tend to gravitate to isolation and impersonal “tech” networks, my cousin and I plan to create approaches that address pressing community needs. We envision older adults tutoring children in the lost Czech language, the younger people helping seniors learn to surf the web and connect with family long-distance via Skype. Both generations can share a meal cooked by all, and we also plan to encourage movement and music.
Whatever the activity — from photography, cooking and tutoring, to shopping on the web — it’s the dialog that’s crucial. We’ll encourage question-asking, discussions about similarities and differences, and the sharing of stories about what each generation has learned from this experience of intergenerational exchange. By having these conversations, we hope to loosen the grip of ageism.
As America ages, the increasing numbers of older people will put pressure on the government and social services. It’s time to tap into the power and potential of neighbors to help support and care for older people, while seniors contribute by helping young families. Together we can make it better for everyone.
Carol Marak earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis and is aging advocate, columnist and editor at Seniorcare.com. She invites you to join the Aging Alone Facebook group to learn and share with like-minded people searching for a better way to live as we age.