“Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” Writing In 1964, Bob Dylan’s lyric is a reminder of how we associate particular feelings, beliefs, and actions with arbitrary age categories. When I started a doctoral program a few years ago, I’m sure the other grad students knew I was older, but they didn’t mention it until the history department bulletin board displayed a Wall Street Journal article on my decision to get a doctorate after retirement. “Wow,” a fellow student said to me in the hallway, “You’re OLD.” As the article stated, I was 65.
In September, about 2 years after I got that Ph.D., my husband and I moved into a continuing-care retirement community. The very first week I attended a program on Depression-era popular music. “You’re too young to be here,” the woman next to me stated flatly. Over the next few weeks I heard that a lot. Some of our friends were skeptical too. (On the other hand, some thought it was a dandy idea). The expectation seems to be that a 71-year-old should “age in place” in their own home until they (or someone else) decide that they can’t handle it and need to move into some kind of protective environment. Or the active senior can postpone this step by moving into a senior housing development equipped with golf course and clubhouses, but lacking medical care facilities.
So why would a healthy person chose to move into a continuing care retirement community? Here are three reasons that weighed heavily with us:
- To shed those household chores, leaving you free to do some of those things you always wanted to do. I have time to write, play the piano, and take long walks with my dog, because I don’t have to clean, repair, cook (unless I want to), or keep track of the bills. One flat monthly fee includes just about everything.
- To take charge of organizing and downsize your possessions and furniture—while you can still make the tough decisions. We wanted to create our own environment and we didn’t want someone else, no matter how loving, deciding what we get to keep.
- To prepare for changing physical capabilities that make stairs, yard work, bathing, driving, or home maintenance difficult. It may happen so gradually that you barely notice the adjustments you’re making, or so suddenly that your world changes overnight. For a couple like us, the healthier person begins to take on more and more while the person with physical limitations lives in an increasingly smaller world, more and more upstairs and indoors.
For us, it was a practical decision. I became the caregiver, as cancer increasingly restricted my husband’s world. I had his back, as well as I could, but who had mine? Moving liberated both of us. We moved into a large apartment with a dining room and guest room. We both had easy access to anything in the apartment, or indeed in the building. We kept our computers, books, artwork, piano, dog, and car. We delighted in furnishing that expressed our own style. Medical help and medical transportation are quickly available, and when my husband needed to spend a few weeks in a skilled nursing unit, he was just across the parking lot. Ozzie and I could visit him every day, sharing lunch on the sunny patio, or a cozy evening visit in his room.
How old is too old to go back to school? How young is too young to choose a retirement home? What about other life-changing decisions—having children, learning an instrument, living abroad, writing a book? Age is relevant, certainly, but so are health, ambition, ability, commitments, and resources. When the path is right, don’t let age get in your way.