grow­ing old with chutz­pah

Baby boomers are set to rev­o­lu­tionise age­ing, just as they’ve changed at­ti­tudes to women and chil­dren, gen­der and race. Su­san Chen­ery meets older Aus­tralians who are re­belling against tra­di­tion, de­ter­mined to grow old with chutz­pah.

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Contents -

When she hit 65, Mariella Stan­ton de­cided she was tired of feel­ing ashamed about her age and try­ing to hide it. In­stead she re­solved to em­brace it, to own it, to age with elan. She was go­ing to age dis­grace­fully. She had hur­tled through life, wran­gling her three chil­dren, her job, her di­vorce and fo­cused on fam­ily and home. Du­ti­ful and busy, busy, busy look­ing af­ter other peo­ple. Now she was bust­ing out. To the as­ton­ish­ment of her now adult chil­dren she an­nounced, “now I can nally be sel sh and fo­cus on my­self.” The rst thing she did was get a tat­too.

Mariella is part of a gen­er­a­tion that are go­ing to change so­cial ex­pec­ta­tions of age­ing.

As baby boomers reach re­tire­ment age they are not go­ing to fade away or be quiet and meek, play­ing bowls, wear­ing cardi­gans, mak­ing sponges, be­ing the nice in­of­fen­sive granny. “The baby boomers have re­belled their whole lives,” says so­cial re­searcher Neer Korn. “They do things dif­fer­ently.”

Un­til now, for some, old age has been a grim propo­si­tion. In Septem­ber Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son an­nounced a Royal Com­mis­sion into the Aged Care Sec­tor. The an­nounce­ment was made a year af­ter the Oak­den nurs­ing home in South Aus­tralia was closed fol­low­ing se­ri­ous abuse of the res­i­dents by their car­ers. The Prime Min­is­ter said that the De­part­ment of Health has closed al­most one aged care ser­vice per month since Oak­den, with an in­creas­ing num­ber un­der sanc­tion to im­prove their care.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by The Weekly into elder abuse, both in res­i­den­tial care and en­demic nan­cial abuse, found that such an an­nounce­ment was long over­due. And there are other ini­tia­tives un­der­way around the coun­try to im­prove the lot of our elders.

De­men­tia suf­fer­ers are among the most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers of so­ci­ety and the most at risk of abuse. Korongee in Tas­ma­nia is set to be­come Aus­tralia’s rst sub­ur­ban vil­lage de­signed to recre­ate a real-life ex­pe­ri­ence for those with de­men­tia. It fol­lows sim­i­lar suc­cess­ful projects in Italy, the Nether­lands, Den­mark and Canada.

“It has been shown res­i­dents at the De Ho­geweyk de­men­tia vil­lage in the Nether­lands live longer, eat bet­ter and take fewer med­i­ca­tions,” says Iain Weir, Chair­man of Glen­view Com­mu­nity Ser­vices, a part­ner in the ven­ture. “Korongee’s de­sign will make it pos­si­ble for res­i­dents liv­ing with de­men­tia to walk around the vil­lage and par­tic­i­pate in ev­ery­day life, op­tions presently not avail­able to those in de­men­tia care – ac­tiv­i­ties such as go­ing to the café to buy a cof­fee or sim­ply head­ing to the su­per­mar­ket to buy gro­ceries for din­ner. In ad­di­tion to the cul­tural ser­vices hub, Korongee will con­sist of 15 houses, each with six bed­rooms, which will be staffed by health pro­fes­sion­als who dress ca­su­ally and will act as “home mak­ers” to pro­vide an au­then­tic home-like en­vi­ron­ment.”

Age is just a num­ber

In Syd­ney, NurseWatch of­fers home care based on well­ness so­cial care mod­els that fo­cus on holis­tic well­be­ing. “Aus­tralia is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a par­a­digm shift in aged care,” says Kate Spur­way, CEO and founder. “The baby boomer gen­er­a­tion is the rst in his­tory to wit­ness their par­ents age­ing into their 80s and 90s. Driven by high ex­pec­ta­tions around life­style, re­la­tion­ships, phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance, tech­nol­ogy and well­ness, this gen­er­a­tion will en­sure they do old age dif­fer­ently to their par­ents.” NurseWatch reg­is­tered nurses bring skills like yoga, mas­sage ther­apy, natur­opa­thy, ex­er­cise phys­i­ol­ogy and even car­pen­try to their pa­tients.

So­cial re­searcher Neer Korn has been study­ing baby boomers for 20 years. “They are de ant and they have got the po­lit­i­cal mus­cle. There are four mil­lion

baby boomers com­ing through. They are go­ing to force so­ci­ety to re-eval­u­ate our no­tion of age­ing. Their at­ti­tude is one of ex­pec­ta­tion. They are sur­pris­ing us by do­ing all these things that we are not ac­cus­tomed to see­ing older peo­ple do­ing. You go to the hottest travel spots in the world – Machu Pic­chu, Goa, Bangkok – and you nd this weird mix of young back­pack­ers and peo­ple in their 60s.”

It is an age where you have earned the right to be as grumpy as you want – and as ec­cen­tric – to go ahead and be a Mad Old Per­son. Neer knows of a wo­man who took up pole danc­ing in her 70s. “She said she was a sen­sual wo­man – it made her feel sexy. Just be­cause I am old it doesn’t mean ev­ery­thing has left me.”

Dee John­son is a spokesper­son for the UK’s Grow­ing Old Dis­grace­fully women’s net­work. “We were in the van­guard of change for women. We are not go­ing to be put in a box now just be­cause we are 70 or 80 or 90.”

Dee was a ’70s fem­i­nist and was “al­ways quite con dent”. She was a school teacher, mar­ried twice, a mother. “A lot of my self-es­teem and con dence was from be­ing good at my job. For a large part of my life, I had been busy be­ing a part­ner, a mum, a pro­fes­sional per­son.” But when she re­tired, “sud­denly I started to lose con dence. I was never wor­ried about get­ting wrin­kles, I didn’t trade on my looks. My unique sell­ing point was be­ing kind, or in­ter­est­ing or esty.” But she didn’t re­ally know who she was any­more with­out the roles she had played through­out her adult life.

Dee went to one of Grow­ing Old Dis­grace­fully’s week-long res­i­den­tial cour­ses. “It was a light-bulb mo­ment.” Many of the women had phys­i­cal or nan­cial dif cul­ties but, “they were all still fac­ing for­ward, be­ing pos­i­tive about their lives and get­ting around dif cul­ties rather than be­ing sub­sumed by them. They cer­tainly gave lie to the idea that, when you get old, you have to stay home and age grace­fully.”

The group, she says, “is re­ally about coun­ter­ing that in­vis­i­bil­ity of older women, chal­leng­ing that stereo­type, and not go­ing gently into that good night. When that mind­set is there, it changes ev­ery­thing.” Dee says she feels more con dent now than she did as a young wo­man. “It is not what you look like, it is your at­ti­tude and aura when you feel pos­i­tive and are still learn­ing things.” Re­cently she went on tele­vi­sion to talk about sex­u­al­ity and older women. “Much to my chil­dren’s con­ster­na­tion,” she adds.

Sav­ing the best to last

Re­tire­ment is chang­ing, says Dr Tim Sharp, founder of The Hap­pi­ness In­sti­tute, and au­thor of Live Hap­pier, Live Longer. “Many peo­ple aren’t re­tir­ing. They are con­tin­u­ing to func­tion, con­sult­ing, vol­un­teer­ing. There is a signi cant body of re­search now that shows that hap­pi­ness can in­crease with age. We are more com­fort­able in our own skin and we don’t care as much what peo­ple think. Many peo­ple achieve their best in later years. There is growth through age­ing. We can nd ad­vanced wisdom.”

Age Dis­crim­i­na­tion Com­mis­sioner, The Hon Dr Kay Pat­ter­son, is 74. She sees the po­ten­tial for a golden age for older Aus­tralians but points out that it re­quires luck and good man­age­ment.

“We are likely to live longer than any gen­er­a­tion be­fore us,” she says. “Women now have a life ex­pectancy of 95. Prepa­ra­tion for this is to build strong and mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ships. The Aus­tralian Psy­cho­log­i­cal So­ci­ety talks about lone­li­ness as Aus­tralia’s next pub­lic health epi­demic. Cur­rently one in three women and one in ve men aged 65 or over live alone.

The UK has done a lone­li­ness ev­i­dence re­view. With­out a high level of so­cial par­tic­i­pa­tion, peo­ple are more at risk of

de­men­tia, mor­tal­ity and lower lev­els of psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal health. Ev­i­dence shows those who en­gage in so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties stay health­ier for longer.

New Zealan­der Bil­lie Jor­dan says: “Ex­pe­ri­ence has taught me that, in­stead of slow­ing down the pace of life as we get older, we should in­crease the pace, turn it up full throt­tle. Not only are we go­ing to live longer if we do that but our fu­ner­als will be a lot more in­ter­est­ing.”

Bil­lie should know. When she moved to Wai­heke Is­land she no­ticed the se­nior cit­i­zens were iso­lated and de­pressed, as was she af­ter a trau­matic child­hood and sur­viv­ing the Christchurch earth­quake. “They couldn’t see a fu­ture.”

So Bil­lie got in her van and went up to any­one who looked over 65 and said, “‘Get in the back. I want to set you up as the world’s great­est ash mob.’ You had to be over 65 and have a pulse.” She had no prob­lem col­lect­ing vol­un­teers but soon re­alised peo­ple had no ex­pec­ta­tions of them. “It was re­ally de­mor­al­is­ing. So I de­cided to have re­ally high ex­pec­ta­tions – age was no ex­cuse. The goal was in eight months they were go­ing to per­form at the world hip-hop cham­pi­onships in Las Ve­gas. Peo­ple thought I was set­ting them up for fail­ure.”

So the mot­ley crew went to Ve­gas. “We had a pact that, if any­one died on the dance oor, we would just step over them.” Among the 22 mem­bers of her dance group, four use mo­bil­ity aids, ve have had open heart surgery, all have arthri­tis, six are deaf, one is blind, there are 15 hip and knee re­place­ments, and ve have de­men­tia. But she says, “they looked hap­pier and more alive, they no longer talked about the past, it was all about what they were go­ing to do next. It was a com­plete trans­for­ma­tion. Their doc­tors say they are health­ier now than they have been in years. In­stead of sti ing older peo­ple’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties we should be do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to max­imise their po­ten­tial. Treat­ing them as equal en­riches ev­ery­one’s lives.” And none of her dance troupe has died – even though sev­eral are in their 90s.

“The signi cant fac­tors that dif­fer­en­ti­ate those who age health­ier are hav­ing mean­ing and pur­pose in their lives,” says Tim Sharp.

Neer agrees: “The num­ber of peo­ple at that age go­ing to uni, do­ing new de­grees, start­ing lit­tle cot­tage in­dus­tries, put­ting the band back to­gether – all the things that were sitting in the shed dur­ing the child-rear­ing years. Now they have the time and the at­ti­tude, so why not get the gui­tar and drum kit out?”

At 75, Aloma Fennell is Na­tional Pres­i­dent of the Older Women’s Net­work and is one of the highly ed­u­cated, highly in­tel­li­gent women ght­ing for rel­e­vance and against bias and age dis­crim­i­na­tion. “Why don’t we have more pos­i­tive im­ages [of older peo­ple] on tele­vi­sion pro­grams? Even for those of us who do have the courage to stand and ght, it is like walk­ing into a bat­ter­ing ram all the time. Be­cause [as far as so­ci­ety is con­cerned] we don’t ex­ist.” This at­ti­tude that older peo­ple are di­min­ished and can no longer con­trib­ute to so­ci­ety is not as preva­lent in other parts of the world. In Italy, In­dia and the Mid­dle East, for ex­am­ple, the el­derly are loved and revered. And when they grow frail, they are less likely to be con ned to res­i­den­tial in­sti­tu­tions. Where pos­si­ble, they are cared for at home. Ital­ian non­nas never stop cook­ing.

Dr Sharp points to the “blue zones” – the places that are fa­mous for longevity. “In our so­ci­ety, older peo­ple are seen as worth­less, sad, use­less. But in places like Ok­i­nawa and Sar­dinia they have a pur­pose. They are val­ued by their com­mu­nity – they are not shamed and put away in a cor­ner, they are re­spected and peo­ple go to them for ad­vice. They also eat well – plant-based food and not too much of it. They are ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, so they are ac­tive all day long, they move a lot. They live in very strong com­mu­ni­ties. They keep them­selves men­tally ac­tive. The more you use it, the more you won’t lose it.”

Bet­ter to­gether

Dr Chris Riedy, Pro­fes­sor of Sus­tain­abil­ity Gover­nance at the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy Syd­ney, is re­search­ing the idea of co-hous­ing for older peo­ple – an idea that has been suc­cess­fully ap­plied in Europe. “In sim­ple terms, it is a mix of shared spa­ces and pri­vate spa­ces, and peo­ple can choose when they are in the shared or pri­vate space. They can move through the area, drop in and have a chat and some of the so­cial iso­la­tion and in­for­mal car­ing needs that older peo­ple have can be met. They are in­volved in the de­sign process and run it them­selves. Baby boomers want some­thing dif­fer­ent in hous­ing. They are not go­ing to put up with what is on of­fer at the mo­ment.”

Judy and Michael Holling­worth, Rick and Heather Bol­stler, Eve Grzy­bowski and Daniel We­in­stein planned their re­tire­ment for more than a decade. “We were aware that our age­ing par­ents

didn’t have many good op­tions and they had not done any think­ing ahead,” Judy Holling­worth ex­plains. “They ended up in sit­u­a­tions they didn’t en­joy. We wanted au­ton­omy, a so­cial en­gage­ment en­vi­ron­ment that was en­joy­able and pleas­ing to us, a pur­pose that was worth go­ing on liv­ing for – that keeps you want­ing to be in the game.”

At 69, Judy is the youngest of the group. “We talked about it and worked it all through. We have a writ­ten agree­ment, a joint ven­ture agree­ment, prom­ises to each other about how we go into this, how we con­duct our­selves and what hap­pens when the num­bers drop. We share costs and have com­bined monies and sep­a­rate monies.”

They found a piece of land near Ta­ree in 2009 and the group moved into a house they had de­signed and built. Most evenings the cou­ples share a meal. “It is like broth­ers and sis­ters and cousins. It is a bit like an ex­tended mar­riage.

It’s been 10 years now; we re­main pleased with what we came up with and with liv­ing this way.”

Lo­cal coun­cils in Aus­tralia are sign­ing up to the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s cam­paign for age-friendly cities – en­cour­ag­ing older peo­ple to ac­tively par­tic­i­pate in com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties and fa­cil­i­tat­ing so­ci­eties in which ev­ery­one is treated with re­spect, re­gard­less of age.

Ex­perts say that in­ter­gen­er­a­tional so­cial­is­ing is im­por­tant for both par­ties in a so­ci­ety where fam­i­lies are so frag­mented. Once the peo­ple from each end of the age spec­trum get to know each other, stereo­types are smashed. “I call it gen­er­a­tional blend­ing,” says Neer. “For older peo­ple, it is es­sen­tial ... When you hang out with younger peo­ple you feel that youth­ful­ness.”

Lyn­dall Par­ris,70, and her hus­band Dave are founders of the Narara Ecov­il­lage on the Cen­tral Coast of NSW. “In­ter­gen­er­a­tional is the only way to go,” says Lyn­dall. “It is just ridicu­lous that there are other mod­els for over

55s – that de­vel­op­ers are en­cour­aged to clump them all to­gether. It has never worked, it is not how so­ci­ety works.”

The Narara project is self-funded. Peo­ple of all ages who share en­vi­ron­men­tal val­ues buy into the com­mu­nity and build their house. “I think there are 160 of us now – 40 chil­dren un­der the age of 18 and the old­est would be 77.” Older peo­ple help out with babysit­ting in the school hol­i­days. Younger peo­ple help older peo­ple with gar­den­ing or build­ing. “We be­lieve you can have a bet­ter life by ad­dress­ing the triple bot­tom line of so­cial sus­tain­abil­ity, en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity, and we want to get sus­tain­able busi­nesses up and run­ning, too. I don’t think life can be bet­ter when you are put­ting all one age to­gether. I think if you have got mixed gen­er­a­tions, ev­ery­body is not com­pet­ing for the same space or re­sources or time. The co­op­er­a­tion is just sim­ply beau­ti­ful. This project is noth­ing but joy­ous. Hardly a morn­ing goes past that

I can’t wait to get up and into the day.”

Amanda Gra­ham, co-founder of down­siz­ing.com con rms that baby boomers are shak­ing up the hous­ing mar­ket with their cre­ative post-re­tire­ment co-hous­ing plans. Two years ago, she no­ticed a dra­matic in­crease in the num­ber of se­niors look­ing for rentals and prop­er­ties to buy, so she launched Se­niors Flat­mates. “There are lot of peo­ple us­ing our site look­ing for rentals, but they are not at the price point they want or in the area they want. At the same time, there are a lot of older peo­ple who are think­ing about down­siz­ing who have empty bed­rooms. They might have gone through a di­vorce or the death of a part­ner and might be wor­ried about mak­ing ends meet. We con­nect these two groups of cus­tomers. When you think about it, this gen­er­a­tion who are start­ing to hit re­tire­ment age, these were the guys who pi­o­neered house shar­ing when they were young. They are quite savvy and know what they want and don’t want. It was much older women who were look­ing at our site.”

As an ex­pert in this area, Amanda has thought a lot about how she might live in re­tire­ment. “It is of­ten a lot cheaper to live in an over­seas lo­ca­tion. That sort of thing ap­peals to me,” she says with a smile. “Maybe I’ll spend sum­mer in Aus­tralia and sum­mer in Asia. They are the sorts of things peo­ple are do­ing more and more these days. The baby boomers are go­ing to look at all the dif­fer­ent op­tions and change the face of re­tire­ment. They’ve shaken up the world at ev­ery step of their lives.”

“When you hang out with younger peo­ple you feel that youth­ful­ness.”

The De Ho­geweyk vil­lage in the Nether­lands has had huge ben­e­fits for pa­tients with de­men­tia.

Bil­lie Jor­dan’s hip-hop group are health­ier than they have been in years af­ter train­ing and per­form­ing in Las Ve­gas.

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