Retirement Lifestyle

Mean Girls in the Retirement Home

Here’s a sad story indeed. Jennifer Weiner writes about her 97-year-old grandmother’s entry into an independent living facility. The mean girls at the facility wouldn’t let Weiner’s grandmother sit at their table in the dining room. They talked about playing bridge but told Weiner’s grandmother that they didn’t need any new players.

Weiner uses her grandmother’s experience to ponder the question of how typical or atypical this treatment is among residents of independent living centers. She cites a recent study by Karl Pillemer of Cornell University that found aggression among residents in nursing homes to be widespread:

According to the study’s news release, one in five residents was involved in at least one “negative and aggressive encounter” with another resident during a four-week period. Sixteen percent were cursed or yelled at; 6 percent were hit, kicked or bitten; 1 percent were victims of “sexual incidents, such as exposing one’s genitals, touching other residents, or attempting to gain sexual favors;” and 10.5 percent dealt with other residents’ entering their rooms uninvited, or rummaging through their belongings.

Weiner also points out that age discrimination is rampant: “Even in a residence for the elderly, the 80-somethings will still be cold to the 95-year-olds.” This discrimination leaves people like her grandmother, now 99 and without cognitive impairment, with no one to talk to. Such is the pain of having outlived almost all of one’s contemporaries.

An Unexpected Bingo Call: You Can’t Play

Here’s another story that even goes beyond the experiences of Jennifer Weiner’s grandmother. Paula Span describes what happened to Ann Clinton, who is 80 and has Parkinson’s disease, at Redstone Village in Huntsville, AL. Redstone is a type of facility known as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). Such communities offer a full range of care, from independent living through assisted living and then skilled nursing care. Many CCRCs promote their range of care as a benefit for potential residents.

Ann Clinton and her husband began their retirement life in an independent living apartment at Redstone. Her husband moved through the assisted living and skilled nursing continuum and died last fall. Throughout her husband’s decline Ann Clinton found companionship and support at the weekly bingo game held in the independent living area of the building. But when she entered the Redstone nursing wing after back surgery, she was told she could no longer participate in the Monday night bingo game, even though she could easily ride her motorized scooter to the game.

And thus began the bingo wars at Redstone. My heart sank as I read how the conflict has escalated. Both Redstone administration and some independent-living residents want to keep Mrs. Clinton out.

Read how lawyers from AARP and the National Senior Citizens Law Center are attempting to fight such discrimination as a violation of both the federal Fair Housing Act and and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Retirees Find Meaning Serving the Needs of Their Communities

Not all the news about retirement life is bad, though. This New York Times article describes how retired folks are volunteering to do “difficult and meaningful work” to give back to their communities:

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, a government agency that runs the AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs, some 24 percent of older adults volunteered in 2013, providing nearly 190 million hours of service. Despite the disruption of a recession six years ago, that rate has held fairly steady over the past decade.

Read here about three people who

personify what Mitch Anthony, a consultant, speaker and author of “The New Retirementality,” calls the “legacy or mission phase” of life. At this point, people may be less concerned with paying bills and more interested in paying back.

Over 50 and Back in College, Preparing for a New Career

And there’s more good news in another New York Times article:

For many, a retirement of babysitting grandchildren, golfing and relaxing on the beach is passé. Older people today approach work as a pillar of a retirement lifestyle, planning ahead and adding skills even before leaving their current jobs.

Colleges and universities are trying to figure out how to tap into this growing population of potential students. According to the United States Census Bureau, by 2030 the number of Americans age 65 and older will reach 72 million, up from 40.2 million in 2010.

A Merrill Lynch study conducted in partnership with Age Wave, a research firm that focuses on aging, found that nearly three of every five working retirees said retirement was an opportunity to shift to a different line of work.

For some of those seeking to change careers, retirement offers an opportunity to pursue a calling that wasn’t economically feasible earlier. Still others, forced into earlier-than-expected retirement by health concerns or layoffs, need to keep working for financial reasons.

Read here how many colleges and universities, including community colleges, are working to develop both degree and non-degree programs for older adult students. Especially encouraging is the news that state universities in California, Texas, and Pennsylvania offer tuition-free enrollment for older adultls.

My Late-Life Journey: Part 1

Today’s Daily Post from WordPress asks us to describe a journey, “whether a physical trip you took, or an emotional one.”

Here, then, is Part 1 of the late-life journey that lead me to where I am today.

Quite a few years ago I went through a difficult time when my two closest friends died of cancer just 10 months apart. I was shocked and numbed. These deaths coincided with my own entry into midlife—-a time when women characteristically begin to redefine themselves and their purpose in life. Many people say, at a time like this, that they’re looking for answers, but I wasn’t at that point yet: I began by looking for the questions I needed to ask. In my search I turned to the two activities that have always informed my life: reading and writing.

I’ve always read on a wide range of subjects, but in my emotional and spiritual disarray I cast my reading net even more widely than usual. I consumed books on philosophy, spirituality, psychology, and feminism. Each book lead to many others; synchronicity kicked it, as Jung promises it will, once I began to pay attention. Of all the books I read during this period, two were pivotal:

1. Carolyn Heilbrun’s Writing a Woman’s Life. Heilbrun asserts that throughout history anyone who wrote about women’s lives shaped the stories to conform to societal expectations of how women should be. She calls for new ways of writing women’s autobiography and biography: “For women who have awakened to new possibilities in middle age, or who were born into the current women’s movement and have escaped the usual rhythms of the once traditional female existence, the last third of life is likely to require new attitudes and new courage” (p. 124). As older women, Heilbrun says, “we should make use of our security, our seniority, to take risks, to make noise, to be courageous, to become unpopular” (p. 131).

2. Daniel Taylor’s Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories. Taylor stresses that we shape the stories we tell about ourselves, but those stories in turn shape who we are. Taylor’s most compelling point is that, if the story we’re living is broken, we can fix it by retelling it: “When we envision our lives differently, we are capable of being different” (p. 127). This ability applies not only to individuals but to whole societies as well.

My reading lead me to explore narrative psychology, narrative therapy, and the narrative study of lives movement.

writingAnd through all this exploration, I wrote: pages and pages of journal entries, unsent letters to my dead friends, real letters gratefully acknowledging my living friends, fist-shaking diatribes hurled at The Universe, contemplative musings, questions—-and, finally, some tentative answers—-addressed to myself. For me, writing has always been a crucial part of the learning process. Ideas arrive in large format; writing—-the process of putting those ideas into words and making the words fit together—-is the way I refine ideas, and clarify and discover meaning. Along with reading, writing is a necessary component of thinking.

In a prime example of synchronicity, during this period I discovered Story Circle Network, an organization headquartered in Austin, Texas, that focuses on encouraging and enabling women to write the stories of their lives. Shortly thereafter I attended a Story Circle Network weekend retreat with about 30 other women. As we all read, wrote, and talked together, many women experienced emotional breakthroughs and were able to write and talk about aspects of their lives that they had never revealed to anyone before. That retreat was an epiphany for me, and during my two-day drive home I came to realize that everything I had been reading fit together and that I had finally discovered the purpose I’d been searching for.

That five-year journey was an intellectually and spiritually rejuvenating time for me. It caused me to apply to the doctoral program in humanistic psychology offered by Saybrook University, which back then was known as Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center. I planned my instructional program to learn how to work with people, particularly women, in using writing as a means of telling their life stories, either as a record for posterity or as a means of self-discovery and personal growth.

And the journey continues…

%d bloggers like this: