Until recent years, we generally looked at “aging” as that period after 65 when one would retire and often adopt a leisurely lifestyle – travel, the golf course, perhaps a move to another climate. Annual program evaluations were generally limited to current activities without looking at emerging trends among those seeking our services. We may not have looked back and reviewed our mission and relevance to the changing concepts of aging. Programs tended to deal with use of leisure time and coping with issues of loss such as memory, sight, and life-style changes. There has been a tendency toward being reactive rather than proactive in our approach – coping with issues of aging rather than planning for a desired future.
Looking to the Future
It is now generally recognized that there is a third stage
of life, which occurs after 50, and precedes the final stage as we historically perceived it. There is now roughly a thirty-year period between the end of a first career, or second life stage, and true retirement – coupled with possible onset of diminished capacity. The emerging options available to those between 55 and 85 are many. Are we helping people plan for these transitional years which may include a new career stemming from skills and knowledge gained over the years; pursuit of a passion that may become fulfilling or even lead to a very different career; or, stimulation through travel and/or educational pursuits? Many entering the third stage, or encore years
, have a desire to direct their efforts toward human services, education, or health issues. In other words, they have a desire to give back and make a difference in the lives of others as they remain productive members of the community. How can we enhance this process?
Following is a look at Aging Well, as it tends to be, and some possibilities for what it could become.
What is our Mission? How broad is the age group we plan to serve? Are we focusing on coping mechanisms for some of the issues of aging, or do we want to move toward preparation and transitions for the onset of the later stages of life? Are we helping people become familiar with the resources that will enable them to make sound and satisfying choices? What does high-quality, old agelook like and how can we use it as a guide for the journey toward late-life goals?
We have attempted to remain current and responsive to current needs in the planning process. Offerings have been a mixture of coping skills generally associated with old age (hearing-, vision-, memory loss, and other physical conditions) and planning ahead (advanced directives, alternatives to the choice to remain in the home, and physical activity). Without diminishing the very real situations faced by our oldest adults, should we also be exploring our role in making known the resources to assure a positive journey to and through the third stage of life?
Questions to Ponder
Should the resources we offer relate to: Planning for the third age and possible encore careers? Examining changing demographics – especially the impact on women as roles have evolved? Enabling men and women who must transition from a productive, perhaps management roles, to a third-stage lifestyle? Addressing the increasing numbers of isolated older adults and how to keep them involved in the community? How is technology impacting communication and relationships? Resources for health care, transportation, continuing education, increase of STD and personal safety are some of the many issues that merit additional exploration.
Aging Innovations and Trends
The following are part of the general movement toward engagement of those entering the third age and among the resources available to assist in Aging Well:
- Senior Leadership and Volunteer involvement educational programs
- Increased presence of home delivered meals and friendly visitors programs
- Pioneer Movement and other programs offering greater individual choice
- Posit Science and other memory retention programs
- Rise of technology for personal use and health care
- The Village Movement
- NORCs and planned communities
- Creative programming at Senior Centers and Ys
- Interest specific groups
- ENCORE Careers and Transition Network
- Local college programs geared to older adults in transition
What will Aging Well look like five years from now?
A special thanks to Bridget Murtha
for editing this post and Jared Wong
for the picture.