Intentional aging-in-place communities support elders’ ability to make choices

  • No matter how small the adjustments we need to make in our lives are, most of us like to be presented with options from which we can choose. Even if the choices presented aren’t exactly what we’d like, the chance to make conscious choices generally helps us to feel better about our fate. That is why intentional aging communities, sometimes called aging-in-place communities, are flourishing in some fortunate parts of the country. Other types of more loosely organized communities that offer services to people as they age are also gaining favor.


    Intentional aging communities come in many guises. An article in a recent Eden Alternative news letter provides hope that a variety of options for aging with grace and dignity will be presented to boomers as time goes on. 

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    According to the article, communities that are developed around services for elders can lower the degree of “institutional angst” felt by our elders as time takes its toll, and also helps minimize the “medicalization of aging.” 


    Is aging a disease?


    Once upon a time, people aged with family nearby. The elders were considered an asset. Yes, their bodies weren’t as strong as when they were younger, but their life experience was looked upon with respect. People often didn’t survive strokes that now can leave people extremely disabled. They rarely lived long enough to develop extreme dementia. The few who did were just considered “senile” and generally treated with some humor and kindness, as sort of an eccentric who still deserved respect.  


    Now, medical science can keep most of us going, even if we aren’t functioning well on many, or even most, levels. This can be good, until it’s taken to a point where our bodies are kept alive after our souls have given up.  


    Because medicine historically has been about curing disease, many of our medical communities are only recently understanding the point that when we turn aging elders into medical cases, we may be stripping people of their humanity.


    Geriatricians – doctors who specialize in treating elders –generally are of the opinion that old age isn’t a disease. In their view, old age is just another stage of life – a life to be lived.  True, aging people often have special needs, but with care, most can lead a reasonably comfortable and dignified life.


    Aging in place vs. institutionalized living


    The intentional aging article states that, “loneliness, helplessness and boredom cause the bulk of suffering among institutionalized elders. These diseases of the human spirit do not respond to medication, but rather to a diverse human habitat.”  

    This is not to say that adult day care, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and other living options are bad. Most good facilities these days take into consideration the dignity and  higher human needs of the elders who require care in an environment away from their previous homes.


    However, the future could be brighter yet. With the development of communities with elder-friendly homes, combined with services that can help elders remain in those homes longer, aging boomers will have yet another living option from which to choose.


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    Please take time to read the article about intentionally creating community living. These environments can be “de-medicalized” in their approach to care, while still delivering state-of-the art nursing care when needed.


    Through the efforts of the Pioneer Network and others dedicated to culture changes for seniors, more dignified care for our elders is gradually evolving. Maybe this change is actually a return to or strengthening of the old fashioned attitude that elders are a valued part of society and deserve to be treated as such?  


    For more information about Carol visit www.mindingourelders.com or www.mindingoureldersblogs.com.  

Published On: September 29, 2011