I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a topic that has nothing to do with the usual content of this blog, but I don’t really have another outlet for it and I’d like to articulate some things and so here we are.
That topic is retirement and assisted living brought on by aging.
As someone who works in academia, my field has retirement options that are not possible in many fields. Partial retirement is possible and frequently occurs. Many people work way past the typical retirement age. If a writing professor is successful with their writing, then they undergo a kind of early retirement from making a living primarily off their university position. There’s a lot of discussion about the problems surrounding academia and retirement (see an article from Slate and an interview on Here and Now), but my main point is that I’m exposed, through my career, to a lot of different forms of retirement.
I also tend to prefer the company of older people in my social circles. Some of my best friends are my parents’ age (and a lot of them I met through work) and I just tend to enjoy the conversations and interactions more than these situations for people more my age. This is not the case for all of my friends, of course, but a good number.
Finally, my family’s configuration puts the topic in the forefront of my mind on a regular basis. My father is a semi-caretaker to my disabled uncle and my grandmother spent the last month of her life living with them. My maternal grandmother died of Alzheimer’s and spent the last few years of her life in assisted living facilities. My maternal grandfather has a fairly typical retirement that involves a lot of golf. My mother-in-law lives in another country, away from almost all of her immediate family, and so her situation is also in the back of my head.
On top of all this, I read about retirement on /r/personalfinance and /r/financialindependence, and find the mindsets I read there very interesting. Given my wife is from another country, seeing how retirement is handled across cultures is another facet I’ve had in my head. Then there’s my genealogical research, which exposes me to the circumstances of people’s deaths. I also teach Atul Gawande’s New Yorker essay “The Way We Age Now” which is part of his book Being Mortal. It’s a super fascinating read – check it out.
So, two years ago, some friends of ours in their 70s began deciding how they were going to spend the end of their lives. They had a house they’d lived in for decades in Texas, but it was larger than they needed, old, and their children were more or less permanently relocated to the northeastern US. They did a lot of research and described the process to us – they were looking for a financially stable place (that didn’t have a risk of shutting down while they were there) with quality workers (we’ve all heard the horror stories that sometimes come out of these facilities) that was geographically convenient. They ended up at a Kendal location.
My wife and I had the pleasure of visiting them last week. They’ve lived there for about a year. They’re both still very active, both mentally and physically, and in fact this is one of the most impressive things to me about their transition – they both emphasized how much they wanted to actively make the decision to move to the community while they could still integrate into it socially and experience the new area.
Some things that set this place apart from other places I’ve seen/read about:
- The community provides a continuum of care all the way to end of life. They have independent apartments and a facility with assisted living. The biggest benefit of this is that if one spouse deteriorates, they still can stay at the same physical location.
- There is no director of activities that plans things for the residents. Instead, the residents propose and plan any new groups or events themselves. The amount of investment by the residents was really impressive. Our friends showed us the woodworking shops, which was furnished entirely by tools that residents had brought with them and then realized they didn’t need and so donated to the community. One of their new buildings was funded primarily from residents and willed assets – so the residents are so invested they voluntarily give extra money. Out of ~400 residents, our friends said they knew of at least 5 residents who had made a full-time living as potters. One of our friends is learning pottery, the other is learning weaving.
- They do NOT segregate based on needs. A lot of facilities separate off people who are unable to feed themselves and such are kept separate from the rest of the residents.
- They have a farm house for visitors to stay on the premises. We saw at least four families of all ages at the swimming pool while we were there for a three-day visit.
I guess this runs the risk of sounding like an advertisement, but honestly I’m in shock at how little thought most people give to the last 10-20-30 years of their lives and making plans for how to get there. It also kind of scares me how I might have to help make/enact that decision for people in my life who put it off.
So, yeah. I don’t know.
Outside Content: I’m pretty pumped about the upcoming release of The End of the Tour even if it looks like it won’t be in Austin until 2+ weeks late. This article about Jason Segel makes me more excited.