Thursday, September 19, 2013

Aspirational Living

No matter your thesaurus, there really aren't any good words for getting older.  That's why I like to use a phrase Paul Verchinski proposed at a CA Meeting over a year ago:

"Everyone aspires to be a senior."

A truer explanation of getting older has never been spoken.  If we do everything right, if all the scary tests come back the right way, we avoid the dangers of automobile traffic, the right handy-person is called to clean the gutter, and we chew at least five times before swallowing - we MAY have the opportunity to be a senior.

Due to advances in healthcare and the aging of large generations of adults, more and more people are reaching that goal.  Whether you look at it by percentage or hard numbers, the next generation of leaders will need to enact and maintain policies that provide for the senior population.

Uwe Reinhardt, NYTimes, Economix Blog

But as I've discussed before, I think our conversation is a little bit twisted when it comes to "seniors".  We need to think about "Us But Older".  Don't silo seniors.  Most of us came to live in this place because of its diversity of experience and people.  We came here for the good education system, but also to get involved and play a part in the vibrant community that makes up this place.  There is a concerning tendency to address the senior population in the same way we treat deer over-population:  "Target and contain".

The best, and most lasting, policies that address our aging population will be those that allow adults 65+ to remain as engaged and productive as possible for as long as possible. Here are some ideas:

1.  Support nonprofits.  Look at the volunteer base for every successful non-profit in Howard County and tell me it doesn't make you think seniors are helping us more than they will ever need the reverse.  Our aging population will continue to want to produce and have an opportunity to give back after spending their "first career" providing for their family.  Focus resources on promoting places such as the Volunteer Center, which can provide renewal and relief to the life of a retiring adult.

2.  Home Nursing.  Medical needs dictate different levels of care, but the next revolution in healthcare will likely be in the field of home nursing.  After seeing a generational boom in retirement homes and skilled nursing facilities, many adults between the ages of 55 and 65 are deciding that they want an alternative to institutional care.  Policy decisions focused around the licensure and affordability of home health aides and home nursing will be crucial to making Howard County and Maryland a better place for older adults.

3.  Don't forget the strollers.  One of the most misguided approaches to the aging population has been to reallocate resources from young families to seniors with the idea that we are somehow "meeting" the changing demographic.  Ask an older adult why they are moving and more times than not they will say "spend time closer to my grandkids."  Seniors want their children to move back home and, many times, this is the most important consideration (over any other senior-friendly amenities) when deciding where to live.  When evaluating programs or capital projects in a place like Columbia or Ellicott City, ask yourself whether a grandmother would rather you spend that money on her or her grandson.

These are just small focus areas that can help us think holistically about a problem that often gets pigeon-holed.  We're all seniors-in-waiting.  What do we want?

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!  If you would be interested in door-knocking with me tonight from 6 pm to 7 pm with a "Special Guest", please drop me a line.  Otherwise, stay tuned!