My mother lived to be 93, and was able to live in place. I feel that she lived an extra five to eight high-quality years because we never had to take her from her neighborhood and friendship circle. This was a precious gift to our entire family.
My wife Lys and I were able to import her parents to our neighborhood in Florida, and we watched over them for a full decade — the quality end-game of their lives. One month before his passing, my father-in-law, a surviving World War II tail gunner who then became a coal and environmental geologist, celebrated his 90th birthday by kayaking a spring-run with the entire family.
I prefer the term “Living in place” instead of the commonly used, “Aging in place.” It sounds more active, more engaging, more positive.
Living our lives at home ‘til our final breath is what Lys and I also seek, and is what most people want: Dignity, familiar and loving social networks close at hand, and independence. Does this describe where and how you live?
Before you answer, think about this: Due to advances in medical science, most of us are likely to outlive our abilities to drive cars by seven to ten years. If we are removed from home and taken to care facilities, costs can rise to $15,000 to $20,000 per month. No matter who ends up paying, these extra costs could sink our fragile economy. If we do not want this future, what do we need?
Can you walk to places you want to go on a daily basis, such as a pharmacy, grocery store, community center or church? Can you walk to the homes of friends and family? Do you have good sidewalks with shade and places to sit? Is there bus service near you?
In downtown Honolulu, I recently watched many older people struggle to get across wide and fast roads. There was good transit and lots of destinations, such as housing, stores, churches, parks, beaches and restaurants — so there were many places to walk to, but not many safe ways to get there. Indeed, Honolulu has a great climate and high “livability factors,” but could be considered a dangerous place to grow old, largely due to fast cars and lots of them, moving on overly wide roads. The good news is that people in Honolulu are working to change this, and you can do so in your neighborhood, too. Here are some ways:
- Utilize the AARP Create the Good Sidewalks and Streets Survey tool to document what is needed in your area to make your walk safer and more comfortable. Share the results with municipal staff and elected leaders.
- Ask government staff and leaders to adopt traffic-calming practices that will move cars smoothly but at lower speeds. Also ask them to narrow roadways or add “crossing island” medians that provide refuge for pedestrians.
- Encourage and support “mixed-use” development, which means that commercial space, retail shops and residential stock all are located near each other.
- Convert vacant yards to community gardens or “pocket parks.”
We must build the missing parts of America together. If we don’t, our young generations will strain to support us; as a society, we will fail without healthy places to age well. We can, and we must build places to be better!