Designing A Brighter World For Senior Citizens

janet's world

April 26, 2009|By Janet Gilbert | Janet Gilbert,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Growing up is all about gaining new friends, skills, privileges and - ultimately - responsibilities.

And it seems to me that growing older is all about losing each of the aforementioned, bit by bit, in a most excruciating manner.

Wow, what an upbeat beginning to this week's humor column.

But now that I am on the cusp of an age I considered "really old" when I was a teenager, I have gained not only some extra pounds, but one weighty, wiser perspective: The attribute that makes or breaks the successful navigation of any life stage is a positive outlook.

Ho-hum. Yawn. Duh, even. But here's the thing: Generally speaking, this can-do attitude is relatively easy to maintain when you are growing up in America. Inspiring posters and messages line the walls of schools and extracurricular programs. And there is a whole host of people and industries engaged to teach, coach and otherwise propel you forward physically, intellectually and emotionally in the years from birth right up to age ... 35.

Well, 35 is "the new 25," right?

But this positive, can-do approach seems almost counterculture when you hit middle age and beyond, because we live in a world where youthfulness is glorified and pursued at all costs. Sadly, our treatment of older people tends to mirror our treatment of older things. Preliminary numbers from the Janet's World Investment Research Department indicate that no one wants to put any money whatsoever into road resurfacing. However, the facial resurfacing industry is thriving.

It's downright depressing - how it seems there are forces actually working against our aging population's collective positive spirit.

Then along comes my new hero, Susan Boyle, from the show Britain's Got Talent. If you haven't heard about her, take a moment to pull up her crowd-stunning performance on YouTube.

Here we have an un-botoxed woman with a rare gift for us all - and I'm not just talking about her soul-piercing singing voice. It's her attitude. She is comfortable in her own skin, and that skin has wrinkles aplenty.

Her determined and self-assured performance drives home a message about the over-40 age group that I embrace: Talent has no age limits. Further, in the end, being accomplished ultimately trumps looking accomplished every time. In Maryland we call this the Mikulski effect.

But enough about the inspiring Susan Boyle - it's time to get on with the Janet's World dream for growing old in America. Because, let's face it, growing old should be everyone's dream. So let us leave the Global State of Denial where we only consider our aging selves long enough to purchase some long-term care insurance, and enter Janet's Senior World, where we invest in some heartfelt, long-term caring.

It starts with imagining senior housing that looks less like a hospital and more like a dormitory. In Janet's Senior World, there will be a plethora of attractive, economical options for couples and individuals in their 70s and 80s. All of these will foster continued learning, social interaction and community connection - three things that never get old, in my opinion. Not everyone can afford a condo in Florida, or an upscale senior living community with a $3,000 per month price tag. So buildings and communities need to be frugally designed in a dignified, uplifting way to accommodate people who are experiencing decreased vision, mobility or hearing.

To help create this new industry, we should promote degreed educational programs that train high-level professionals to work in senior-oriented programs, and we should reward these people financially.

In the meantime, we should treat the senior citizens in our own lives with the respect we'd expect when we're their age.

It's the beautiful song I hear every time Susan Boyle opens her mouth: Perhaps this is the age of enlightenment. And all of us are going to get there, whether we like to think about it or not.

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