Where Shall We Live When We Retire, Continued

Richard Leider, in his book Repacking Your bags: Lighten Your Load for the Good Life, says the Good Life is:

Living in the place you belong
With the people you love
Doing the right work
On Purpose

He puts the place piece first: it provides a space and community to support your work (meaningful activity – paid or unpaid) and your relationships, and space where you can find meaning or purpose in your life.
When I started to do some research on the topic of retirement housing, I found two types of books and articles. The first category is all about the geography of the destination – Worst States for Retirement, Top Metropolitan Areas for Retirement, etc. These cover what I call the externals – what does a particular place have to offer, or not offer in the case of negative reports.
The second group of articles concerned ‘where to put mom or dad’ — finding a living situation for an aging parent or relative who needs some level of care. Neither of these types of material deals with the psychological aspects and meaning of home and how they change as we age. Stephen M. Golant, in his excellent book Aging in the Right Place, uses the term residential normalcy:
When people find their right places to live, they have achieved residential normalcy. This happens in places where they experience overall pleasurable, hassle-free and memorable feelings that have relevance to them; and where they feel both competent and in control – that is, they do not have to behave in personally objectionable ways or to unduly surrender mastery of their lives or environments to others.
You probably will make several moves after you retire. While most people tend to stay in their own communities when they retire, preferably in their current homes, some will move to more suitable housing in the same community. Others will opt to relocate to areas with warmer climates, lower taxes and living costs, and amenities that they value. Florida and the southwest have been the favored locations until recently. Then, as they age, or as their spouses die, they move closer to an adult child. Even in multi-tiered senior communities, couples may move into a cottage or villa, and when one partner dies, the surviving spouse may move into a condominium within the community. If it is a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), the move may be from independent living (cottage or condominium) to assisted living, and then possibly to nursing care unit.
The fact is that you will need different types of housing and services as you age. Retirement has been described a sequence – the go-go years, the slow-go years and the no-go years. Ideally, your plan for retirement will be comprehensive, taking into account what your housing needs will be at each stage of the sequence. Housing that is appropriate for a couple in the go-go years could be totally inadequate for a single person in the no-go years. And at that point, you may be forced to make a move that will be much more wrenching than if you had planned for those needs up front. And, the older one is when making a move, the more difficult the adjustment. For frail elderly person, a move can hasten their decline dramatically.
Retirement choices are both a financial matter and a lifestyle matter. These issues are most closely related when it comes to housing – where you live may be driven by what you can afford. The choice is to get the best mix of services and amenities for your money at each stage of life.

I don’t wanna live with a bunch of old people.

This post is part of a series dealing with the question of where to live in retirement.  Since I am in the process of writing an e-book on this topic, you will see more on this topic.

Most retirees  will say that they plan to age in their own home, and this may be the strongest argument one can have for aging in place. Let’s take a look at what is behind it.   Some people express a strong preference for living in a community with a range of ages. They enjoy being around young people and children.  This works well for all concerned, as long as the community continues to provide social support and interactions as the older person ages, and the needed services are available.  The children are exposed to older folks and young people gain from getting the perspective of their elders.

But behind this statement may be the stereotyped view that all people living in senior housing are frail, sick, demented and dying.  And, yes, people in senior housing do age and die, as do we all.  And the older housing developments tend to have an older population than the more recently built ones.  But you will also find a wide range of abilities, capabilities and disabilities in senior living, including folks who have had fascinating life experiences and are still vital and active.

Another factor may be the fear of labeling oneself as “old” – a matter of personal identity.  Who am I? Well, I am not an “old person.”  At some point, we need to face reality.  When will you do that?  When you have a major health crisis? At that point, it is too late to make plans for the next step, and you are forced to deal with the reality and the limitations imposed by the crisis.

Two views of senior living:

One woman said “I like living with my peers.  We are all dealing with the same issues of aging. We understand each other, and we help each other.”

Another said “I open my door and see the walkers and wheelchairs going past.  That is my future, and it isn’t pretty.”  Both of these women live in the same community.

How do people in senior housing communities deal with this phenomenon?   I have come up with several strategies:

  • Keep involved with the wider community, and don’t get totally immersed in the senior development. There is a wider world out there and we need to keep it in perspective
  • There are active, vital and interesting people of varying ages living in senior communities. Identify them and make them your models.  I don’t like the phrase ‘young at heart’, but that is what these people are, and we can learn a lot about living from them.
  • View the frailer residents as reminders and motivators for healthy living – getting exercise, eating well, controlling weight, staying positive in our attitudes. While we all age, there is a lot we can do to, as one author put it “live young while growing old, and to die young, as late as possible.”


So don’t write off the possibility that there may be a better place to spend your older years that you present home.


Listening to the Silence Part 1

Debra Lambo M.A. LCSW
Guest Blogger

The poet James Richardson tells us nothing important in life comes with directions. The phenomenon known as the “longevity revolution” has added additional years to the life span, and these “bonus years” before old age leave us with questions about how to live and make these years matter. Until now the tasks of a healthy human development have been laid out for us, we find work, select a life partner, raise a family. But what do we do with these bonus years? The freedom that comes at this new stage of life, freedom that we may not have experienced before, can be experienced as exhilarating or fill us with dread.

Turning sixty led me to questions about how I want to live the next twenty or thirty years of my life. That question propelled me into a whole new world of the aging industry, a world I did not know existed. There are many books, magazine articles, policy discussions on this subject aimed at the more than 70 million boomers approaching or in retirement, the oldest of whom are now over 70. What I discovered were the many dimensions of aging that were being addressed: health care, healthy living, with its concerns about diet and exercise, how to age positively. What was available felt unsatisfying — the assumption is by staying healthy and finding the right recreation, hobbies, a new career or volunteer opportunity, you will age positively. Yes, good health is important so is financial security. What was missing was one important dimension about aging was any discussion of the finiteness of our lives — our aging bodies will give out one day. This is not a sickness that needs to be cured, but part of the cycle of life. We choose to ignore and deny the subject of death except when discussing costs and end of life decisions.

Denying our own death was what Ernest Becker wrote about in this 1974 Pulitzer Prize book, Denial of Death. I cannot remember how or why I started to read a book about death when I was still only in my thirties, but I had a sense, a hunch, that there was something important here, and it has taken me thirty years to fully grasp what it was. We are all finite creatures and we will die one day. Deciding what is important to us, and our response to that decision will inform how we choose to live our lives from here on. When I turned 60, the awareness that one day I would die led me toward being the person I wanted to be, and the life I wanted to live in my remaining years.


Often one hears recently retired people say something like “Oh, I am so busy since I retired, I don’t know how I ever had time to work!”  When I hear that, I ask “But are you having fun?”  Most of the time they say “Oh yes, I’m having a great time.”  But once in a while, the response will be “well . . . now that you mention it . . .  “

This is busyness, not fulfillment.  A friend of mine is always busy – driving people to doctors, errands for home-bound friends, church committees, caring for neighbors’ pets, and occasionally caring for grandchildren who live several hours away. She says “I have no time for myself.”

Why do people fall into the busyness trap – activity that is not rewarding . . . now, when we have control over how we spend our time?

We have been busy all our adult life, and for most of us, that busyness has been in the structure of our work hours.   It is simply a habit that gets us out of bed early in the morning, and out of the house keeping busy with work and errands.

Another remnant of the job may be the sense that one must be productive – effective and efficient in order to be a valued employee and an important, needed employee.   For a workaholic, this is the most difficult mindset to change. All of a sudden, it is OK not to be busy all the time. It goes against the grain.

For some, the need to be busy is sensed as an obligation. “I should go and help them out, that organization needs people; she helped me or my family in the past.  Fear of boredom is sometimes given as a fear of retirement. Post-retirement time is seen as an empty void, with nothing to enhance our psychological needs to be useful, to achieve or accomplish, to be needed.  Sometimes an empty void is threatening.  It creates a space for something we have been trying to avoid or forget, something that work kept at bay.  Now we need to deal with it, and busyness is one technique to continue avoiding it.

Back in 1955, C. Northcote Parkinson, a naval historian, wrote an article in The Economist, satirizing the British Admiralty.  He announced a new scientific law, to be called Parkinson’s Law.  It stated: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”  I believe that the prevalence of busyness in retirement is evidence of this law in action.  If we have all morning to do grocery shopping, we take that time, even though before we retired, we could accomplish the same task in an hour after work.  Hence, more busyness.

” Socrates said “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.”

How does one break the busyness habit and move to a more fulfilling lifestyle?  Here are some suggestions:

  • First, start by keeping track of how you are spending your time – what is keeping you busy.
  • Then, rate each activity on two things
    • How important is it? What would happen if you quit doing it?
    • How fulfilling, rewarding, fun is it?
  • Decide which activities to stop doing,   and which to keep on doing, or to do in a different, less time-consuming way.
  • Think about why you have chosen to take on all these activities that keep you so busy – what are you trying to avoid? Are there psychological reasons – a need to be needed? To be seen as important? To achieve, to be accepted, loved?
  • Identify what is really important to you, and plan your time accordingly.
  • Learn how to say no. Set boundaries.   For example, I will babysit one day a week, or one week a month.
  • Are there activities you are not doing that you would like to do? Once you have got your schedule under control, then decide what new activities can go on the calendar.

Greg McKeon in his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less  says “become an Essentialist” – identify what is essential in your life: the right thing in the right way at the right time.  Then channel your time and energy in pursuit of that essential thing.

Are we having fun yet?


What have you learned lately?

Today, I start a new class Introduction to Ancient Egypt and Its Civilization, offered online through Coursera by the University of Pennsylvania.  I am excited about it, since ancient near eastern history is an interest of mine. This will be my second online course. Last month I took a four week Coursera course on Graphic Design, offered by California Institute of the Arts.  It was the first of a four-course certificate program.  I was able to increase my knowledge of graphic design, but the biggest learning experience was having to actually draw something and have it critiqued by fellow students.  I hadn’t had to draw anything other than an organization chart or flow chart since I was in grade school!

One of the great things about being retired is having time to pursue interests we couldn’t fit in to our busy lives before.  Learning new things is a great way to fill our time with activities we enjoy, and it is also a way to keep the brain cells active and growing, as a defense against dementia.  I think I gained a few little gray cells with the Graphic Design course!

Many organizations now offer recreational learning opportunities for older adults, labeled Life Long Learning (as opposed to job or career training courses).  They offer courses in their communities, both academically based and individually. Colleges may offer non-credit continuing education courses or they may open auditing seats in their regular for-credit courses.  Community colleges may have special free tuition programs for older adults. The Osher Foundation for Life Long Learning funds courses through colleges and universities. You can find a list of them at http://www.osherfoundation.org/index.php?olli_list. Other places to look for courses are senior centers, arts organizations and recreation departments.  Road Scholar, formerly Elderhostel, was a pioneer in lifelong learning, offered in the context of travel. Some years ago, I took a course at Oxford on Norman Architecture. It was an incredible experience, studying in the halls of Kings College Oxford!  Don’t write off courses that are not taught by university professors.  Non-academics with an abiding interest in and enthusiasm for a particular topic can give you an in depth and enjoyable experience, and a perspective gained outside of the academic world.

If you don’t have lifelong learning options near you, there are online courses galore!  And if you think that you can’t manage an online course, well, that is your first learning opportunity. And it is one that will open many doors for you – beyond what you can imagine.

First, there are MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses.  Initially, these were offered by major universities, and were online versions of for-credit courses that they already offered.  More recently, other nonprofit and for profit companies have gotten into the online education business, and the formats have become more varied.   Many of these courses are free.  If you want college credit or a certificate, there is a fee, and more stringent controls are in place to assure that the registered course taker is the person actually completing the assignments. Some of the companies facilitating courses are EdX, and Coursera. Udacity offers technical courses.  You can find listings of MOOC courses offered currently at https://www.mooc-list.com/.  Another site is https://www.ed2go.com/, which provides online courses offered by many local organizations and schools.  It is more weighted toward professional courses, but you might find something of interest there, perhaps less expensively than your local organization charges for the same course.

Other organizations also offer short courses on a wide variety of topics.  My favorite is Udemy, where my own course Your Lifestyle in Retirement: An Introduction resides.  Another one is Lynda.  These two sites offer a lot of technical, job-related courses, but there is a huge variety of topics offered, and a wide range of teaching styles. Some courses are free; others have a very small fee.  I learned a lot about video production and editing through the Udemy’s teacher training courses.  Another learning curve!

So! See you in class?








Deciding about Housing

The other day, a friend of mine said “My husband and I are talking about planning a move to assisted living.  I was quite surprised, as she did not appear to me to need any ‘assistance’ in her daily living activities.  However, I have heard this thought expressed frequently, and it seems to me that there is a big lack of understanding about different types of housing for older adults – what they are, and how one determines the level of care needed, if any.

Before we talk about care facilities, we should define ADL’s or the Activities of Daily Living.  It is how the older person scores on these various activities that determines what level of care he or she requires. There are two different screenings:  Activities of Daily Living and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living:

ADLs involve self-care and include the ability to:

Dress oneself

Use the toilet (not incontinent)

Feed oneself

Bathe/ maintain personal hygiene

Ambulate – walk independently or transfer into or out of a car, wheelchair, and bed

IADL’s are those that enable individuals function independently in the community:

Meal preparation



Use transportation (car, public or arranged rides)

Manage medications

Handle money

Communicate – use the telephone

There are several screening instruments that professionals use to evaluate an older person’s needs.   A reduction of ability on one or two points may not indicate a need to move to a care facility if alternative support is available.  For instance, Meals on Wheels may be a substitute for inability to prepare meals.

Care facilities such as assisted living residences and nursing homes use ADL screenings to determine if a potential resident would benefit from their services, and what care level would be required, hence what the fee would be.  Since maintaining ADL levels does not require skilled nursing care, the costs of providing such care are not covered by Medicare.  Medicaid, which is state-based, uses ADL screenings to determine eligibility.  Medicaid has income level criteria.

Here are some examples of screening instruments for ADLs and IADLs




Assisted Living

Assisted living is one form of care facility for people who need help with some of the ADLs or IADLs (often medication management).  Facilities can vary widely from a small board and care home with just a few beds to an elegant facility that looks more like a resort hotel.  The latter can offer a variety of floor plans, including some apartment sized units.  However, since three meals a day are provided, these units usually only have limited kitchen facilities, perhaps only a small refrigerator and a microwave. Residents can bring their own furnishings. Some units may be furnished and offered for temporary respite care or rehab care, and there may be a memory care unit. All housekeeping services are provided, along with a social activities program. Laundry services are available for a separate charge.  A nurse is available to manage medications.  Assisted living facilities fall under much less restrictive state or province licensing requirements than do nursing homes. Note that these regulations vary from state to state. There is no national standard.

Assisted living facilities follow a social model rather than a medical model.  They provide a secure environment with nonmedical services, including personal care, preventive health services, and planned social and recreational activities.

AARP has a checklist to help you evaluate an assisted living facility at http://assets.aarp.org/www.aarp.org_/promotions/text/life/AssistedLivingChecklist.pdf

55Plus Independent or Active Senior Living

Independent living is just that – no care services are offered.  The main distinction is that it is age restricted. The senior housing market uses a number of different terms for its offerings. They may be boarding houses, rental apartments, condominiums, townhouses or individual villas or homes.   Costs vary widely, as well as the structure of the fees – flat monthly or fee for service.  Some may offer subsidized housing for those who qualify.

The term Active Adult community may be used for a development that offers a wide range of activities and programs,  including amenities such as swimming pool, exercise facility and classes, tennis courts, and golf course.  There may also be social programs planned by program director or the residents themselves.

Continuing Care Communities CCRC’s or Life Care Communities

These include multiple levels of independent living and care facilities such as assisted living, nursing care and memory units. The amenities mentioned above are offered.  Residents pay an upfront fee which can be substantial, and a monthly service fee, a portion of which is applied if or when the resident must move from an independent living unit to a care facility.

Hope this clears things up.


Where shall I live when I retire?


Ten Best Places to Retire
Affordable Places to Retire
Best Places to Retire Overseas

These articles and even whole books seem to be appearing with increasing frequency. They rate various locations based on a range of factors, including cost of living, taxes, home values, climate, crime rate and amenities available in the area. Want to be free of snow shoveling? Try the Sun Belt. Want to live cheaply, try Costa Rica. Want intellectual stimulation? Pick a college town.
To my mind, they all miss the point. The best place to retire is where your friends, family and social support network reside. I am not talking about Facebook! Research has shown over and over that people with strong social networks are happier and healthier as they age. One study found that having friends was even more important than having grandchildren. This makes some sense. Grandchildren are great when they are little, but they grow up and go about living their own lives, and may come back to visit the grandparents infrequently.
Many retirees who previously moved to the Sun Belt or to Florida are now moving back be nearer to their families and friends, and creating the ‘boomerang’ effect. Should you move? That is a very personal decision. But I suggest that you consider long and hard before moving away from a life time network of friends. They may be your greatest asset.


Generativity: Doing Well While Doing Good

In his Stages of Psychosocial Theory, Eric Erikson proposed that each stage of human development has its ‘psychosocial crisis’, and that the seventh stage, middle adulthood (40-65 years), is characterized by the struggle between generativity and stagnation.  Generativity is defined as caring for and promoting the wellbeing of youth and future generations, being positive and productive, and willing to explore and to take risks.  If we fail to develop our generativity, we stagnate in self-absorption, failing to find meaning in our lives, and falling into fatalism, withdrawal, dissatisfaction with one’s self, and one’s life.

The Stanford Center on Longevity published a report recently on how two demographic groups -older adults and vulnerable young people can fulfill each other’s needs.  The older adults have time, the commitment and the skills to help a generation of vulnerable young people – those at risk due to poverty, low educational levels and even abusive or negligent upbringing.  That report, Hidden in Plain Sight: How Intergenerational Relationships Can Transform Our Future can be found at http://longevity3.stanford.edu/hidden-in-plain-sight-how-intergenerational-relationships-can-transform-our-future/

Phyllis Segal, Vice President of Encore.org had this to say about the report:

We are at an all-hands-on-deck moment for young people. The unacceptable reality is that over 55 percent of adolescents and 40 percent of younger children don’t have the support of caring adults in their homes, schools and communities. Adults 50+ represent a large, growing and renewable reservoir of talent and experience, poised and eager to invest in future generations.   How can organizations, communities and society create a plan for making intergenerational connections, building on-ramps and developing ways to harness the natural connections between older and younger people?

She then went on to describe a new initiative by Encore.org to will bring the generations together and improve the lives of children and youth by mobilizing adults over 50 to stand up and show up for kids.  This program, called Encores4Youth will launch in November. If you would like to become involved, or find out more, go to http://encore.org/encores4youth/  to register.

Encore.org, is organization dedicated to tapping the skills and experience of those in midlife and beyond to improve communities and the world. One early program, began by Marc Freedman CEO of what is now Encore.org, is Experience Corps, now part of AARP Foundation.  Experience Corps engages adults 50 and older as literacy tutors for struggling students in public schools. Currently, Experience Corps has 2,000 volunteer members working in schools in 20 cities around the country, primarily as in-class reading tutors for elementary school students in kindergarten through third grade.

You don’t have to wait for the new Encores4Youth roll-out, though, to get involved in your community and fulfill your generativity needs and avoid stagnation. Besides the Experience Corps programs around the country, there are many other opportunities.  Check with your local Senior Center or volunteer clearing house.  Many of them are run by local United Way offices.  Some websites listing volunteer opportunities are:


http://www.volunteermatch.org/  an AARP service

http://www.serve.gov/  United We Serve

Report from the Positive Aging Conference

I have just returned from the eighth Positive Aging Conference in Washington DC, and  I came home revitalized.  I met many interesting and dedicated people working in the field of positive aging, and a number of the presenters were seniors themselves, in their 70’s and even 80’s.  One had completed his PhD in his mid-70’s.

First: What is Positive Aging?  There is no single definition for it, and different people and organizations even use different terms for the same phenomenon.  Various definitions of Positive Aging include

  • Enjoyment of living
  • Maintaining good health in later life with a healthy living style
  • Having positive feelings toward aging
  • Flourishing
  • Affirmative lifestyle and mindset
  • A sense of control in one’s life
  • Emotional wellness
  • Adaptability to new opportunities and challenges

One of the keynote speakers at the conference was James Firman, President and CEO of the National Council on Aging (NCOA).  Dr. Firman spoke on Navigating Longer Lives: Seven Keys to a Brighter Future. He started with a few statistics, including the fact that increasing life spans of boomers and increasing numbers of them equates to over 1 billion years of good health over the age of 65.  This is 12 times more than for their grandparents’ generation.

Dr. Firman’s Seven Keys include

  1. Change our expectations of ourselves. Having low expectations of older adults equals ageism, even if it is the older adults themselves who have low expectations. As he said “this is self-inflicted.”
  2. Discuss and define responsibilities. First of all, we need to manage ourselves – be involved with our own care of chronic conditions, and our general life planning.  Tell people what we want, have our legal documents in order. Then, be contributing members of society as a generation – get involved in the environmental movement, social justice.
  3. Create new norms for the third age. Dr. Firman asked: What is the meaning and purpose of this stage of life? He then discussed several specific norms: how do we spend our time, how do we include older people in society (participation), and what is a desired mix of learning, contribution and leisure.  We can spend a little less time watching TV and a little more time learning and growing, and contributing to our communities.
  4. Innovate to motivate: how do we motivate people to do these things? His answer is to satisfy their wants in the process – have fun, be healthy, financially secure, provide meaning and purpose, and inclusion.
  5. Create new pathways. There is very little guidance available for older adults, and no rituals that give meaning to this stage of life. Dr. Firman cited NCOA’s Aging Mastery program as a resource available to older adults. You can look it up at https://www.ncoa.org/healthy-aging/aging-mastery-program/
  6. Innovate to optimize key assets. Those assets include time, skills of older adults, knowledge/wisdom, relationships/connections, homes and cars, health benefits, purchasing. Many of the examples he used were technology based: ride-shares, home-shares, learning exchanges, Seniors Helping Seniors, and NCOA’s Benefits Checkup program.
  7. Collaborate to create this new phase of life. The social contract still assumes a five year life, but now people are living 20 years or more after retirement. Our society needs to create a shared vision and a shared language of what we want.

The next Positive Aging Conference will be held in 2018 in Denver.  I plan to be there. Maybe I will be a presenter, too.