Age Is Just a Number
I live in a retirement community that’s age-restricted: you have to be at least 62 to move in. A 50-something friend asked me the other day why on earth I would want to live in a place that has only one age group.
I definitely don’t think of my fellow residents as all one age. We range from about 65 to over 100, a span of 35 years. I’m 80, and when I look at my older neighbors, I see in them the people I most admired when I was a child: the young men who fought in World War II and the women who filled jobs of all kinds on the home front. Now we’re here together in the same community.
If we’d all moved in 35 years ago, we’d have ranged in age from 30 to 65, and no one would have asked why we wanted to live in a place that admitted just one age group. The staff adds even more variety: 15-year-olds work alongside 30-somethings and 60-somethings. The community hires high school kids to serve meals in its restaurants, and I know many more teenagers now than I did before I moved here.
It seems to me that people only shy away from age-restricted communities because they believe elders must be depressing to be around. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Why would they think so? Perhaps because they believe in the stereotype maintained by our culture: that older people are mostly unhealthy, uninteresting and possibly even senile. If that were true (it’s not), who would want to live among them? On a deeper level, those who disapprove of age-restricted communities may assume that if they moved into one, they’d be constantly reminded of the down side of old age and would feel not only depressed but vulnerable. Moving in would also be like admitting in public that they were no longer young.
Actually, when you live in a retirement community, you soon realize it’s true that age is just a number. I know people in their 80s or 90s who haven’t slowed down much at all. They’re out in neighboring towns, being Master Gardeners and volunteering in the schools or elsewhere, or they’re chasing around after their grandchildren. Others, less fortunate, are indeed coping with health problems, but when I talk to them, it’s obvious that most are enjoying life all the same. Our youngest residents are not inevitably the most vigorous, nor are the oldest necessarily the frailest. Studies show that the older people are, the more different they become from one another in what they’re able to do, physically and mentally.
In short, few of my neighbors are depressing to be around. We have our share of complainers, as you do in any community, but that has nothing to do with their age.
Many people try to deny that they’re aging. It seems to me it takes a lot of time and energy to suppress that underlying fear of growing older. Where I live, one thing almost all of us have in common is that we’re not in denial—we wouldn’t be here if we were—and our grip on reality is a good thing. It means we’re free to be ourselves and enjoy life in a community that accepts us as we are.
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The Silver Century Foundation promotes a positive view of aging. The Foundation challenges entrenched and harmful stereotypes, encourages dialogue between generations, advocates planning for the second half of life, and raises awareness to educate and inspire everyone to live long, healthy, empowered lives.
"It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment; in these qualities old age is usually not poorer, but is even richer."
Cicero (106-43 BC)