Dynamic Aging – The Most Important Decision for Baby Boomers

Thoughts on healthy and happy aging by Marilyn DeMartini, writer, marketer, fitness and yoga instructor and creator of Dynamic Living.

I grew up surrounded by older people—great aunts, uncles, grandparents and neighbors—all immigrants in my family and most in the neighborhood—people who had come to America—the land of the free and home of the brave. They survived the Great Depression that could have ended all their dreams because they were tough. They did not feel “entitled”—they worked, saved, struggled survived. They had so much to share—so much experience, great stories, unusual furnishings, accessories and mostly, a lot of love and caring.

As they grew older and eventually died we got accustomed to going to funeral homes and dealing with death. We saw it as part of life—it “happened” and everyone went on with their lives because we accepted that those close to us seemed to die either in their home or rarely, in a hospital. Brining my uncle into our house while he was dying of brain cancer was expected—it was what families did.

As my sister and I grew older, seeing family members move to into “nursing homes” was a new phenomena. They were creepy and smelly and filled with sick, old people and it changed how I started to feel about death. Death became almost an escape from living in one of those places you had to go when the family could no longer care for you—when you lost your marbles and couldn’t function on your own. I became very clear that I was NOT going to go out like that.

I started to joke with friends over cocktails that I would open “Marilyn’s Home for Wayward Women” where we could all live together in harmony, being waited on by cute “cabana boys” who would bring us drinks and food and we’d grow old, laughing and celebrating old age together.

While some of my friends got married and had their own families, some of us found that we were still independent women, on our own, and may just be out there taking care of each other in our later years. Even those with children weren’t expecting their kids to take “care” of them—it is like a chapter from a bygone era—having a family member come into your house for elder care was just not the “American Way”—there were “homes” for that. They were no longer “nursing homes” but Independent and Assisted Living Homes, and they had good intentions and business plans. Basically, they were places where you started off in the penthouse and as your health and abilities failed—as was “expected” with old age–you moved down to lower floors and eventually into the basement when you were on your way out. Your services increased but your quality of life decreased from the day you walked into the institution’s doors.

Some homes were very nice but they were still institutions—created to warehouse people, not to foster a rewarding life. Though they were planned for care, the economies of scale created bigger homes with more people in various stages of decline, so they were depressing and regimented. Even the “lifestyle” activities were all strictly scheduled—not for the benefit of those partaking in the activities, but for those who were arranging or conducting the activities. As noted by Dr. Atul Gawande in his NY Times Bestseller, Being Mortal, “Efficiency demanded that the nursing aide staff have the residents ready for the cook staff, who had to have the residents ready for the activity coordination staff, who kept them out of the rooms for the cleaning staff, et cetera.” Creating a “home” had nothing to do with HOME, it had to do with housing and institutionalized care.

The more I saw of these homes, the more I thought about my “Home for Wayward Women” as a more plausible alternative. Looking at the statistics—with women outliving their mates and 10,000 people TURNING 65 EVERY DAY for the next 19 years, there is an increased need for senior homes—especially for women–not for what the big companies are building, but for places that feel like home and foster healthy living I even started looking at properties that would be ideal—but how would my group of women friends buy them? All of us were struggling entrepreneurs, taking care of others and ourselves. When were we going to be able to focus on what we were going to do as we aged?

As I turned 60, these thoughts plagued me and I started doing more research on what innovators were doing in senior housing. It seemed the trend was to take care of the wealthy in large, fancy resort style homes. They had pretty settings, but the same atmosphere inside, where people are cared for by minimum wage workers who no doubt got worn out and worn down by the emotional and physical strains of taking care of old folks who became like pawns they moved around in wheel chairs and who shuffled around in walkers. The food may be better and the chandeliers pretty, but the warehoused feeling remained the same. What is now called “luxury boutique hotel living” is in vogue—slightly smaller institutions very elegant and very expensive. Only the wealthy can afford a starting rent for an efficiency unit at $4,500/month, plus services, and required medical or memory care services are only partly covered by Medicare. These are not Medicaid facilities.

So what about the middle or low-income people? There are homes for them too, funded by state and federal governments and God forbid that is where I would end up! But with whom could I have this conversation? What is the path? What are the options, costs and possibilities? These are the conversations that families need to have together so everyone is clear on what each person WANTS toward the end of their lives. We don’t work this hard our entire careers to end up being taken care of by strangers in a place that is not our own—just a waiting room until we are ready for Hospice. And how long could that last?

I purchased long-term care insurance, thinking that would help, but that is just a band aid on the bigger picture. What is the solution for people who are alone, without family members to care for them or whose family members are far away. I realize I do not have enough money to retire—regardless of the savings I have tried to amass. Many of my generation are waking up to the reality that we may likely lively beyond our savings as many of us do not have company pensions and doubt the reliability of the Social Security we have paid into our whole working lives. After our Congress has syphoned off much of it for themselves and their projects, what will be left for us?

There has been a lot of talk about “Tiny Homes” which are very small homes on a trailer—like cottages instead of trailers, but since they are considered RVs, they can only live in trailer parks due to zoning. Not what I had in mind. Then I saw an article about “Granny Cottages,” a trend in Europe that had caught on with a Southwest Florida builder who started constructing small, fully permitted homes with a bedroom, bath, living room/kitchen in the backyards of single family houses. This Granny Cottage enabled an adult daughter or son to have Mom or Dad living a stone’s throw from their own home without the struggle of bringing someone else into their home causing cramped style for the host—and the parent.

Research and anecdotal evidence shows that most people want to live in their own homes until they die, but the reality is that they eventually cannot. But what if we approached aging in a different way? What if we did not accept that we were eventually going to go down hill but could live vibrantly for much longer by living a healthy lifestyle and creating communities to support Aging Dynamically instead of Aging Gracefully? Instead of asking “What if?” I started asking, “Why not?” and began planning my approach to Dynamic Aging.

Rather than build a single “Granny Cottage” in a backyard, I propose to build a small group of the cottages—perhaps 5-10–on a properly zoned lot that shared some common area for socializing, meals and activities. This kind of Dynamic Livingäproject would create a community of like-minded individuals who could rent the homes—singles, couples—thought I foresee mostly women due to demographics—that would be managed by a professional or possibly one of the residents. The manager would see to the upkeep of the common area, each person is responsible for his or her own home maintenance, though referrals for services could be provided for residents for cooking, cleaning, pick ups and deliveries and general errands if needed. Group meals could be arranged for sharing in the common area (perhaps an outdoor kitchen or BBQ area with seating, that could double as a place to play cards, games, hold events or even to watch sports or movies.

Also as part of the community area activities would be educational and entertaining seminars on useful information on Social Security, Medicare, legalities around living wills, medical directives, and even practical things like Hospice care and the interaction of medications. The agenda would vary depending on the residents’ ages, interests and needs.

Activity would be encouraged with daily group exercise classes, walks, trips to area parks, casinos, churches or the theater with group transportation arranged with Uber or Lyft or Taxi. Participation would not be required, but encouraged as it has also been proven that socialization and activity keeps people mentally stimulated and less prone to depression, loneliness or illness.

Likewise, healthy eating would be encouraged through periodic group meals or cooking classes, arranged by the manager, educating residents on the value of eating healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables rather than breads, grains and sugars. The science that many have ignored for years exists and strongly shows the correlation between nutrition and healthy aging. With heart disease and Type II Diabetes being among the biggest killers and both being easily avoided or treated through healthy eating and exercise, we could delay the onset of such self-induced illnesses as perhaps even avoid diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neuromuscular ailments.

NO medical services would be administered because that would constitute Assisted Living which is heavily regulated by both state and federal governments. There are enough Independent and Assisted Living Homes already and they are proliferating throughout Florida and every other retirement community in the nation. Even one of the most famous Baby Boomers, Jimmy Buffet, is building major 55+ communities called Latitude Margaritaville, in Daytona Beach and the next in Hilton Head. His are giant developments that provide a beach club and a community center with a movie theater, gym, restaurant and other amenities. The units range from single-family homes to small villas, all decorated by Ethan Allen in a tropical theme.

This is not the intention of Dynamic Living, but it shows the recognized market need and a different way of serving it, as Buffet has only mirrored what United Healthcare created when the insurance giant developed The Villages in Central Florida. And everyone “knows” about The Villages—a happy living place compared to camp for aging hippies. United Healthcare knows that when it keeps its insured healthy and happy and out of the hospitals and doctors’ offices, they get to keep more of the government subsidy provided for individual’s health care.

To address an important point, should we eventually become ill or feeble and require fulltime assistance, Dynamic Living would amass a referral network, just like for other services, where we could select facilities that share our philosophy on harmonious living. Dynamic Living would network with resident’s families as necessary so they would know that their family members were doing well or when they needed updates on medical or emergency conditions. This is why it is important to keep the communities small and manageable, so they do NOT become institutions.

I am searching for developers, investors, health care providers, care takers, potential residents and anyone with an interest in senior living and wellness to join me in this effort to create Dynamic Living–the type of home that WE ourselves would want to live in. Where we could look forward to healthy and happy senior years and prolong our independence.

Want to further this discussion? Add to the mix? Provide some resources or solutions? LET’S TALK! 954 564 7234 or email me at md@fitlauderdale.biz.