Aging in Community: With A Little Help from Our Friends

With a little help from our friends…

A year ago we explored some new models for seasoned adult living, beyond assisted living or standard retirement communities. In With A Little Help from Our Friends, aging expert and journalist Beth Baker takes us on a journey through expanded innovation that elders themselves are co-creating.reverse mortgage news

Aging in place is only as good as the place you’re aging in, writes Baker. Today’s mature adults are less likely to swim in the river of denial and more apt to be proactive, taking charge of their current and future independence by focusing on interdependence, the watchword of successful aging in place. And reverse mortgage can play a valuable role in enabling this to happen.

Some of the creative community options reverse mortgage professionals need to be aware of as Boomers become clients:

    1. Villages. Launched with Beacon Hill (a Boston suburb) in 2002, Villages are not actual structures, but neighbor-to-neighbor support systems designed to enable older adults to remain at home as they age. They’re volunteer run, usually with one or two paid staff, and provide everything from a ride to the doctor, to help changing a lightbulb, to grocery shopping — or “just” a friendly ear. Members (the seniors who receive assistance) pay an affordable annual fee, and are encouraged to volunteer to the extent they are able and willing. Villages also organize social events and outings, exercise classes or computer training; whatever the members want. The model is growing rapidly, with nearly 200 Villages now open nationwide and another 150 in development. The Village to Village Network helps communities establish and maintain their own Villages.
    2. Cohousing. The brainchild of a Danish architect, cohousing emerged in the U.S. in the 1980s, and like Villages, is mushrooming. The model enables each household to own (or in some cases, to rent) their own house or condominium, while sharing common space, weekly meals, and other social and lifestyle needs (e.g., cars and lawnmowers). Cohousing is collaborative, non-hierarchical, and can be multigenerational or dedicated to those 55+. Moving to a cohousing community can be an excellent way for seniors to downsize, perhaps with a HECM for Purchase, while creating a wider support network of neighbors and friends for their later years.
      Some cohousing models are designed for a specific elder niche, such as the Babayagas’ House that opened in a Paris suburb in 2012, an affordable urban site for women 50+ whose residents pledge to perform ten hours of weekly chores, and to care for one another with no professional staff. The model has caught fire in Canada, with Baba Yaga Place launching in Toronto.

      For those who become ill while living in cohousing, it may also be a way to live one’s final months without needing to resort to a nursing home. Baker relates the story of one single, childless 60-year-old man living in an intergenerational cohousing community, who developed colon cancer. His neighbors accompanied him to medical appointments, delivered meals, etc., enabling him to live nearly twice as long as his prognosis and to die peacefully at home, surrounded by friends and loved ones who sang to him in his final hours. This is an aspirational vision for both how to live and how to die.

    3. Cooperatives. Similar to cohousing in terms of community focus, housing cooperatives have a distinct legal and financial structure. Autonomy and affordability are two bywords, along with democratic member control and concern for the wider community. While most housing coops are multigenerational, senior housing coops are growing. Community relationships that support elders as they age are one of the strongest reasons seniors cite for choosing this form of retirement living.
    4. Housesharing. While creating community with friends or strangers may seem the purview of college students and twenty-somethings, housesharing is also an economical and creative way for elders to find companionship and reduce expenses in their later years. Some people opt to live among peers; others are comfortable with an intergenerational arrangement, and some just want to rent a room to defray costs — though they may find the tenant becomes a friend. The National Shared Housing Resource Center can help seniors find a shared housing organization in their community.

Affording the Future

In the third section of her book, Baker dives into “getting from here to there,” including accepting help (even if that means a robot assistant or smart home technology), advocating for direct care workers (another term for caregivers) and examining the ways seniors can plan for the unknown.

In lieu of pricey long-term care insurance, Baker suggests that reverse mortgage might be a viable way for mature adults to turn their home equity into cash to use as needed. She writes, “Many of us will likely turn to the value in our home to help pay for care.” With a combination of home healthtech, direct care workers, community support, and available home equity, the next wave of retirees may be able to remain at home until the very end.

Owning and Enjoying Aging in Peace

Insights on Growing Older & Facing Death

Personal growth pioneer Louise Hay, still a tour de force in the field at 89, is known for saying, “Make the rest of your life the best of your life.” Her words aren’t aimed specifically at seniors, though they’re most apt for this cohort group, many of whom have a difficult time making peace with the changes growing older brings.

Several older participants in a women’s networking group recently asked, “How do you think about and deal with your feelings about aging — and death?”

Here are some ideas you may wish to share with your reverse mortgage prospects and clients or their family members, as well as with other elders in your life.

On growing older

  • Start or join a support group. Aging alone can be challenging, and the number of seniors minus any kind of support is mushrooming as the Boomers enter their elder years. Deepening Our Connection: A Guide for the Wisdom Years offers guidance for how to create “intentional family” later in life (or ideally, much earlier).reverse mortgage news
  • Have conversations with your younger self. Remember what used to light you up, or areas of life you always longed to explore but never did. (Painting class? Hiking club?) Now might be the perfect time to revisit these intentions.
  • Reframe aging as an adventure, and journal about it as you would a trip to a foreign country.
  • Read uplifting memoirs of people who’ve been there, such as Greedy for Life: A Memoir on Aging with Gratitude or The Measure of My Days, by Dr. Florida Scott-Maxwell. I read the latter in my early twenties. Scott-Maxwell’s book is a timeless testament to the issues we face throughout our lives, such as how to maintain individuality in a mass society, and how to emerge out of suffering, loss, and limitation with something approaching wisdom. Written when Scott-Maxwell was in her eighties, her voice is that of the “grandmother wisdom” often absent in Western culture.
  • Adopt a digitized four-footed companion. Did you have pets in your younger years but feel unequal to the task of caring for one now? Robocat provides all the love with none of the responsibility: no need to feed this cat, or clean the litter box. May be especially beneficial for someone with mild cognitive impairment.

On facing death

  • Embrace your role as an elder. When our parents and those of their generation die, we have an opportunity to redefine relationships within the family. In other cultures (and past generations) elders were revered. Now, as a senior, you have the freedom to serve as the voice of wisdom where you live, whether that means a major city, a nuclear family, or a retirement living community. Perception makes the difference.
  • Absorb the virtues of inspirational loved ones who have died, and allow the memory of your beloved departed to remind you that you’re still ALIVE.
  • Live in the now. This 92-year-old offers five simple rules for happiness that any senior (or younger person) can embrace if they choose.
  • Give back. Think you’re too old to serve others? A 105-year-old nun is still a font of encouragement to prison inmates. Her dedication to helping others may be one reason she’s lived so long. Instead of focusing on death, or her infirmities as a centenarian, she continues to enrich the world with love and outreach.

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The Country of Surprise: New questions to ask

Understanding Unexpected Later Life Shifts

It’s one thing to talk about aging looking forward; quite another to view it from within that mature skin. In How Did I Get to Be 70 When I’m 35 Inside? 70-year-old Linda Douty offers a delightful “new paradigm” roadmap for conscious aging, focusing on the landscape of surprise in seven stages: Surprises of the Self, Body, Relationships, and the Sacred; to Surprising Challenges, Gifts, and Wisdom.

The more than fifty elders she interviewed pulled no punches, yet their honesty conveys humor and acceptance, even joy, as people embrace the freedom to finally express the totality of who they are, without apology or restraint.

Understanding Reverse Mortgage Clients

Since many reverse mortgage professionals may be closer to 35 than to 70, Douty’s book offers a useful peek inside your prospects’ minds.

I especially enjoyed her take on how, as we age, we tend to experience weight gain and memory loss — along with a shrewd way to ameliorate this change: “Our culture seems much more obsessed with what we feed our bodies than what we feed our minds. How many calories? How much fiber? But our minds take ‘bites’ from a huge buffet of offerings — violent movies, TV sitcoms, trashy novels, idle gossip — all junk food for the brain. To retain any measure of hope and optimism, we must become aware of our own complicity in this junk-food diet.”

Then there’s the difference between knowledge and wisdom. One senior gentleman told her with a grin, “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”

To open a deeper dialogue with your reverse mortgage prospects, consider adapting one or more of Douty’s inquiries. The seniors you meet with will likely be happily surprised that their reverse mortgage professional is taking such a dedicated interest in their lives. Douty’s questions include:

1. What has surprised you most about aging?
2. What have you discovered about yourself that you didn’t know before?
3. How would you complete the sentence, “I’ve always wanted to …”
4. What has been your greatest challenge in growing older?
5. Your greatest joy?
6. How old do you feel inside?

Sooner or later, if we’re fortunate enough, we’ll all become residents in the country of surprise. This is your invitation to visit, and return with wisdom gained.

How to Build Trust Part 2: Trust and the Aging Process

The process of aging makes one more vulnerable when it comes to trust

While it’s true that people don’t change dramatically just because they grow older (see Marketing to the Mature Homeowner/Part 1), there is one area in which aging makes us more vulnerable: trust.

As people age and watch spouses, friends and family members die, the lyrics from The Cure’s tune, Trust, may express how they feel: There is no one left in the world that I can hold onto / There is really no one left at all. Lack of a support system can and does affect older adults psychologically.
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The response to these transitions can either be fear, in which seniors become less confident in people overall, or outreach, where, in their desire to connect, they misguidedly place their faith in everyone from the caller who tells them they’ve just won a sweepstakes, to the salesperson who suggests a risky investment.

Because such unscrupulous individuals and businesses often prey on older adults’ loneliness or hope, it behooves reverse mortgage professionals to understand the concerns unique to this cohort group.

To build a strong relationship with older reverse mortgage prospects:

  • Allow plenty of time to get acquainted. Regardless of whether they seem secure or anxious, many mature adults (particularly “older” seniors, 75+) love having a new audience for their stories, especially those revolving around something as precious as their lifelong home;
  • Develop a strong sense of their personal situation. Is a reverse mortgage a prudent move for them — or are they simply enjoying the regular contact visiting with you offers, even if this takes place over the phone?
  • Go slowly. In our frenetic world, it’s easy to forget that the spryest senior will likely operate at a somewhat slower pace than you do. Be willing to explain information more than once, and in different ways, until it’s clear your prospect comprehends all the specifics.
  • Reach out. Going the extra mile might be a cliché, but doing so never is. If a senior turns out to be an excellent reverse mortgage prospect in every way, yet clearly thrives under your attention, reach out: make a home visit if possible, bring a small gift, find a referral for another need they mention. These demonstrations of caring will not only help seal the deal; your kindness also boosts your client’s quality of life.

 Reverse Mortgage Relationships with Seniors

Boomers Rock with a guitar, not a chair

Reverse Mortgage Marketing to the Mature Home Owner

Marketing to the Mature Home Owner / Part 2:
If They Rock, It’s With a Guitar!

A business magazine recently ran this “humorous” column: “Middle-Age Texting Codes”. The list included such abbreviations as ATD (“At the doctor”), BFF (“Best friend fell”), BYOT (“Bring your own teeth”) and FWIW (“Forgot where I was”).

It’s doubtful these acronyms would amuse many people in their eighties, let alone someone who considers him- or herself middle aged. President Obama celebrated his mid-century birthday last month, and while he loves his BlackBerry, it’s unlikely he’ll be texting any of the above messages any time soon.
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The eldest of the approximately 79 million Baby Boomers reach retirement age this year, at the rate of about four million per year. For reverse mortgage professionals marketing to active adults 57-65 years of age — early Boomers who are planning work and lifestyle changes — respect is the keynote that will win their attention, and ultimately, their interest in qualifying for a reverse mortgage. As noted in the first post in this series, Marketing to the Mature Home Owner / Part 1, nobody becomes “old” overnight simply because they celebrate a birthday.

From the Baby Boom generation onward, the new American senior might best be defined by the Dylan Thomas poem, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”. They will forever consider themselves youthful, and as such, the marketing mindset that worked with previous generations must be modified if it is to succeed.

Younger seniors (many of whom prefer terms such as “mature” or “older adult”) will be interested in quotes for a reverse mortgage, not because they want to rock on the front porch (unless it’s with a guitar), but possibly because:

  • They’re planning to help put kids (or grandkids) through college
  • They need to care for an elderly parent (these days it’s not uncommon for two generations to be “seniors” simultaneously)
  • They want to travel
  • They’re considering surgery — plastic surgery, to look as good as they feel

To make the second half golden for both your “younger” reverse mortgage prospects and your business, focus on how you can help these elders fulfill the next great adventure in their lives. That’s the spirit that will win their trust, because while denial may not be a river in Egypt, it flows through the fecund minds of the newly minted senior set.