It comes to us all, assuming we live long enough to experience it: the sunset of our lives when our idols start to die and friends grow frail. So I’ve made it to that age – which is good news; and some friends are getting frail – which is not good. One very dear friend is on her way and no longer recognises me, while I’ve just heard that a younger peer is on borrowed time. The walking sticks are coming out and joints are creaking, never mind the obligatory grunts as we all get up and down. And sometimes it’s easier just not to think about where we’ll live once we can’t manage alone. The elderly community living has so many negative connotations.

But now I’m seeing something very different. My old neighbour – in age and in length of time we’ve lived opposite – has just moved into a home for the elderly. I thought this would be the end of the road; that when leaving her home she’d leave behind her will to live. I couldn’t have been more wrong – she is having the time of her life!

I just thought she was an introvert

She’d enjoyed coming over for a cuppa and seemed quite happy sitting in the middle of kids, dogs and Looking at elderly community living as an exciting stage of life
chaos. She never stayed very long, but I assumed that was the volume and her introversion. Now I guess she was being polite and not wanting to overstay her welcome.

Because when I see her in her new home, she has so much to tell me. Her social calendar is laden – she’s busier than me. There is an endless round of activity for her to join in with or not, as well as plenty of people to natter to and she’s taking advantage of it all. She’s working out in the little gym, doing armchair yoga, listening to reading at a local infant school and joining in with the Dinkie Dancers when they come to the Home for their weekly class.

This is everything I had hoped for her

Community living doesn’t have to be a decline into oblivion, sitting around the walls staring into mid air. This experience has really helped me to see just how different it can be.

Looking at old age and community living as an exciting stage of lifeWhen I was social working in the 70’s, my early days were spent in ‘old people’s homes’ as we called them. I helped the residents knit coat hanger covers in that ghastly plastic nylon material. (They’re actually very good for hanging anything in a soft fabric that will ‘poke’ on the shoulder – which is why I still have some.) It was a depressing affair. Life was all over, it was just about waiting for the final breath. I felt most sorry for the occasional resident who was full of beans. You could see them trying to make the best of it, but it wasn’t long before they threw in the towel and joined the queue.

With the wisdom of youth, I assumed this was just old age and, since it was never going to happen to me, I could be sanguine about it. Now I know that some of those people had plenty of juice in them yet, if we had known how to keep them truly alive.

I love those stories on social media about Dutch initiatives that have students lodging in elderly homes; that have school kids coming in to do crafts or play with the residents. I’d certainly be up for that. I’m convinced being around youth helps keep us all young.

Elderly community living can be a whole new ball game

Then last night I watched a bit of the Real Marigold Hotel when the team visited Cuba. Miriam Margolyes Looking at old age and community living as an exciting stage of lifein the discussion about older age sex was wonderful. Not to mention Jan Leeming having a little frisson with an attractive older Cuban guy. They weren’t able to talk to each other, but that didn’t seem to affect the spark.

So it really isn’t over till the fat lady sings. We all have at least one big aria left in us, we just may need help to get up on the stage.

My neighbour has taught me not to make assumptions. I realise now how careful I was around her. I could have included her more often, but wasn’t sure she would manage all our racket. Forgetting of course, that she has a voice in her head and can easily say ‘no thank you’ or just walk back over the road to her quiet house.

So this Christmas, I’ll be more adventurous.

Looking at old age and community living as an exciting stage of lifeI’ll pass on the traditional orchid (mind you, she is really good at keeping them and even getting them to
flower again) and invite her instead to our swish new cinema for an ‘old birds’ outing. There we can choose from ’30’s Hollywood superstars or the dishy young folk of today. And we’ll sit downstairs in armchairs with a coffee or a glass of wine as we watch.

I also want our young ones to see just how sprightly she has become, so they get the point that old age can be an exciting time of life. After all, they’ll be visiting me – or not. And they need  to spot when sitting around the wall isn’t really my bag – unless there’s something good is on the tele. I want them to put options in front of me with an invitation to join in.

Because old age really is changing in so many ways. We have great role models – my neighbour included. So now I’m even more determined to find my ‘outrageous old lady’ groove wherever I end up living.

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