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With a Little Help from Our Friends

Creating Community as We Grow Older

Beth Baker

Publication Year: 2014

In this book, an award-winning journalist tells the story of people devising innovative ways to live as they approach retirement, options that ensure they are surrounded by a circle of friends, family, and neighbors. Based on visits and interviews at many communities around the country, Beth Baker weaves a rich tapestry of grassroots alternatives, some of them surprisingly affordable
-- an affordable mobile home cooperative in small-town Oregon
-- a senior artists colony in Los Angeles
-- neighbors helping neighbors in "Villages" or "naturally occurring retirement communities"
-- intentional cohousing communities
-- best friends moving in together
-- multigenerational families that balance togetherness and privacy
-- niche communities including such diverse groups as retired postal workers, gays and lesbians, and Zen Buddhists.

Drawing on new research showing the importance of social support to healthy aging and the risks associated with loneliness and isolation, the author encourages the reader to plan for a future with strong connections. Baker explores whether individuals in declining health can really stay rooted in their communities through the end of life and concludes by examining the challenge of expanding the home-care workforce and the potential of new technologies like webcams and assistive robots.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book would not have been possible without the openness of the many people who allowed me to visit their communities and who were willing to share their stories. Their names are in these pages, and I thank each one of them for their time, their honesty, and their trust. In particular, Gail Kohn was a valuable resource and font of insights who...

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Prologue: The Oncoming Train

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pp. 1-4

In 1922, my maternal great-grandfather Albert Nisley and my great-aunt Marie were killed by a train after their car stalled on the railroad tracks. From the time I was a little girl, I wondered how this could have happened. Why did they not get out of the car in time? I picture my great-grandfather desperately trying to start the engine. Did he shout at his daughter to escape while she...

Part I. A Time Like No Other

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1. The End of Denial: Taking Charge of How We Live

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pp. 7-18

Lynne, a fifty-something dietician in Port Gibson, Mississippi, has had a fantasy for years. When she grows older, rather than move to a retirement community or live alone, she and a handful of close friends will find a way to be together. “We talked about buying a piece of property and building us a place to live,” she said. “We envisioned maybe a round building, where everyone...

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2. Interdependence: Reconsidering “Aging in Place”

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pp. 19-26

The flowering of alternative ways to live grows out of the desire to “age in place.” For years, aging in place has been the mantra of AARP and many specialists in aging. It’s no surprise. Survey after survey shows that the vast majority of older people say that is their wish and their plan.
Dale, who lives on Lake Murray in South Carolina, explained why aging...

Part II. A Wealth of Options

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3. The Village: Neighbors Helping Neighbors

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pp. 29-39

In the English basement of a townhouse in Washington, DC, the first call of the day came into Capitol Hill Village. Pauline, a member, said she needed potatoes, Dawn dish detergent, and the chicken that was on sale at Harris Teeter supermarket.
No problem. Patrick, a volunteer, would take care of it.
Next up: a member needed a house sitter for two days. She had to be away...

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4. Cohousing: Creating Community from the Ground Up

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pp. 40-55

Imagine living in a community where you know all your neighbors. The houses are designed and sited in a way that encourages friendly encounters while at the same time maintaining personal privacy. Friends in this close-knit neighborhood frequently dine together in the common house, an area with a commercial kitchen and a large dining area, big enough to hold all who wish...

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5. Cooperatives: Living Affordably

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pp. 56-66

In the high desert of central Oregon on a crisp October morning, Dick Martin led me on a tour of the Green Pastures Senior Community where he lives. Green Pastures, a housing cooperative of mobile homes, sits on the edge of Redmond, a thriving town of twenty-seven thousand people.
The high desert is on an immense plateau that stretches eastward from the foothills of...

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6. NORCs: Retiring Naturally

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pp. 67-85

In the mid-1980s, Nat Yalowitz looked around and realized that his beloved community, Penn South Cooperative, was growing old. Some 70 percent of co-op members were over sixty. Like Nat and his wife, many had moved to the co-op in the 1960s to raise their families and live affordably in Manhattan. Although Nat didn’t know the term at the time, what he had identified...

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7. Community Without Walls: Weaving a Web of Friendship

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pp. 86-98

In 1992, Vicky Bergman, then forty-eight, began to contemplate her future. She and her husband, Dick, had been helping out his parents, who were in their eighties and having a difficult time with illness and frailty. She and Dick began to wonder what their own old age would be like.
A fter Dick’s father died, his mother grew increasingly depressed and lonely. “Mom fell...

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8. Generations of Hope: Living Well by Doing Good

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pp. 99-108

It’s not everyone who decides to move in retirement from San Diego to Rantoul, Illinois, to live in a community built on an abandoned military base. But such was the appeal of Hope Meadows that Clarissa did not hesitate to relocate from sunny Southern California to the small town Midwest, where winter’s average low is in the teens.
“This was so attractive to me and I don’t plan...

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9. Affinity Groups: Settling with Your Tribe

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pp. 109-130

In the 2012 film Quartet, directed by Dustin Hoffman, aging musicians live out their last years at Beecham House, a British retirement community set in a mansion on a lovely estate. Strains of violins, pianos, and operatic voices waft through the house and out across the expansive lawns as elders continue to practice their passion for music.
The longing to live in community with...

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10. Housesharing: Finding Companionship with Friends—or Strangers

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pp. 131-143

Lindsay, a market researcher for builders and developers, was unhappy with her boss and her hour-long commute each way to work. She was only fifty-nine, but she realized that she was in a position to retire—far earlier than she’d ever imagined. “I knew it meant I wouldn’t have a lot of money, but I could get by,” she said. To avoid dipping into her savings, she rented out her basement...

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11. The New Family: Balancing Togetherness and Privacy

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pp. 144-156

Since prehistoric times, humans have banded together in family groups, helping each other through the stages of life. New anthropological research suggests that beginning some thirty thousand years ago, as humanity began to live past thirty years old, the role of grandparents became critical to a family’s health and well-being. Elders’ wisdom and experience enabled them to teach...

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Part III. Getting from Here to There

Despite our best efforts and intentions, age happens. For some of us, growing old will be more sweet than bitter. Our gait may slow, words might escape us from time to time, our hearing or vision may be less sharp. But in the important ways, life continues to have pleasure and meaning. We’ll stay closely connected with our loved ones, feel valued, appreciate the world around...

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12. Design for Life: Building Homes and Neighborhoods That Serve Us

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pp. 159-169

Remodeler Stephen Hage is a man with a mission.
It began twenty years ago, when he was having a beer after work with a friend. Steve was at a crossroads. He and his business partner had parted company, and Steve felt dissatisfied with his remodeling work. “I thought, do I want to keep doing granite countertops?” he recalls. “I could. But do I want to?” His friend told him he...

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13. How Will We Pay? Planning for the Unknown

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pp. 170-177

Underlying the hopeful alternatives in this book are significant questions of who will pay for services that people may need in order to remain out of institutions. Those who say they wish to age in place (unless that place is a continuing care retirement community which includes long-term care) need to consider how they will pay for major adaptations to their home or for help...

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14. Who Will Help Us? Advocating for Direct Care Workers

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pp. 178-185

As Howard Gleckman and other experts suggest, remaining in our own homes as we age ultimately becomes a health care issue. If we’re healthy, the odds are decent we can age in place if we wish. But if we have problems, we need to come to grips with the fact that there are simply not enough paid caregivers in the pipeline to assist us. Even for those lucky enough to have the financial...

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15. Is There a Robot in Your Future? Accepting Non-Human Help

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pp. 186-196

In the 2012 film Robot & Frank, an aging cat burglar, played by the veteran actor Frank Langella, finds support and friendship with a shiny white robot that his son bought him as a caregiver.1 Frank had developed serious memory problems, his home was a mess, and he was subsisting on Cap’n Crunch. He refused to move to “the memory center,” so to his son, the robot seemed the...

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16. What If? Mapping Our Plan B

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pp. 197-216

Proponents of the alternative models in this book hope that by providing people with that simple human connection, they will be able to avoid, or at least delay, institutional care as they grow old. But it’s too soon to tell. Some communities are beginning to struggle with what to do when one of their own gets Alzheimer’s, for example—certainly one of the toughest challenges.

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pp. 217-218

As I was completing the manuscript of this book, our neighbor Ann sent an email inviting those of us on our block who are sixty and older to a potluck. She and her husband Merrill wanted to discuss aging in place here in our neighborhood. “I realize that for now, everyone’s mostly healthy and independent, so there might not be too much interest just yet,” she wrote. “But if there...

Appendix A: Glossary of Alternative Models

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pp. 219-220

Appendix B: Questions to Help Guide Our Choices

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pp. 221-222


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pp. 223-232


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pp. 233-244

E-ISBN-13: 9780826519894
E-ISBN-10: 082651989X

Publication Year: 2014