Susan Jacoby's "Never Say Die"

We've recently explored how to be cool at 50+ (and whether that's a viable idea).

In the midst of last week's discussion, CBC Radio's Jian Ghomeshi interviewed Susan Jacoby, author of  "Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age".

You can hear the 18-min. segment here, (click the grey box for the pop-up podcast); as they say about old age itself, it's not for sissies.  

She especially knocks boomer-aged "hucksters of longevity" who apply the age defying claim to drugs and cosmetics.

For Jacoby, poverty is a deep concern, especially when 75% of elders over 85 are women. If we can live in pleasant housing, visit our grandkids, buy wholesome food and augment support services, we'll will vastly improve life should we get that far.

Meanwhile, "threshold seniors" aged 55-65 are being sold luxury cruises because "after all these years, you deserve it". If you can fund a decent life into your 90s and perhaps beyond (100+ is the fastest-growing age cohort in North America), bon voyage.

Otherwise, consider a weekend in the country instead.

Susan Jacoby
Jacoby concedes that drugs and surgeries like hip replacements have improved life for the people in their 60s and 70s. She's hardly alone in yearning for breakthrough therapies for Alzheimer's and related disorders, the illness seniors fear more than cancer.

But there are other, less dramatic ways to improve life for elders, action we can take within our communities.  

I'm looking forward to necessity driving changes in housing, such as co-housing, infill "granny flats", vacation housing exchanges, elder camps.

Chair-assisted yoga
Also on my wish list: the return of house calls, washable winter coats, more yoga and meditation classes for seniors (with fees scaled to income) and the removal of teal and dusty rose florals from the colour scheme of any retirement home.

Those $50 PCs invented in India? That and a modem can decrease mental stagnation, loneliness and isolation. I'd love to see these installed and serviced by a squad of volunteer youths. (Resemblance to Albert, the Philly Cream Cheese Angel a bonus.)

Its time to identify and demand what we want now, while we have the ability to influence. What products and services would improve the quality of life in your elder years?


Susan B said…
I think two things will probably be most important to me as I age: community and ability to get around. Having a social network of people will help keep us active and engaged, and the ability to get from here to there on my own will keep my own quality of life high.

Another thing: pets! As we learn how much pets can positively impact our health and well-being, I'd love to see "senior housing" facilities, whether apartment style or even more medically intensive allow pets.
Duchesse said…
Pseu: How do you plan to get around? With our numbers, we will require more and enhanced public transit. I encourage smart, active women like you to begin to lobby for what needs to be in place. Pets, too- some facilities here allow small animals.

Sadly, many seniors who could benefit from animal companions cannot afford them. How about a donor program?

re "senior housing facilities": my preference is for more age-integrated housing, or at least the choice. There is an experimental residence here that has combined a college dorm with senior's floors.
Susan B said…
Duchesse, I agree about age-integrated communities and mass transit. When I mentioned "senior facilities" I was thinking of those already living in these types of communities. We've started to discuss how and where we want to live as we age, and a lot of it will depend on whether we can get our son into some sort of a group home once he's an adult. We'll need to live somewhere that has services for him, as well as us, which probably means a larger metropolitan area, though we have toyed with retiring to Napa, which is close enough to metro areas to provide services, but still a smaller community.
ilona said…
While i think that health is the biggest issue that will limit options to continue living an *engaged* lifestyle as we age, I agree with you, Duchesse, that transportation will also have a major impact. Planning for (and by)an aging boomer population needs to trend back to communities/neighborhoods with accessible shopping, libraries, medical care etc, rather than the far-flung concentrations that isolate homes from available services and social outlets.
La Loca said…
Excellent post. I work in an Engineering firm, and more and more of our urban municipal clients are embracing transit-oriented design. One client in a rural area recent built a senior center adjacent to the local libray and park to encourage "intergenerational" gathering. I'm a huge fan of Jacoby, so I'll be snatching this one up for sure.

Pseu, my thoughts are with you as you find a home for your son.
Duchesse said…
Pseu: I like the co-housing model, where you might live en famille, or your son's time might be divided b/t group home and your place. Co-housing provides shared space (laundry, pantry/kitchen, communal dining, library, office etc.) with private space (livingroom, bedrooms, baths and small kitchen/dr). (Not meaning to lecture you, some readers will know, others not.) A lot more private and separate than my college-era communal house and a wise use of resources.

downthegardenpath: Suburbs are car-dependent, so even more isolating for elders. Always loved the notion of living in a hotel when I'm in my 80s, for the services and people-watching- but probably that would be too costly.
Duchesse said…
Jane W. Like idea of building nr. park/library but in general do not like seniors-only residences. (Why do we do this?) Don't want to spend my 80s & 90s (perhaps) so segregated. Or maybe I'm romanticizing the sound of piping voices in the halls?
Suburbohemian said…
Age integrated housing opportunities are preferable by far! Larger type and better signage would help right now! Ditto canceling the dusty rose and teal and just burn the cheesy art. Lengthy interactive phone call trees are very confusing for older people with hearing or processing issues.
Anonymous said…
Great post today however I think the author is not speaking about senior communities, aging in place and all that good stuff but about what happens to those of us who just plain live too long to the point of where we are totally dependent on others for our very existence. Nobody wants to address this topic.

I live in a neighbourhood full of 80+ and the one thing they seem to do is live in denial i.e. they think if they avoid the topic of dementia or frailty that it will never ever happen to them. We shuffle people off to “the home” and then warehouse them with their “void charts” taped to the foot of their beds and keep them tucked away out of sight so that nobody has to see the results of just plain living pass our "best by" date.

That being said I don't think you can improve old, old age all that much. What I wish for instead of washable coats is access to some nice barbiturates say $20 worth. If I live too long I would rather go out on my own terms nice and peacefully the same way Marilyn Monroe did. I do believe I will become obsessed by this when I hit 85+ myself and no amount of elder aids, bathtub bars, help I have fallen and I can’t get up alarms, in-home care, senior homes etc. etc. will cut it for me.
Duchesse said…
Anonymous: Jacoby is saying same thing you are: no one's addressing the "old old" whose numbers are growing. She thinks marketers have conned us into thinking 85 will be same as a chipper 65- unrealistic for most of us!

Maybe the denial you mention is an OK strategy if it helps you enjoy life when all your friends are dying.

Good luck getting those barbs on your own when you're really sick. Best pick where you live (Holland? Oregon?) and lobby for assisted end of life options.
Duchesse said…
Suburbohemian: Phone trees confuse and infuriate me now! But, Kindle a good thing as makes all books large print.
Susan Tiner said…
I love the co-housing model, don't love senior-only housing. I like Pseu's idea of pets being integrated into facilities.

Running out of money is a major concern!
Duchesse said…
Susan Tiner: When running out of money is a concern, co-housing makes even more sense. An acquaintance's co-house has teams of resident cooking dinner for the other residents (about 20) once a month and he says the oldest residents enjoy it the most!

Besides pets, gardens can be nurturing and many elders find enormous comfort in them.
Jill Ann said…
Wow, I could talk on this subject for hours. I spent the last few years taking care of my mom, who died in February just short of her 85th birthday. She had always been very independent, always drove her own car and always had a job, until she had to quit to take care of her own mother.

After my dad died 7 years ago, Mom moved to live near me in another state. She bought a small house, because it seemed like a good idea for her to have her own space, and to continue being independent. In some ways that was good, but she was very lonely living by herself; and she did not make much of an effort to make new friends. I think she'd have been much better off had she done so.

After about three years, she sold the house and moved in with my family. We are very fortunate in that she & I both had enough money so we could add on to the house. Everything we went through in the last few years was made SO much easier by having money.

I don't know what happens to old people who have no one to take care of them. Well, yes I do know, they die sooner. Mom was very dependent on me in the last year or two. If I'd had to continue working, how would she have managed by herself all day? It's a huge problem, about to get much worse with us baby boomers. And the House budget plan wants to eliminate Medicare, rather than strengthen it. Next they will try again to privatize Social Security. We must not let this happen!
Duchesse said…
Jill Ann: The mix of requirements, resources and options is different for each elder, but we need more choices, absolutely! Eliminating Medicare is scary; here in Canada we have universal health care, and while not perfect, there is not that fear.

My mother chose to live in assisted living and near the end, at 98, too ill to really fit there, she hired many supplemental caregivers. I'm grateful she could afford it.
Mardel said…
I think community and being able to get around will be important to me, and although I am only about to turn 53, it is something I think about. I dislike senior only communities, although I have seen some that are quite dynamic, but I think the segregation is negative in the long run.

I don't know how to address getting around. Living in a town with a vibrant center or, more likely, a city that provides some resources to seniors would be a help. I would like to find a place where I can live happy in my young old age, but will also be manageable as I age, when it comes to that.

Perhaps I think about all this because my husband is old, and I see first hand in taking care of him, how strong and dynamic in one's late 70's can suddenly become old and frail in the early 80s (or whenever it happens). Medicare doesn't pay for caregivers.

My paternal grandmother lived in a hotel until she was so old that she was confined to bed, at which point she moved to a home with additional private care nurses. She was quite a character. Her children grumbled that she was frittering "their" money away. I'm just grateful she had enough and didn't have to become a burden.

I think I'd like to read the book.
Not just yoga classes but tai chi and other disciplines. It is heartening when I see the very supple Vietnamese seniors doing tai chi at a community centre near me. Their classes are affordable for just about anyone and I suspect they might waive the fees for the destitute.

Well, alternatives to car-centred development have been a biggie for me for decades now, and not just because of air pollution or traffic accidents. Mary Soderstrom, a local author who was born in California (in the 1940s and who has lived here in Montréal since the age of 25, has written extensively in books and her blog about walkable cities and communities.

Montréal social housing for seniors allows pets, as do many private facilities here.

While there is much to do, I also agree wholeheartedly with Anonymous April 19, 2011 11:10 AM - not out of any kind of death wish, but because I don't consider being warehoused and pretty much brain-dead at all akin to living. Here in Québec a very large majority of people agree with assisted end-of-life options. I know the MP who has led the campaign for a change in the legislation, Francine Lalonde. She is very ill with cancer. For many, just the idea that they have the choice is a great help.

But in the meantime, while I agree with Susan Jacoby against an adman's vision of "freedom 55" and onward, there has been a major change for at least some middle-aged to early senior people in terms of wanting more out of life - and I don't mean posh ocean cruises.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: I don't know anyone who wishes to be "warehoused and pretty much brain dead" whether in the boomer generation or preceding ones. My parents and their friends never believed in the limitations of being "old"- they were probably more active physically than my age group, and politically and socially active.

I think that "WE are the active old" is a boomer self-congratulatory myth.
Susan said…
This is a very interesting discussion and a topic I think about often. My husband and I have mothers that are elderly--his mother 84 and mine 88. My mother has moved into an independent apartment in a seniors community that she selected. My husband's mother plans to stay in her home until she has to be "carried out on a stretcher".

Our goal is to find a good place to enjoy living in our elderly years and to NOT cause our children stress. There is a particularly nice place in Dallas called Edgemere.

One of my favorite elderly communities which I have read about is Kendal Oberlin.

Our younger son went to Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH where this center is located and we always enjoyed seeing the residents out enjoying college lectures.

I guess I am different from most of you in that I don't think I will mind living with people my own age instead of in a age integrated community. I say this after talking with some members from our church who are enjoying a residential community (Edgemere) with no complaints that it is all seniors.

Also, I wonder how the particular and escalating needs of seniors are reliably met in a mixed age community.

Great post Duchesse. Thank you for this one.
Susan said…
I read Duchesse's explanation of co-housing, but would like a more indepth explanation. Does it refer to living with family---or to several people (unrelated) living together in the living arrangement described by Duchesse?
Unknown said…
Interesting post definitely food for thought. Have just read a book on a similar subject "The Warmth of the Heart prevents the body from Rusting" by Marie de Hennezel". There certainly is a pension crises brewing in the UK with not enough people saving for their old age. Secure housing is a good option if you can affort it, that is living in your own space but with communal areas and assistance on call. I do think it is going to be a problem for our children and possibly our childrens children in the future. I certainly try and keep fit and active but as my mother had dementia for 20 years, luckily she had excellent care due to a large pension fund, who knows.
Duchesse said…
Susan: Caregivers, both on-site and on-call, can assist elders in mixed-generation housing in the same manner as in age-segregated facilities. What appeals to you about living with only people in your age cohort?

For a definition of cohousing:

Chicatanyage: From what I read about the current UK economic measures, I think it's going to be a problem *far* before our children's time, as social services and programs are being cut back or terminated now.
Duchesse said…
Mardel: I have read several long reviews, but want to read the book. The assisted living home is a product (and I have heard people in the field refer to it as such) sold to elders who want the security and services. But these can be provided in mixed-generation housing, as Sweden does.

My mother, who lived in two of them, very "nice" places, always wanted to be taken to someplace where she could see families and young people when we visited. One might not think of the segregation when one signs the lease.

I have always wanted to live in a hotel like your GM. My mother did the same thing eventually, hired two "girls", as she called them, and said "Don't talk to me about money." Frugal all her life, but she wanted that care, and got it.
Susan said…
I said I wasn't bothered or didn't mind living with people my own age--not that it was the only arrangement that held appeal for me. I'm not familiar with any mixed age residences in my area which also include caregivers for the elderly. It is an interesting concept.
Susan said…
I went to the link you provided which explains cohousing. I HAVE read about that kind of neighborhood and living arrangement, but don't think it is widespread yet. I noticed that the site was Canadian and wondered if it is a more common concept in Canada. It does sound like a good plan for the elderly--and others.
Susan said…
I did find a site which includes a directory of co housing communities by state. My state (Texas) has several, but most are just in the formation or building stage at this point.

I noticed that there are quite a few already constructed in Massachusetts.
Duchesse said…
Susan: When you wrote you "didn't mind"- I inferred it would be acceptable to you. So, still curious about why you would be willing. Clearly some elders like it, or at least put up with it.

I wonder how many of them would choose that vs the opportunity to live in a mixed-age building with support services.

Glad you are researching co-housing; there is a lot on the Net about it, from various countries. My friend lives in a cohousing community in NJ.
Susan said…
Duchesse, In the large city where I live now and in my mother's smaller town, there are not mixed age residential communities like the ones you describe. I'm sure there will be in the future, but not now.

Since I am only 59 years old (as of next week) right now, I have no way of knowing how I will feel on this topic when I am truly elderly. But, right now, I've seen some really appealing residential communities that are only for the elderly (55+, but most residents are 75+ and up). I would be very open to a mixed age community when they become available in my area. I will definitely be looking at them.

I think another thing that may have influenced my comment a bit is the fact that I have a mil who detests people her own age. Truth be told, she is a bit narcissistic and if one of her age cohorts is more entertaining or charming that she is, she doesn't like to be around them. I think younger people indulge her more and she enjoys that.
diverchic said…
I can't imagine life without seeing children around. And there is dog for every need. They both give us so much I have a horror of living without either or being warehoused. However, humans can and do adjust to almost anything if they want to.

Unlike Anonymous, I don't want to miss the experience of dying.
abetterme said…
I'm 56 now, but can foresee the need for affordable private transportation alternatives. I already hate driving, and driving in bad weather (which we are having more and more of) I hate worst of all! But in my senior years, I don't want to become housebound, having as my only options the bus or an expensive cab ride.

With the internet, I'll bet there can easily be shared ride arrangement sites. I'd even consider a private car service if you could pay a flat monthly rate to have them on call. (A flat rate would allow you to work it into a fixed income budget much better.)
Duchesse said…
diverchic: I inferred that Anonymous wishes the option to end her life on her terms. Some people are lucid to their last moment, some are not, regardless of how the event happens.
Duchesse said…
abetterme: Will be interesting to see what kind of transportation services arise. I too avoid driving and have friends who think I don't have a license, just because they don't see me driving!

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