Purpose-driven communities

I just finished writing an article for the Journal on Active Aging that challenges current senior living models.  The concept is simple.  What if we viewed frail older adults as assets to the greater community rather than just a vulnerable group who needs to be taken care of?  What if we stopped focusing on disabilities and focused instead on possibilities by creating purpose-driven senior living communities.

Disabilities cause specific problems regardless of age, yet it's disturbing to compare attitudes, expectations and opportunities available to young disabled people with those available to frail older adults. Young people with disabilities are given encouragement, strategies, and opportunities to excel in-spite of disabilities. Frail older adults are placed in age-restricted communities and given strategies to cope with functional deficits and disabilities. There is a huge difference between excelling and coping.

If we treated frail adults the same as young disabled adults; instead of building senior housing next to hospitals (message = expect a health crisis) we would build next to schools, food-banks, the Humane Society,or other understaffed and underfunded community initiatives.  Instead of beautiful lawns the residents could grow organic fruits and vegetables for the food bank, or a living history farm could be developed and staffed by residents to provide educational opportunities for local children. 

We must learn from history to prevent the tragic waste of human potential imposed by low expectations.  The Disability Movement proved that people with profound disabilities are capable of amazing things when they believe in possibilities and are given opportunities.   It's time to re-evaluate existing senior living models and explore how attitudes, expectations and environments impact outcomes.  We have the insight, now we just need the vision and determination to support a dramatic shift in perspective. 

7 responses to “Purpose-driven communities”

  1. We so agree with your comments. We are developing a Adult Activitity Center in Vacaville, California called Brain Sweats (www.brainsweats.com)that first uses Brain Fitness from Posit Science to bring the mind up to speed with the new definition of retirement that seniors are shaping. We are living longer and are in better health than any time in the history of our species. Our overriding philosophy is: you don’t lose function because you age, you age because you reduce activity”. The philosophy was developed from reading your materials. We thank you.
    Gordon Keiser

  2. I imagine you have read Dr. Bill Thomas’s book What Are Old People For?, which is about the Eden Alternative, or the Green House Project. When our mother was put into a nursing home without the knowledge or approval of the rest of her children, we hoped the Green House would be built and ready for her to move into really soon before her condition deteriorated. Mother passed away last summer and the Green House hasn’t even been started, due to lack of money for the project. See http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=res&cd=8&ved=0CDAQFjAH&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.edenalt.org%2Fbooks%2Fwhat-are-old-people-for&ei=4UJLS8DWMoKwswOnupS2Aw&usg=AFQjCNGx2pipKJ_pjp_mmrKpFe2w_5otJw&sig2=Vkd3EMR24GWnuCQK5-0JsQ for info about the Eden Alternative.

  3. Montanakay says:

    I amfamiliar with the Green House project. Bill Thomas has been a pioneer pushing for the rightsof frail older adults to be treated as whole people.As a society we missed the boat completelywhen we started acting as if age determined what kind of interventions andenvironments a person should receive in response to a health crisis or functional decline.Im grateful Thomas is leading the charge. Im working in my arena for the same thing. Frail older adults should receive the same resources and opportunties toovercome challenges as young people withdisabilities receive. Right now they dont. Become disabled before age 65 and you are eligible to receivebenefits andopportunities,after age 65 – forget it! Kay

  4. Mark says:

    We wanted to announce our new free site to help senior citizens, FreeStuffForSeniorCitizens.com.
    The purpose for creating the website was not just to provide seniors with a random free sample of an item or just free nonsense information, but to provide them with the resources they need to find the REAL products that they need, free of charge.
    We are not talking about a box of tissues. We are talking about medic alert systems. This is the type of thing that can save their life, not fix a runny nose. We are talking about free blood glucose meters, free cell phones, free dental care, free hearing aids, free eyeglasses, free legal advice, free lift chairs, free wheelchairs and free prescription drugs for their ailments.
    This isn’t fabric softener. These are the things that they need to live.
    But we need your help. We need to know what we missed. What topics should be on this website that are not? What would you need to help your mother or father to sustain themselves and enrich their lives and keep them as a functioning member of society.
    This is why we are sending this out and we need your help. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
    Warm Regards,
    Mark Bowman

  5. Alice Byrne says:

    Of course, it’s not going to be fair if you look at the opportunities of each age group and compare them with each other. In life, we have to be focused on living with a purpose rather than looking at our differences. The reason why we have each other is to help fill the gaps that we have.

  6. Montanakay says:

    I think senior living has focused so hard on independence that it has forgotten that humans by their very naturehave beeninterdependent most of their lives. Youre right about us all having our own strengths/challenges/roles in a community.

  7. It is easy to see that you are impassioned about your writing. I wish I had got your ability to write. I look forward to more updates and will be returning.

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