Libby Ellis

Although it was not posted that long ago today’s best of 2015 posts from our Aging Audaciously series is most definitely worth re-running.

The last disruption to how we might want to spend our retirement years was a pop culture revolution led by four women: Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia. The Golden Girls changed the conversation back in the 1980s by showing women choosing to team up and live life together.

One recurring theme of the show: Dorothy’s mom Sophia gets mouthy and Dorothy says, “Shady Pines, Ma.” Shady Pines is, of course, an assisted living facility.

Moving to a senior living community was, and remains for many, the threat to end all threats. But our shoulder pads have gotten smaller, our hair has gotten better and it’s time to pick up where the Girls left off and talk about what senior living is today.

While options have improved dramatically since the 80s, public perception has not. Envisioning hospital-like environments full of abandoned old women eating soup—74% of all assisted living residents in the U.S. are women (I don’t have data related to soup consumption)—we think: Hell no. We want to stay home.

WindsorHappyHour

Real residents enjoying wine at happy hour at Windsor, a be.group senior living community in Glendale, CA.

Aging in place is a phrase that has caught on over the years and, in one survey, 72% of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers said they want to age at home.

I call bullshit on that being a good idea.

Sure, you can retrofit your house for accessibility. You can use technology for everything for getting medication reminders to connecting with family on video chats—and those advancements are fantastic and important. They can keep you in your home longer. For some, with an active social network, ability to afford and use technology and access to public transportation (if they no longer drive), that could be ideal.

But, many of the more than 11.3 million older adults living alone in the U.S. are isolated, facing an increased risk of elder abuse, health decline, cognitive decline and depression. The outlook is worse for LGBT seniors.

Technology is not a stand-in for what happens when we stay engaged in life, feel a sense of purpose and commit to making the second half of life as important as the first.

I believe embracing community living makes that possible—I believe that because I have seen it firsthand.

My passion for senior living is both personal and professional. Conceptually, I embraced what I called, “the old people dorm plan” as a teenager. I saw my grandmother live (and die) in a rather dismal assisted living facility. And today, I work creating content for really cool senior living communities.

Because I get to listen to their stories, I have seen how moving to a community transforms lives. Usually, the stories they tell me are not about WW2. They aren’t about the good old days. Or ailments. They are telling me what they love about life today. Introducing me to the families they have created in their communities. Gushing about all they are learning.

They aren’t looking back, but forward. That’s huge. I firmly believe that would be impossible without the community surrounding them.

Shady Pines-like facilities still exist. And for many, those are the only communities within financial reach. But Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are going to change everything about how and where we age.

We have already started, and while we’re making big advancements in technology for the aging population, that’s only part of the solution. It’s time to take the next step and create desirable, affordable senior living communities that people want to live in.

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Libby Ellis is a Chicago-based writer and Disruptive Women in Health Ambassador focused on aging well. She gets “Blanche” every time she takes the “Which Golden Girl Are You?” quiz, and feels just great about it.

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