The Age-In: A Flashback in Learning About Aging

Published In Aging in a Home Environment

The Age-In. It was something of a flashback—modeled after the Teach-Ins of the 1960s, which were characterized by peer-to-peer talking and listening sessions rather than the more formalized “I’m-gonna-lecture-and-you’re-gonna-listen” teacher/student set-up.

The recent event commemorated the 10-year anniversary of At Home With Growing Older, a group with a diverse membership of architects, advocates, social policy workers and others who work to promote a “radical acceptance of aging.”

“We started this organization a decade ago with the goal that we can change things from healthcare to housing for older people,” said founder Susi Stadler in kicking off the Age-In. “And in the process, we can teach one another and learn from each other.”

As an architecture student decades ago, Stadler rented a downstairs in-law apartment from a feisty older woman, an activist she came to admire greatly—and from whom she learned some important lessons about aging at home. She knew, for example, that the woman greatly valued the view of the mountain she could see out her window.

“Her son moved her to assisted living—and she lost all of who she was,” Stadler says. “I was frustrated and appalled.”

She also became inspired to help others avoid that type of loss, as their friendship planted the seeds for Stadler’s Master of Architecture thesis, presciently titled “At Home With Growing Old.”

Setting the Tone

True to the ‘60s vibe, the Age-In began with music: a performance by vocalist Ed Reed, who made his recording debut in 2007 at age 78 and was voted #1 Rising Star of Male Vocalists by the music industry’s DownBeat Magazine seven years later.  Reed’s life history, colored by stints in and out of prison and drug rehab, prepared him well for the blues genre he embraces. But it did little to help him get over the shock for turning 90, which he did just a couple months ago. “It freaked me out,” Reed says. “But I’m still learning now—and what I’m learning is that it’s much easier to want what you get than to get what you want.”

Nourished by Reed’s wisdom and fueled by strong coffee and tea, Age-In participants were next freed to join one of three Learning Circles. One was Social Justice, which focused on the terms presented in a newly-published book: Aging A-Z, which traces the social histories of topics related to aging. Another Learning Circle, titled Digital World, explored digital literacy and the need to flexible integrate technology into life. The third focused on Design—rethinking ways to restructure home and environment to adapt to the changing needs that aging brings with it.

Each of the Learning Circles began with a presentation by a small panel of speakers, after which participants were divided into small groups of four or five to discuss an assigned related topic; a notetaker later shared the highlights of the group’s musings with the whole room.

Working Through Lunch

Then it was time for lunch. But there was no rest for the Age-In agitators, all of whom were asked to sit at one of the tables set with plates of food to pass, family-style, and to take part in one of 10 meaty conversation topics, with discussions facilitated by an expert in the know.

Table topics included:

  • Aging and Automation—Blessing, Curse, or . . . ?
  • The Future of Housing—How Much Are We Willing to Share?
  • Keeping the Mind Resilient: How Do You Do That?
  • I’m Not Ready Yet—Practical Tips for Aging at Home
  • Wise Wild Women: Balancing Self-Care With New Vision
  • Transportation: Exploring How to Stay Connected When No Longer Driving a Personal Vehicle
  • Networking Innovators in Aging: Creative Ways to Cultivate Delight in Later Life
  • Intergeneration Relationships: Playing All Angles of Intergenerational Dynamics
  • Being Defined or Defining Ourselves: How We Are and Want To Be Seen, and
  • The Big Move—Exploring the Challenges of Creating a New, Smaller Home.

By all reports, the discussions were rich and varied—informed by the varying backgrounds, ages, and life experiences of the diverse groups of people attending.  The Big Move group, for example, was facilitated by a licensed social worker whose work focuses on “care consultations” for seniors. She focused the discussion on the whys, whens, hows, and wheres of making a move after mid-life. Those seated around the table included a 40 woman in her 40s just establishing her first home; another woman contemplating a move to a new city after 31 years in one place; a semi-retired psychologist who recently downsized from a large home to a small apartment within a housing complex; a senior move manager who specialized in helping people downsize and declutter their possessions; and an 80-something resident who had just had a chairlift installed in her longtime residence in the hopes of remaining there.

Again, peers learned more from peers as the talk around each table was summarized for all participants in the room.

Survey Says . . .

A total of 79 people attended At Home With Growing Older’s Age-In—a far cry from 10—the number who came to the group’s first forum held in 2009.

A brief survey revealed that:

  • 80% of participants were women
  • 49% were over 65 years old, and
  • 10% were under 40.

Their main motivations for attending were to:

  • learn more about this phase of life (51%), and
  • connect with others for professional (29%) or for social reasons (20%).

Just over a third—35% said they intend to stay in their own homes as they grow older.

And by most lights, the event accomplished what organizers hoped it would: Most participants agreed that by the Age-In’s end, they felt more resilient in navigating the opportunities and challenges of aging.

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