Communities for Aging: Today's Challenges Helped by Choice
July 19, 2010

[Image: The New York Times]

Where will I live?
How will I get around if I can no longer walk or drive?
Will I be able to afford health care?
Can I hope for something more than whittling away my golden years in a nursing home?

Whether you face these questions around growing old for yourself, or indirectly through the concerns of your parents, grandparents or other senior relatives and friends, the issues around aging are tough.

And let's face it: no one likes to think about getting old.

The issues are not made any easier by the traditional paradigm of aging and senior housing and care in the U.S.—a narrow field of options defined on one end by living in your home and having frequent or live-in care and on the other, being confined to a different sort of "home" more reminiscent of a hospital than a supportive and stimulating environment in which to live out your golden years.

It's no surprise that many who are dealing with aging issues are anxious they'll be presented with an either/or option, neither of which is exactly right for their situation.

But thanks to the work of leaders in the field of aging, that paradigm is starting to shift, the field widening to include a more diverse array of options. I was glad to hear some of them discussed last week at a roundtable hosted by Kuth Ranieri Architects, in preparation for SPUR's upcoming "Cities for Aging" program series, which kicks off next Tuesday evening at the Urban Center.

These options fall loosely under the umbrella of "aging in place," which we framed in broader terms—as a way to foster more choice and independence—than the more common definition allows.

Joyce Polhamus, director of Smith Group's Senior Living Practice, touched on the importance of variety in designing, planning and building communities for seniors, a population of 60-85 year-olds that will comprise an estimated 20 percent of San Francisco's population by 2020 (a nearly 30 percent rise from 2004.)

Polhamus noted that some elders will want to remain fully independent, renting or owning homes in major cities where daily life can be carried out without a car. (Although, as reported by today's New York Times, there's a lot more we can do—lengthening crosswalk signals, for instance—to make cities more "age-friendly.") "¨"¨Others may find that prospect daunting, and opt instead to buy into a self-sustaining development in the suburbs, a city unto itself with a roster of amenities (think yoga classes, gardening clubs and nutrition workshops) and a supportive, community-oriented feel.

Nader Shabahangi of AgeSong, a developer of senior communities in San Francisco and the East Bay, believes we need to offer more diverse housing options (low-income rentals as well as high-end condos), and more innovative models for care (specialized transitional, emotional and behavioral therapy). And Byron Kuth wondered how senior communities of the future might be designed to support emerging principles of aging, health and community.

Kuth, Polhamus and Shabahangi are all panelists for Tuesday's program. They'll describe where and how we need to push the envelope when it comes to urban planning, architecture and policy. Here are some questions I hope will be addressed by Tuesday's panel:

How might we retrofit outdated nursing homes and build new communities to reflect this expanded paradigm?

In the realm of public policy, could (or should?) California go as far as Oregon did and create a State Unit on Aging to implement a statewide plan to support our rising population of seniors?

What options are out there for those who don't (or won't) have the luxury of good physical, mental and financial health?

What are the differences between assisted, independent and fully supportive living?"¨"¨

For Tuesday's program, we're lucky to have Kenny Caldwell of Caldwell Communications + Marketing on board as our able inquisitor and discussion facilitator.


A three-part program series "¨
July 27, August 4 & 5, 2010

Communities for Aging
Tuesday, July 27, 6 p.m."¨
Featuring Byron Kuth, Joyce Polhamus and Nader Shabahangi"¨
Moderated by Kenneth Caldwell "¨
Free for SPUR members; $5 for non-members "¨Reception to follow

Community programs for urban seniors
Wednesday, August 4, 12:30 p.m.
Featuring Seth Kilbourn of Openhouse, Steve Nakajo of Kimochi, Inc. and Christina Olague of the Senior Action Network"¨
Free for SPUR members; $5 for non-members"¨"¨

Institute on Aging campus tour
Thursday, August 5, 12:30 p.m."¨
With Don Lusty of BRIDGE Housing and Ken Donnelly of the Institute on Aging "¨
$10; SPUR members only;
Register here


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