New York City
I was just 19 years old when I was told to leave home. It was unplanned and painful.
I was a “young” 19 year old. I was not wise to the world.
I stayed with my best friend’s family for a while until her mother organised a safe place for me to stay.
This was my first experience of living in community with people to whom I was not related.
I was lucky.
This community enhanced my growth and fulfillment. I had to learn and abide by the community expectations. I had fun with less financial struggle than what could have been. I had less status and stuff but I was happy and I was safe.
Research published in a recent Wall Street article describes loneliness as closely linked to mortality as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day or consuming more than 6 alcoholic drinks a day. Loneliness impacts longevity greater than obesity or physical inactivity.
This article is worth a read. You can find it here: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-loneliest-generation-americans-more-than-ever-are-aging-alone-11544541134
LONELINESS AND AGEING
My grandfather refused to move into aged care. He was passionate about that.
Pop talked about renting out a room in his home so that he had some help and some company. He saw that this model of living would support him as he aged but also support other people who did not want to be alone.
It was an interesting idea. The trick would be to make sure you had the right mix of people and have clear guidelines and processes about expectations and how to resolve issues. This is not an impossible task.
My AGED CARE EXPERIENCE
I was just 21 years when I completed my University education and became a Registered Nurse. I had accepted a post-graduate position in Central Australia but worked casually around Sydney until the position started in the January (Too many years ago!).
One of the most challenging responsibilities was as the senior staff member in an aged care home. This was pre-accreditation days and it was horrific for a young casual nurse who was in charge a large number of staff and clients. Our Aged Care system has made significant improvements since those days. It had to.
I have now worked in the aged care setting across Australia and in the UK. I have been involved with education and leadership in care. I have completed a master’s degree in Education with the research component examining adult learning, aged care educators and the aged care sector.
I am not sure we have the system right.
Loneliness still occurs in Aged Care Facilities.
CO-HOUSING in the USA
On our recent visit to the USA my Project Manager and myself stayed in co-housing apartments where shared common spaces with long term and short term tenants. It was an interesting mix of people and of places.
Some places had private kitchen and bathroom facilities – and some did not!
It was a little uncomfortable at times but we relaxed into it.
We met so many people who were living, working or travelling. We learnt so much from these people. We laughed so much with these other people.
We were different. There were no other middle aged (I want to write ageless goddess but I am not sure you would understand that!) Australian white women in our accommodation. We made friends with people in the halls, the laundry, the bathrooms.
The permanent residents seemed to enjoy the new faces. They were open and welcoming to us as we explored their hometown. Most of the people we encountered who lived permanently were older, and some were disabled.
It was not comfortable all the time. The accommodation in San Francisco left us feeling a little on edge when other tenants came down to look in our apartment when we left the door open. Yes, I know – lesson learnt!
We travelled to Rochester to meet with a member of the Co-housing team there. This team had spent seven years planning their community but has not pursued it. There had been a number of factors that had prevented this site from being created.
The lesson here is that it doesn’t always work. It is not an easy option.
The most reliable wealth is found in relationship. (Courtney E. Martin)
Courtney Martin is an American journalist. In her book The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream (2016 – Seal Press)Courtney talks about how people are redefining the American Dream. This concept is not just American. It is happening all over the world.
Courtney talks about the new, redefined dream as having more fulfillment, community and fun with less debt, status and stuff. She talks of her experiences of living in a cohousing community.
She has given a TED talk which I highly recommend. It is entitled “The New American Dream”.
WE HAVE CHANGED
Co-housing is an opportunity to define a new approach to work and family that emphasizes community and creativity. As Courtney Martin says "The biggest danger is not failing to achieve the American (or Australian) Dream - …. (It) is achieving a dream that you don't actually believe in."