I can’t believe I am having conversations with friends now about “Aging in Place.” 34 years ago this weekend, I packed my Subaru XT Coupe, popped in my favorite “Bob Marley” cassette tape, and moved to Kansas City to start the next chapter of my life. I started graduate school and earned a certificate in gerontology studies….an abstract concept I never expected to really experience personally (at least so soon). I would sit in mind-numbingly boring gerontology classes learning about the “Plaza Relocation Project” and Medicare, only halfway connecting with the stories I heard about the negative impacts on aging Kansas Citians when the Country Club Plaza began transforming from an aging-friendly urban oasis to a collection of upscale boutiques and restaurants to attract tourists. There used to be a substantial drug store and grocery store on the Plaza, conveniences enabling residents to comfortably transition into their later years at home instead of “care facilities.”
Beginning in the early 1980’s, long-time aging residents of high rise apartments were swiftly upended as part of a larger “plan” to make the Plaza less residential and more commercial. As a graduate student, I lived in one of the last remaining high rises near the Plaza in the sweetest studio apartment (forever my favorite) among aging residents. It had a restaurant and nail salon and was a community of people on the brink of extinction. A few years after I moved out, The University of Missouri tore it down (Twin Oaks Apartments, then dubbed “Twin Croaks” by the UMKC students because of the frequent EMS visits) to build student housing. I used to ride the elevator with visiting actors with the Missouri Repertory Theater and was often greeted by a Humpty Dumpty character getting off my 11th floor telling me, “I’d like to ride in your car!” It was a colorful life but not sustainable according to the local community planners.
Today, I think about aging in place every day. In fact, my husband and I recently tried to watch the film, “I Really Care” (Rosamund Pike portrays a corrupt legal guardian who deftly divests competent and financially stable Dianne Wiest of her decision-making rights and locks her “in a home”), and quickly turned it off in disgust and horror. That’s less than a decade away for us! Could it be us? Surely not. We have friends making decisions all across the board about retirement: one couple recently decided the Midwest wasn’t for them and moved to Florida to become boat repairmen in a coastal town. Another friend dropped her second child off at college and began her dream nomadic lifestyle of full-time travel writing and speaking. She meets up with her adult sons a few times a year at Airbnbs. In shock, I asked her, “But WHO will get the same china and tree out for Christmas each year?”. She laughed at my absurd question because she had been planning for this transition and shedding possessions that weighed her down for many years.
I know where I fall on this very important question: I am staying right where I am as long as I can and giving back to the community that has given my family so much. I will be open to new friendships with people of all ages. I will volunteer for organizations like CASA and Big Brothers Big Sisters. And I will continue the work I recently began at an outpatient medical rehab for people with disabilities for as long as I physically can. Eventually, I hope to write and publish a memoir. My husband wants to get a lab puppy and “tinker” around the house. We both want to learn Spanish. He has a huge treasure trove of family photos he plans to cull, organize, restore and possibly publish. We won’t be bored. Hopefully we will have grandchildren and we will walk with them to the creek in our neighborhood and get ice cream in a neighborhood creamery.
Imagine my delight yesterday when one of my close girlfriends who has always planned to retire with her husband on the West Coast confided, “We are going to age in place.” Immediately, I imagined us as old women visiting the Nelson Atkins Museum and dining at Rozzelle Court together. Or riding the train at the Kansas City Zoo with our grandchildren. A fellow “ager in placer ” has emerged and I am overjoyed!
At our age, my husband and I are starting to watch people shed their professional lives and chase their dreams, sometimes taking them far away. I can’t imagine living anywhere else but the Midwest. We once owned 34 acres but did not have much time to enjoy it. There may be a future acre or two with a pond and an old farmhouse also, who knows. My friend’s announcement over lunch yesterday gave me hope and inspiration for the not too distant future we have waiting. According to “Blue Zones,” a longevity research project, people who live longest move naturally (e.g., walking outdoors, gardening) and have strong social/community ties. They also eat a plant-based diet fortified with lots of legumes and nuts. I look at it this way: if I have to move my body and eat healthy foods, I’d rather do it in Kansas City with the people I love most. Happy Aging in Place!