Getting old the new way

As we try to get our hands around the question of aging in Todd County — how loud is the aging shoe going to be, as Tim King wondered skeptically on a post here last Friday — I met Monday with a couple people who suggested there’s something new about getting old.

We’re increasingly seeing an informal network of support replace or supplement the traditional arrow of institutionalized help for the elderly — Medicare or Medicaid, assisted living, congregate dining, nursing home beds, hospitalization. Churches and family play big roles in supporting older people, but so can new networks of neighbors and friends, communal living arrangements, intergenerational living arrangements, cooperative shopping and transportation setups among neighbors. Neighborhoods once filled with kids now house a bunch of elderly folks who will gradually form their own “naturally occurring retirement communities” with their own services for each other.

So said Diane Sprague, director of a private consultant company called Lifetime Home Project, and Katy Boone, public health planner for Carver County. They stopped by at my invitation to give me a little primer on where things are headed.

“We can’t predict where this is going to develop,” Boone said.

These informal networks might not be the ultimate answer for a widower on a Todd County farm who is suffering from depression. But given the sense of community evident, for example, around the breakfast table in the Village Cafe in Grey Eagle last Thursday, maybe it does muffle the sound of that shoe dropping just a bit.

The big driver? Naturally, Baby Boomers, people more likely to take matters into their own hands and create solutions for their problems as they get old, Sprague and Boone said.

Have you see examples of this informal support network emerging in Todd County or elsewhere? I’d love to hear about it. Comment here.

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