A December 1, 2008 online The Wall Street Journal article, “Retiree Havens Turn Younger to Combat the Housing Bust" reveals that retirement communities are feeling the pressure of the collapsing economy. To deal with vacancies and unsold homes, some communities, to the dismay of residents, are considering age desegregation - lowering the age of entry to 45 in order to attract new occupants. Resident displeasure is understandable because when you choose to move into a quiet structured community, you don't want families with kids or teenagers running around disturbing your lifestyle.
Having said that . . .
I have made no effort to hide my disdain for retirement communities. Created by entrepreneurial home builders, they are attractive artificial contrivances designed to appeal to the the desire of people who prefer peace, quiet and an upscale place to spend the end of life. Basically, they are a lure for old people to to play and decay. But that's okay. We still have the right to live how and where we choose and I am thankful for that.
Did I say they are places to decay? How can I say that! Retirement communities abound with things to do. Golf, basket weaving, hiking, swimming, bingo, dancing, scrap booking, biking. Even college courses for those who want to exercise what's left of their brains. You name it - most retirement communities have every activity you could possibly ask for. And perhaps even an unexpected “bonus. " For example, “The Villages" in Florida would have you believe it's Heaven on earth. What isn't mentioned in inviting TV ads is the existence of rampant *** transmitted diseases in the community. See “STDs Running Rampant In Retirement Community" To be fair, given what's happening in the culture as a whole, one can only say, “so what else is new. "
What is unfortunate is that so many people get sucked into the lifestyle without realizing what they are getting into, and it's easy to understand why people do it. When you've worked all your adult life and you are worn out at 65 or sooner, a socially sanctioned retirement community appeals to your leisure- loving human nature.
Right about now you are probably saying that only a cranky old grouch would say anything negative about retirement communities. Okay, I hear you - chastisement accepted. But it doesn't change my views about retirement communities and here is why:
I don't care who you are - nobody wants to get old and suffer premature decline. Anyone with a brain larger than a peach pit realizes you can't be young for ever, (nor would most people wish to be young forever) but you can be ageless. You can be strong, mentally and physically. You can be independent. You can be an asset to yourself and to others. You achieve that state of nirvana not by living a sheltered decline oriented lifestyle, but by staying in the real world, being productive, and dealing with all kinds of people with real world issues.
I have said it repeatedly: We learn from those we associate with most closely. We adopt each other's beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. When you surround yourself with and interact with people primarily your own age and retirement oriented circumstances, you all but negate your ability to grow.
Traditional retirement, (except in certain health related circumstances) is a crock. We are made for work, like it or not. I don't like the cliché “use it or lose it" but it's true. Humans do best when they are engaged in something that has value not just for themselves, but for others.
Before the creation of Social Security in the 1930s, people didn't retire. At that time, people didn't live much longer than age 65 so the establishment of a retirement age of 65 made a modicum of sense. But now, retirement at 65 makes no sense at all because the lifespan has increased by 30 years in the past century. Yet people still retire at age 65 and usually opt into the traditional, decline oriented senior lifestyle. And that often includes moving into a retirement community where youth is an illusion. You can do all the “youthful" activities you like, but when you do them with the same-age people all the time, personalities and preferences meld into the lowest common denominator.
I feel sorry for people who moved into a retirement community for peace, quiet and camaraderie of other old people, and are now facing the specter of young faces, activities and noises. It's too bad that financial realities are breaking down the age barrier to these communities. But I can't help but wonder: What 45 year old in his or her right mind would want to move into a retirement community? I imagine the incentive would have to be the financial deal of a lifetime, like getting a house for free. And maybe that is what it will come to. The way things are going now, the government will own everything and we'll each be given according to our needs. Now, where did I hear that idea before?
Barbara Morris, R. Ph. is a pharmacist, author of “Put Old on Hold" and a recognized authority on health and anti-aging strategies. Sign up for her monthly Put Old on Hold Newsletter at http://www.PutOldonHold.com and receive her complimentary ebook, “Dive Tested Tips for Fabulous Skin. " Her expertise is cited in Art Linkletter and Mark Victor Hansen's new book, “How to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life. "