Choice key to aging well


I am an 18-year-old rising sophomore at the University of Chicago, and this is the first in my summer series of columns on aging and retirement in Hyde Park. This summer, I am working for two organizations devoted to seniors, as well as continuing my work writing at the Hyde Park Herald. My summer hosts are the Chicago Hyde Park Village, a local group looking for ways to help people age in their own homes, and Montgomery Place, a continuing care retirement community (that is, a retirement living program which gives apartments to both independent seniors and those in need of a high level of service and care). This series will cover a variety of aging issues from living in your own home to better understanding the myriad of support services offered within Hyde Park to programs and amenities available at a full-service retirement community.

As a former communications intern for the Executive Office of Elder Affairs in Massachusetts and the one-time head of some high school elder-service clubs, it’s likely I’m not the 18-year-old least qualified to write this column. Still, how could I, a self-centered teen who thinks AOL e-mail addresses are “retro,” understand aging?
In every elder-affairs internship I’ve ever taken on (I consider myself a connoisseur), the first and longest task has been proving to my employers that I’m worth taking seriously. It’s not a resume that does it, though, because there isn’t even a degree on mine. It’s the relationships I have with seniors. My free time in high school was split between a housing authority property for elders and the local senior center — I’ve heard a hundred stories and eaten at even more potlucks. I haven’t spent years training as a social worker or learning elder law, but my outlook is informed by the deep relationships I have with grandparents and other seniors from my home town to Hyde Park.

Questions about how seniors can age well are sometimes polemical and emotionally charged, claiming that institutional living is hellish or that seniors should be scared of living at home. The fact is that living in a nursing home or assisted-living program and aging in place can be two paths with precisely the same destination: aging actively. A facility like Montgomery Place provides programs and structures that help seniors stay active in their community, just as the Hyde Park Village helps seniors find vetted service providers who will help them maintain a quality of life from home. Finding balance between independence in the community and getting necessary service is a goal for most seniors as they age. Doing it successfully requires considering which option works best for you at what point in life. That is what this series will be about.

Aging is all about change, but two things ought to be constant: feeling valued and important in the place you call home, and living with a dignified and rich quality of life. Those are two places where there simply can’t be any compromises. This column will be about getting older in Hyde Park without giving either up.

If you have questions or comment related to aging and life as a senior or this column, call Andrew’s Senior Scene Hotline at 508-397-0321.