When Did I Get Old?

I like to think of myself as being somewhat in step. I read blogs, magazines and newspapers, utilize technology, and try to dress in a way that reflects an awareness of fashion trends.  Most importantly, I see the value, and invest time in, learning from the youngins.  I fight to stay young in my heart and in my head, even though happy hour is now more apt to mean a nap. 

As a result, it came as a bit of a surprise this week to learn I’ve been date stamped.

During a workshop I was delivering, I used the term Pollyanna to describe a sense of possibilities, being optimistic, and seeing life as a glass of water half full. When a good half of the audience clearly didn’t understand the reference, I knew I had dated myself.  Most of them were simply too young to have seen the Walt Disney movie that starred Hayley Mills. It didn’t get any better when I asked them if they understood the reference. One young woman replied that she although hadn’t seen the movie, she was familiar with the term Pollyanna because it was one her mother and grandmother used.

So the question that whupped me upside the head was, “When did I get old?”

My guess is that I’m not the only baby boomer grappling with that question.  For sure it’s a question all boomers need to address on a personal level – and being a Pollyanna who sees the possibilities helps immensely. However, as the first wave of boomers turns 65 this year, it is also a key question that government, organizations, and businesses must address. 

The Canadian population is becoming significantly older, and the demographic and societal changes that result will affect how our communities look and function.  Not only are there more older people, they are living longer, and for the most part are more active and healthier than ever before.  I don’t think I’m the only boomer making regular visits to the gym and the natural food section of the grocery store. 

Ultimately we need to give this some thought.

Typically, when we think of an aging population we tend to think about those who have a reduced quality of life as the result of poor health, a lack of income, or other barriers.  But the truth is, the majority of boomers won’t need or want, a lot of services or supports. But, when they do, we need to ensure their varying needs will be recognized and supported.

For all older adults we want to encourage saving for retirement, ensure access to healthcare, encourage a focus on wellness, provide a range of housing options, and make accessible transportation available.  We must also make sure that information about these services is available because they will only be useful if people know about them.

However, we also need to shift into thinking about boomers as a too often untapped resource.

In order to benefit from their skills, wisdom, experience, and reliability we need to welcome older workers, and enable those who wish to work to do so. Increased workplace flexibility is something that would make it easier for people to make that choice.

We also need to direct energy and resources to increasing the opportunities for older people to remain engaged and integrated with others in their communities and to share their wealth of talent, knowledge, experience, and skills through volunteerism. This will require that we proactively promote, support, and invest in recruiting, placing, supporting, and motivating volunteers. 

We’ll also have to need to reshape our neighbourhoods to make it easier for older people to remain in their homes and thrive. Whereas in the past we have focused on designing neighbourhoods for young families, they really should be designed to accommodate people of all ages and abilities. Why can’t all neighbourhoods be easy to walk, with accessible stores, services, and recreation and cultural opportunities?  And, why shouldn’t a community park include walking paths, glider swings, and fitness stations for grown-ups?  Why can’t we build swimming pools that have a graded entry that allows one to wade in with dignity? Why couldn’t community centres play a key role in bringing people of all ages and cultural backgrounds together, providing a focus for interaction and community service delivery?

It’s somewhat ironic that even though much of the decision-making in today’s communities is being done by boomers, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of progress in addressing our own future. Perhaps that’s our Pollyannish thinking at play, or perhaps, we just see ourselves as being forever young.

Posted on 08-14-11


Great blog, Brenda!  I think that the Boomers have so much more to give to our communities as they retire and start looking for ways to stay engaged.  Plus, our communities are richer when they have more of a diverse mix of ages, cultures, and interests.  I can’t wait to see how this all plays out…

•Posted by Janet Naclia  on  08/16/11  at  12:01 PM

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