[VIDEO] Elderly? Senior citizen? Modern elder? Some of my thoughts on terminology

What’s the proper way to refer to older people? If you are getting up there yourself, how do you like to be addressed?

Maybe you prefer just to be seen as a human being and not defined by your age. Or maybe you are proud of your age and prefer terminology that honors the experience and wisdom you have to offer.

In this video, I share some of my own personal views on the topic. Take a look.

I’m curious what you have to say about these particular terms, too. Please take a moment to share which of these you particularly like or hate in the poll below.

Which term are you the most comfortable with?

If you answered “None of the above,” feel free to add what terminology you do prefer in the comment section at the bottom of this post.

Of course, we’re not the only ones with some strong feelings on terminology. The excerpt below from Beth Baker’s excellent book on aging in community,  With a Little Help from Our Friends, has some further examples.

“In a New York Times “New Old Age” blog, experts were asked what to call this demographic group now that baby boomers are among its younger members. There was little agreement–seniors, elders, the elderly–none seemed quite right. Even the word “aging” itself is so associated with decline that many reject it. (Teddi, seventy-six and a resident of the Burbank Senior Artists Colony, told me she preferred the term “recycled teen.”)

“The culture’s problem is that we split aging into good and bad,” Thomas Cole, director of the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, explains, “We’re unable to sustain images of growing older that handle the tension between spiritual growth, the good, and physical decline, the bad. In the Hebrew Bible, aging is both a blessing and a curse. But our culture can’t achieve this kind of synthesis.”

A senior cohousing community in Santa Fe even decided to change its name from ElderGrace to Sand River because of the connotation. “The main reason is, we have some men in our community who didn’t want to tell anybody where they lived – they felt it created an image of gray-haired people walking around with walkers,” explained Marty, a resident there. “People asked if it was assisted living. I actually had someone I ran into who came to dinner and she asked if we’d sold the last two units in ‘ElderCare.’ That convinced me.”

In a 2013 piece on NPR headlined “For Elder Midwife, Delivering Babies Never Gets Old,” about a 71-year old practitioner, a huge out-cry erupted over the label “elderly,” including a complaint from the midwife. (As an example of how language evolves, one commenter on a Washington Post blog reminded readers that humorist Stan Freeburg in 1957 rewrote the lyrics to a classic show tune, singing “Elderly Man River,” since the word “old” had been censored.) In fact, journalists are now advised to avoid any descriptor such as “elderly” for fear of offending someone. “Use this word carefully and sparingly,” according to the Associated Press Stylebook.

What are your thoughts on the appropriately terms to use for folks as they age? Feel free to join the conversation in the comments below or in our thread of the Women Living in Community Facebook page.

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2019 Aging in Community Update: 

Three Themes You Need to Know About

In 2019, today’s elders are taking ownership of aging in community like never before. As I’ve been tracking the developments, some major themes have started standing out, and I’d like to take this opportunity to share them with you now. 

When I look at the movement today, I’m equally excited by how far we’ve come in some areas and daunted by how far we still have to go in others.

Recent trends in aging in community show a generation that is revolutionizing how people we will live in our homes and stay connected with the community as we age. I outline what I view as some of the biggest successes and challenges of our movement below.

Together, we stand poised to change the face of aging in our society. But we’ll only get there if we show up and do what it takes. 

I’ve been hard at work for the last several months working on my own foundation for aging in community. I urge you to do the same.

Theme #1: Aging in Community Approaches Critical Mass

When I first started writing, speaking, and organizing about this topic more than ten years ago, there weren’t that many people who were talking about aging in community. There were just a handful of leaders out there with a limited audience of people who were taking the topic seriously. 

And it was a little frustrating sometimes talking over and over with people who seemed to be waiting for someone else to build their ideal community for them and just tell them about. And that’s NOT how it works.

But I don’t feel like I’m a lone voice in the night anymore. Today, it feels like we are turning a corner with enough of us waking up. More people than ever are taking ownership of how and where they are going to age and who they are going to do it with. There is a momentum caused by enough people getting involved and becoming for the change they want to see in the world that the Aging in Community movement is making real progress. 

Charles Durrett leading a cohousing workshop

I see this in news sources I watch where there are headlines about new communities, housing alternatives, related housing initiatives, and resources in the news everyday. 

I see it in changes in legislation like the Golden Girls Act up in Canada. 

I see this in educational programs and workshops that are taking place this year like Charles Durrett’s workshop at the 2019 National Cohousing Conference. I have a presentation coming up myself introducing alternative housing choices to a new group near Asheville, NC locally at a retreat in October 2019 called 50Forward.  

I also see this in the thriving online communities that are really growing and buzzing with activity, particularly on Facebook. Some are general interest groups about housing alternatives for older folks like Sixty and Me. Others serve the needs of specific groups, such as Elder OrphansWomen Living in Community, and Decolonizing the Crone

And it’s all happening because enough people are showing up and making it happen. 

Theme #2: Boomers are Leading the Residential Revolution in Community Building, Especially Cohousing

Interest in community living has also really picked up steam for people of all ages have gotten tired of living in an isolated world and refuse to do it anymore. But its older people who are leading the charge in most cases, cohousing in particular. 

More than 160 cohousing communities have been formed in the United States since it was introduced to the country in the 1980’s. At least 125 additional cohousing communities are being developed right now. 

And, if you visit most of them, you’ll find that the founders and most of the people living there tend to be  boomers who have chosen to age in community and made it happen. 

If you would like to dig deeper on this trend, I have some further resources below:

Theme #3: Unprecedented Pace in Creating More Alternative Structures & Repurpose Existing Structures 

It doesn’t seem like a month has gone by that I haven’t heard of some exciting new developments in alternative housing design. And most of these structures are designed for boomers who have realized that they are the first generation to be able to choose what types of structures they are going to age in a way that no generation before could have dreamed was possible. 

Here are a couple of examples of alternative structures that can easily be incorporated into aging in community.

Minka Homes

The latest creation of Dr. Bill Thomas, Minka believe it’s time for a new housing story. Minka designs, pre-fabricates and delivers sensibly-sized kit homes that can either stand alone, act as accessory dwelling units or be combined to develop pocket neighborhoods.

She Sheds

A small building separate from the main home, reserved specifically for the use of an adult woman, in which she can relax and pursue her interests. While they were designed to be the female equivalent of an outdoor man cave, they can also provide community designers with interesting options for pocket neighborhoods.

Repurposing Existing Properties for Seniors in 2019

At the same time, there is a growing interest in finding innovative new ways of repurposing structures that we already have. And seniors sharing homes has been on the rise for a while now.

Several years ago, I lived in a community for seniors on this model in which I lived with a handful of other great women (click here for a video all about it). Together, we lived in a house that was originally designed for an average family that we repurposed for aging in community as women living together in an intentional environment.

Here are three examples of similar projects that are getting off the ground in 2019.

  • The Oak Hill coliving home is an example of something similar that formed in 2019 thanks to Canada’s Golden Girl Act. 
  • Hibiscus Commons is a new senior cooperative housing project that is part of the Bay Area Community Land Trust that has a focus on exploring affordable options. They are doing so by finding ways to repurpose unused or underutilized properties. 
  • Village Hearth is an LGBT-focused, ages 55+, community in Durham, NC, with 15 acres of wooded land just 20 minutes from downtown. 

These are just a few examples of the types of projects that have gotten established recently. There are many more.

My recent experience with some of the above:

Until early 2019, I was developing a pocket neighborhood that was designed to incorporate both repurposing an existing home and building new modular structures for aging in community. 

This included using a mid-century ranch house that would have functioned as a community center and coliving opportunity for a few people, plus a series of six to twelve modular homes for people desiring shared space.

You can learn more about this project in my own 2019 personal update

Moving forward and what’s to come

The Grand Nudge wants you to take ownership of whether and how you age in community.

While there’s a lot to be excited about in the world of aging in community, it’s important to understand that your ideal community isn’t just going to land on your doorstep in 2019 or any time soon. As some of you know, that’s a message that The Grand Nudge believes in very strongly.

It’s up to you to take ownership of how you age and be the captain of your own quest for home. If you are new to the topic or could use some tools in exploring this journey, I encourage you to explore my book, My Quest for Home.

And there’s also a lot that still needs to happen moving forward within the Aging in Community movement, particularly in the areas of affordable housing, getting local governments on board, and creating good matching services for senior housing. 

I hope that you found this update on themes I’m seeing in the Aging in Community helpful. 

If you’re not already signed up, be sure to subscribe for updates from the Women Living in Community Network now. That’s the easiest way to know when a new post has been published. 

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[VIDEO] Marianne & Friends in “When I’m 65” Recording – Aging in Community

I want to share a video that I did with my friends a while back.

I’m passing this along because I think it encapsulates something important that I want you to really see.

Aging in community is beautiful and real, and it’s something that you can really do

Yes, it takes some planning, discernment, and guts. It requires investing some time, money, and hard work.

But when it all comes together, the rewards are worth it.

This is how we as women were meant to live. Together in community, supporting one another as we age in a nourishing and heart-centered environment.

It’s something that you can do to0. And you might be closer to making it a reality than you think

Maybe you already have a group of friends who would be perfect for this sort of thing if you could find the right spot. Or maybe you already have access to a house, condo, or complex and just need to find your tribe.

Speaking as The Grand Nudge for a moment, you’ve got take ownership of where you are going to end up as you age. You can’t keep waiting for someone to build your community for you and track you down to tell you about it.

If you’re ready to get started with or reassess your aging in community journey, I’ve got some questions for you.

These questions form the basis of my Guidebook, “Your Quest for Home”, and help you define how you wish to live in your later years.

I’ve created a free download of these questions that I encourage you to download. If you haven’t already joined the Women Living in Community network, sign up now and I’ll send it right over.

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If you are already a subscriber, you can access the questions from my book here.

An Update from Marianne

It’s been a while since I have posted here on Women Living in Community.

That’s because I’ve been actively engaged in some community building projects that are close to my part. I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I want to take a moment to get you up to speed and share some of my journey with you.

In the past couple of years, I’ve watched as the topic of aging in community has a central narrative in the media as the Boomers grapple with how they want to spend their later years.

Having been a pioneer in this area for over a decade, I’ve appeared in some of the news coverage and had an opportunity to share my perspective. I’ve also had a chance to track the course of some exciting developments that community developers, architects, and designers are creating to solve the problems posed by multi-generational housing.

Along the way, I’ve been hard at work on some projects of my own, which is what I’d like to update you on today. These projects include developing an intentional neighborhood here in Asheville, participating in the Residential Living Academy (RAL), and building a tribe of my own.

So where have I been?

Developing an Intentional Neighborhood in Asheville, NC

At one point, I thought I wanted to be a developer.

I bought a house with an adjacent property and spent years struggling, like Sisyphus, uphill.

I tried everything I could think of, and, while I had a lot of potential interest, no one could help me start the process. I simply couldn’t do it alone.

There was so much to work out. Ranging from infrastructure and zoning to housing design to homeowners agreements, I needed the right people to show up in order for it to come together.

I worked endlessly with the developer, builders, various experts, and officials. I worked closely with several people who were very interested in living here. But the people I needed didn’t show no matter how hard I tried.

And so, one year ago, I sold my property to a developer. The hope was to build several modular homes in the site and expand into a final vision for a pocket neighborhood.

Today, the property is still undeveloped. The project of developing the property may continue, but that is no longer in my hands and unlikely to have community baked into its design.

That’s because it became clear that pocket neighborhood I had envisioned was not meant to be. I realized that I had to let go, and I didn’t have to do it alone.

I held a letting go ceremony with the help of some close friends who had joined or supported me on my journey. This process included the burning of some documents connected with my vision and kind words from friends who had been involved in the project.

Over the next few months, I spent some time in the morning looking out my kitchen window at the larger property, working on letting go. Noticing the wind, rain, snow, and sunshine come and go over those mornings, and something in me eventually shifted.

I was ready to truly let go and had made room in my heart for what comes next. The final step in the process was to build a small fire in the same ashes as the fire of the original ceremony with some time quiet reflection. I was pretty much ready to move on.  

What I learned along the way, yet again, is that I really am a visionary. And being a visionary is great, but sometimes it is just not enough. That’s a valuable lesson and something I’m actively working on applying in my life.

Things change, and that’s okay.

So, I came within fifteen feet of my dream, literally. There are some steps just outside my driveway that lead down to an open lot where the community would have been.

While it’s true that I don’t have the type of community that I had envisioned, I wound up developing deep ties with my neighbors during the process. In fact, I ended up with a pretty awesome intentional neighborhood of my own along the way that I’m grateful to call home.

After I sold the land, I put my intention out to the universe. Living in a community of like-minded people was still what I wanted. Since that time, all of the homes around me have become an organically grown community.

Our intentional neighborhood as it stands today was born out of proximity. We’re all walking distance within one another and through fostering relationships we’ve come together over shared meals, a community garden, and more. The neighborhood is made up of renters, homeowners, and housemates of diverse ages and backgrounds.

A big test of our community came when a guest in my own home needed emergency services. When they saw the red flashing lights outside my house, one neighbor called to make sure I was okay. Although the emergency personnel had the situation under control, it sure felt good to know at that moment that someone in our little place was looking out for me and had my back.

We’re there for one another in good and bad times. We’re one phone call away if there’s an emergency or a celebration.

I’m also renovating the brick ranch house that was going to serve as the community house of my pocket neighborhood, and it came out fantastic. I’ve always thought that this house could serve as a great model for shared senior living, a la Golden Girls. And I’m more excited now than ever about its potential.

It’s got a completely new kitchen that can serve as the heart of the home, remodeled bathrooms, improved storage facilities, and more. I look forward to possibly opening this property up for community living again sometime in 2020.

During my sabbatical, here’s what else I got up to!

Tribe Training

In 2017, I wrote about Tribe Training, and I am pleased to say this experience has been transformative. There are 6 people in our group all local to the Asheville area.

What I didn’t realize before this experience was that a group of people who don’t live together can forge even deeper connections than the typical intentional community. We rely on each other, we have each other’s backs, and we’re all interested in building community.

I love the structure, the commitment, and ritual of our dedicated time together. They have become my chosen family and we have learned to grow and age together in a way that’s different than other relationships.

Residential Living Academy

I also attended the Residential Assisted Living Academy in Phoenix Arizona in May of 2018. Started by Gene Guarino, it’s a method of designing residential communities to incorporate an assisted living home within neighborhoods rather than the prisons we’ve designed as the medical model or Continuing Care Residential Communities (CCRC) facilities.

His model targets real estate and business partners for what he calls “doing well and doing good.” Once in place, his concepts can immediately benefit elders living within neighborhood environments. Through my training there, I realized the impact that one person could have in the training of others to embrace this new idea.

I also learned more about why there is so much interest and investment going into viable models for senior housing. As Boomers continue to age, more and more of us are insisting on alternatives to the options that our parents may have had. We want to stay connected as we age, and we want to stay in our homes as long as we age.

And that leads to major investment opportunities for real estate investors and developers who are can stay ahead of the curve. Having learned what I have by going through RAL, I’ve got a better toolbox than ever for aligning my mission with investors and realtors.

Media Exposure and Public Appearances

I’ve also participated in several interviews and feature articles on a variety of media sources, like Parade Magazine and the Washington Post.

Sometimes it’s difficult to see yourself through someone else’s eyes, but both of these articles made me recognize that I was a leader and a pioneer in this movement and I am excited that others are seeing what the future could be.

I’ve been featured quite a bit over the years in the news, television, and radio. That’s because I think that it’s important that we keep having crucial conversations about we live and age together, both with one another and in the public sphere. Moving forward, I’m looking forward to being out there more in the media and continuing to push for the solutions I believe in for living in community.

Upcoming Speaking Engagement

What happens next that I’m excited about? I’ll be speaking at the Living Well annual retreat in Asheville this October. The event promotes the creation of community for a happier and healthier lifestyle.

Where do I go from here? Join me and find out with me!

I did take some time away on what I referred to as a sabbatical from Women Living in Community itself.

And I know the journey is never complete. I have long talked about the mission of living in community and what that looks like. It takes a lot of forms, from my shared home that was featured on NBC to an intentional neighborhood like my own.

It’s not at all the end of my story. It’s not even the beginning. It’s part of an ever-evolving journey that will take me any number of places. When people ask me “What’s next?” I’ve had to get used to saying, “I don’t know.” I don’t like the answer, but I’m comfortable with what it means for now.

It’s time for me to take something I love, Women for Living in Community, and broaden it to encompass the entire Boomer cohort looking for a new way to pave the road ahead. This isn’t just for women, it’s for everyone.

Women for Living in Community can and will take many forms. I’m here to help others on their own paths as they age in place and in community.

It’s time to let Marianne out of the box. There is a lot we can do around alternative housing choices and to engage with that is the next phase of me.

Until next time, it’s a movement!

So stay connected by signing up below.

I’ll be sharing more of my journey, community building resources, and updates on the Aging in Community movement!




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