"It takes a village" isn't just an African proverb, expression or book about raising children. Rather, it's a philosophy that children need...
“It takes a village” isn’t just an African proverb, expression or book about raising children.
Rather, it’s a philosophy that children need parents and other adults — teachers, grandparents, friends’ parents, neighbors — to know, guide and care about them. The same is true at the other end of life. Older people survive better, even thrive, when people of all ages — adult children, grandchildren, neighbors, store clerks and their contemporaries — know, guide and care about them.
Unfortunately, this interconnection is becoming increasingly rare for all of us in our jam-packed, time-deprived, gadget-filled lives. More Americans are more alone and lonely than ever. We value independence, but it comes at a price we didn’t anticipate: alienation and loss of community.
Capturing this modern angst, Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam wrote in his book, “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” (Simon & Schuster), that we Americans now sign fewer petitions than in the past, belong to fewer organizations, know our neighbors less, meet less often with friends and families, and bowl more than ever — but alone, not in leagues.
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Echoing this notion is mounting research showing that suburbia, where most older adults live today, is where interconnections are most broken, which affects older people especially hard. Unlike the small towns and urban core neighborhoods of a century ago, suburbia lacks social and economic cores, the “juice” of community. We once thought this made “the good life.”
Suburban zoning keeps services such as grocery stores and doctors’ offices far from homes. Lacking public transportation, we’re forced to drive to get a quart of milk, visit friends and do volunteer work — even when we can no longer drive safely. With little to no subsidized housing, there are few nearby caregivers to attend to our needs. Pedestrians and bicyclists get low priority when roads are built, so exercise — the most important factor in delaying disability — takes a back seat to convenience. The list of suburban ills goes on.
So it’s good to hear when a community does it differently, even if it wasn’t planned that way.
First came the Northshore Senior Center in Bothell, an award-winning center of services and activities for older adults in south Snohomish and north King counties. With 1,000 volunteers and 7,000 participants, it’s one of the busiest in the nation, offering health clinics, classes, clubs, a computer lab, a Wellness Project, volunteer opportunities, a coffee bar and lounge, meals and a new beautiful adult day center for frail and disabled persons living at home.
About a decade ago, Jim and Sharilyn Phillips, who lived next door to the Senior Center, envisioned a “bigger picture.” Thinking of their own parents and grandparents, they realized the senior center could serve as a hub to support and enhance the lives of many older residents if they lived nearby.
However, as in most communities, Bothell’s zoning wouldn’t permit the necessary structures. So the couple pushed for a special overlay zone that would allow independent retirement and assisted-living facilities within a defined area.
In 1999, they were finally successful, and in June 2000, the Phillipses opened the first residential project with 58 apartments, called Riverside East, on the property where they’d once lived. They hired Village Concepts, a small, family-owned company in Federal Way, to operate it. Since then, a half-dozen residential facilities have been built, turning the Sammamish Slough into a vital and interconnected community for hundreds of older adults ranging in age from late 50s to over 100.
On Saturday, these residential communities will celebrate their uniqueness — with tours, resource tables, desserts and me — at an open house beginning at their hub, the Northshore Senior Center (10201 E. Riverside Drive, Bothell, 98011-3708. For directions, go online to www.northshoreseniorcenter.org).
From 1 to 2 p.m., I’ll speak on a topic dear to my heart: “Successful Aging.” At 10 a.m., you can tour the five participating facilities on your own or go by vans after my talk until 4 p.m. These include Riverside East, Chateau at Bothell Landing, Vineyard Park @ Bothell Landing, Foundation House and Aegis at Bothell. There’ll be a door-prize drawing for those who complete the tour. Handouts will include my recent three columns on how to select a high-quality retirement community. The event is free, and no registration is required. For more information, contact Jennifer Bolton, Riverside East, at 425-481-1976, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
African Americans are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other severe memory disorders compared with other groups, research shows, because of a high incidence of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. On Saturday, the Alzheimer’s Association will host the first conference in the Pacific Northwest to address the unique concerns of African Americans caring for a loved one with memory loss. Keynote speaker is Dr. Lauren Bonner Lee, an African-American psychiatrist and Alzheimer’s researcher from Kansas. The event is free. To register online, go to www.alzwa.org, or call Rowena Rye at 206-363-5500.
Liz Taylor’s column runs Mondays in the Northwest Life section. A specialist in aging and long-term care for 30 years, she consults with families and their elders. E-mail her at email@example.com or write to P.O. Box 11601, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. You can see all of her columns at www.seattletimes.com/growingolder/.