Posts

Mr. Cubbington provides garden fertilizer during the pandemic

Sh*t as Fertilizer: Lessons from the Pandemic

We added to our family during the pandemic: we got a bunny. A Holland Lop to be exact. His name is Mr. Cubbington, an unusual name created by our teenage son. Mr. Cubbington is cute and irresistible with his big floppy ears, soft coat of hair and diminutive size. I wasn’t as taken with the idea of being responsible for another pet, but I was overruled. (Our family governance structure has turned into a democracy where my vote counts less over time.)

A key argument for adding Mr. Cubbington was that we could use his poop pellets to fertilize our vegetable garden. And he has complied. I challenge any bunny to poop as often as he does; no joke, every little hop seems to produce a pellet. Rabbit manure is packed with nitrogen, potassium, minerals and micronutrients, and has four times more nutrients than cow or horse manure. We are going to have one healthy garden.

It’s odd that we can take the excrements of an animal and use them to add nutrients to soil. I guess there are opportunities to turn things seemingly worthless into something valuable.

Garden nourished by Mr. Cubbington's fertilizer

A garden being nourished by the nutrients of Mr. Cubbington’s manure

The Pandemic has Changed the World, but How Will it Change You?

The negative impact of COVID-19 is almost incalculable. According to Johns Hopkins, we have lost more than 3 million lives to COVID-19 and are approaching nearly 600,000 pandemic-related deaths in the U.S. alone. Many of us have spent a year in lockdown with limited physical connection, creating pangs of social isolation and loneliness. Millions of students are “learning” remotely with concerns that many are not learning, but simply falling behind. Weaknesses in our country’s long-term care infrastructure have been exposed. Some of us have missed key moments in life: a graduation, wedding or final goodbye. According to an annual happiness study, our happiness levels at all ages have dropped. It’s been pretty crappy.

The pandemic has also barreled us into the future. Technology stocks have boomed as more of our world becomes digitized. Zoom is an accepted communication tool as an alternative to in-person meetings. Hybrid work structures will likely be more common. And telehealth proved its value. Products and services delivered to home became the default approach during the pandemic, and now the infrastructure has been built to make this more widely possible and cost-effective. These trends have accelerated the move away from high-cost, high-density areas such as San Francisco, New York and Boston.

Thankfully, with widespread vaccinations in effect, we can now see an end to the pandemic in our country. While the world around us has changed, an important question remains: how will the pandemic change you? For some, the level of trauma will take time to process. For others, the pandemic may be viewed as a crappy lost year to be forgotten. For those who had a tough year, but without significant personal trauma, it could be a moment that leads to a different, better you.

Sh*t as Fertilizer

A friend recently quipped that we have an opportunity to see this pandemic sh*t as fertilizer. He’s right. We can take note of how Mr. Cubbington uses his manure pellets to help a garden flourish. What would it look like to take the crap from the pandemic and make our lives better?

For one, it may mean being more intentional about spending time with people you care about. My parents are in their 70s and some of their closest friends are spread across the country. They started a weekly Zoom call on Sunday afternoons. Maybe this is a tradition that can hold post-pandemic. I’m sure it would enrich all of their lives. This is sh*t as fertilizer.

Maybe it’s being ruthless about prioritizing your time and energies in general, to make sure they align with what’s most important to you. Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, makes a compelling case that when we say ‘yes’ to too many things, we’re implicitly signing ourselves up for mediocrity in everything. A friend was laid up in hospital for three days during the pandemic and used the time to create his post-pandemic list of priorities. He’s recovering with a renewed vigor for what’s next. That’s sh*t as fertilizer.

Zoom screen

Many of us faced “Zoom Fatigue” during the pandemic, but it will remain a valuable tool post-pandemic

The Case for Having a Plan for Successful Aging

There’s a broader opportunity here, too. The pandemic exposed how many of us are unprepared to age successfully during this time of extended of longevity. Are you really prepared to live to 100? Research tells us that healthy aging is more about our lifestyle than our DNA. Do you have purpose? Are you socially connected? Are you physically active? Are you in good financial shape? These and other lifestyle questions are good to ask in this moment.

Not to be overlooked is the role of place. The right place adds to our health and overall well-being just as the wrong place takes away from them. Did the pandemic reveal that you are in the right place for you? Keep in mind that place includes not just your built environment and physical dwelling, but region of the country, metropolitan area and neighborhood.

Don’t forget the role of community to contribute to and be supported by. Websites like Zillow can miss this element. Community is where we can find our A-team. For us, the pandemic has crystallized who we can lean on and who we can actively support. Our family has quasi-adopted an elder in the neighborhood – driving to errands, putting up holiday lights, sharing meals – to the benefit of everyone involved.

Turning a New Leaf

I’m not much of a green thumb. I have a history of killing plants. The most recent victim was in my office. I meekly swapped my dying Fiddle Leaf fig for a Pottery Barn special. This change has not gone unnoticed on Zoom.

Post-pandemic, I’m hopeful that I can turn a new leaf. I plan to use Mr. Cubbington’s pellets to grow peppers in our garden while, at the same time, to redouble efforts to become more rooted in my community. I hope to use sh*t as fertilizer on multiple accounts. Stay tuned.  


If you like this blog, you can subscribe to Ryan’s mailing list to be contacted with links to his latest blogs and other relevant content.

Subscribe to Ryan's Newsletter
Intergenerational foot race

Say No to Ageism

When I was growing up, I was convinced my mom had found the fountain of youth. She was 38 years old for almost ten straight birthdays. Not 40. Not even 39. Nope – 38 years old was the number. She reached it and it was as if time, for her, stood still. She was never going to be “over the hill.” As a teenager, disbelief set in. I needed to properly investigate. One glance at her driver’s license and she aged nearly a decade. My mom’s scheme introduced me to ageism. Ageism, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) directed towards people on the basis of their age. My mom was being ageist against her future self. She implicitly felt that being older would be worse and so she tried to avoid it. She was apparently not aware of the happiness curve that shows older people as happier than those of middle-age.

Perniciousness of Ageism

Last week, WHO launched its global campaign to combat ageism. The organization has identified ageism as the biggest barrier to creating the world we all hope to grow old in. With their report and short video, they make a compelling case that ageism is destructive to all of us, but especially the young and old. For older people, ageism is associated with a shorter lifespan, poorer physical and mental health, slower recovery from disability and cognitive decline. Ageism reduces older people’s quality of life, increases their social isolation and loneliness (both of which are associated with serious health problems), restricts their ability to express their sexuality and may increase the risk of violence and abuse against older people. Globally, one in two people are ageist against older people. The pandemic revealed ageism, including instances where health care was rationed for young people.
Education and learning is an activity for all ages

Education and learning is an activity for all ages (Source: WSJ)

Ageism Against Ourselves

According to WHO, ageism can be institutional, interpersonal, or self-directed. Fortunately, there are a number of people – though we will need millions more – fighting against institutional ageism in the United States. Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO of AARP, Dr. Bill Thomas, founder of the Eden Alternative, and Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks and curator of Old School, have been leading crusaders for anti-ageism for years, if not decades. Paul Irving, Chair of the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, and Kerry Hannon, author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+, have been vocal against ageism in the workplace. But an area we all need to be especially careful of being ageist is against ourselves. This is self-directed ageism. When we buy into the negative stereotypes of being older, we are more likely to live into those stereotypes and reinforce interpersonal and institutional ageism. For example, if we believe that we can’t learn new things past a certain age, we’re less likely to even try. Pushing back on these stereotypes is critical in the fight against self-directed ageism. Part of it is a mindset. We can do more as we age, but many of us are also healthier. It some respects 60 is the new 40. Sufferfesters in their 50s are conquering physical challenges noteworthy for people decades younger. There is an opportunity to dispel some of the stereotypes of old.

The Power of Intergenerational Relationships

One of the remedies for ageism, according to WHO, is to increase intergenerational interactions. This has been a passion of Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org and author of How To Live Forever, for decades. He, along with people like Donna Butts, CEO of Generations United, have highlighted the importance of intergenerational relationships and researched the benefits. Their findings show that these relationships elevate both young and old. I value my intergenerational relationships. During our recent spring break road trip, my family and I mapped our route to spend time with friends who are decades older. The pandemic made all of us especially value our time together.
Creating and maintaining intergenerational relationships is key in fighting ageism

Creating and maintaining intergenerational relationships is key in fighting ageism

Role of Place and Ageism

Place matters in the context of ageism. Studies suggest that ageism is especially strong in the United States, with the Northeast and Southeast particularly steeped in it. New Jersey, Connecticut and Mississippi rank as the most ageist, whereas Utah, Alaska and Colorado are rated the least age-biased. But where we choose to live within our regions and metropolitan areas may matter even more. Some places foster intergenerational interaction either through living with or near people of different ages, such as age-friendly apartment buildings or roommate arrangements such as through Nesterly. Some places have third places that naturally bring people of all ages together. Conversely, some age-restricted or senior living settings can be located separate and apart from people of other ages. Sadly, ageism can also occur within these environments where older people can be ageist against those who are just a bit older.

Mom Gets the Last Laugh

My mom no longer pretends to be 38 and she is less willing to discriminate against her future self. In fact, I am the one accused of being ageist. Several years ago, my mom was contemplating upgrading to a digital camera. I tried to persuade her it would be too complicated for her at her age. She proved me wrong, and has the pictures to prove it. Ryan is an expert speaker in the aging industry. Want to have Ryan speak at your event? Find out more.
If you like this blog, you can subscribe to Ryan’s mailing list to be contacted with links to his latest blogs and other relevant content.
Subscribe to Ryan's Newsletter
What Zillow Misses

What Zillow Misses

I was hoping something magical would happen in 2021. Life would return to “normal.” I understood that flipping the calendar to a new year was more symbolic than significant – the coronavirus doesn’t change its behavior from one year to the next – but, psychologically, I was ready for things to get better. Fast.

That Latest Twist: Snowvid-21

Queue “snowvid-21.” I, like many residents in Texas, was ill-prepared for a half foot of snow and days of below-freezing temperatures. The infrastructure for the state was not anticipating such conditions, either, leading to days without electricity or drinkable water for millions of people.

Why is 2020 following us into 2021?!?

Snow Plow shows Austin was unprepared for Snowvid-21

Austin and Texas in general was ill-prepared for Snowvid-21

On the surface, it was awful. We were hosting family from California for a long weekend that turned into a long week. Pipes froze (one burst), electricity was lost and water (when it was working) was undrinkable. Cell phones were unreliable, gas stations ran out of petrol and grocery store lines stretched out for miles. Flights were canceled for days. We even exhausted our supply of firewood. I now know what it feels like to camp out in your own house and live with teenagers skipping showers for days. Neither is recommended.

But something positive happened. People rallied. I learned that my brother-in-law is MacGyver in disguise, my son can grill on a charcoal bbq and our family is full of problem solvers with great attitudes.

Family was only part of the story. Neighbors helped each other. A next-door neighbor helped fix our broken pipe with spare PVC parts. Another neighbor with working electricity for a time set up my other brother-in-law with an internet-enabled room to do a national webinar.

The broader neighborhood came together as well. A warming station with bottled water and coffee was set up at the police station. Homes with electricity and working water served as way stations and bed & breakfasts for those less fortunate. People shared tips on how to keep pipes from freezing, which grocery stores had inventory and which gas stations were open. Older adults were checked on and meals were delivered where needed. One resident donated their generator to the city to help keep water flowing. A chef in the neighborhood collected coolers to deliver warm meals to another area of Austin hit harder by the storm. A neighborhood SWOT team helped clean a house flooded from broken pipes.

Coolers help neighbors who need food

Coolers packed with chef-prepared warm meals destined for those in need in the greater community

Zillow Can’t Capture the Full Picture

Zillow provides comprehensive information about homes to purchase or rent. Pictures, 3D floor plans, financial data, interactive maps, detailed descriptions and on and on. It has everything. It’s not surprising that about 1 in 20 homebuyers are purchasing homes without physically seeing them.

But can it answer the question of what happens when you lose electricity and water for days? Nope.

A home is more than a house. A house is a physical structure. A home is so much more: it is a composite of a region, metropolitan area, neighborhood, streets and physical dwelling, such as a house. It is also a feeling and has psychological and social dimensions.

In this sense, a home can have enormous intangible benefits that tools like Zillow can miss altogether.

Snowstorm in Austin

It took a snowstorm in Texas – creating some unusual sights – to reaffirm to some that they are in the right place

Implications for Finding the Right Place in an Age Requiring Resilience

Resilience is a required core competence as we age. Life throws more curve balls the longer we live. And we may be entering an era with more exogenous risks due to climate change, global pandemics and political unrest.

We are most resilient when we are webbed in community with others. The right place can make us more resilient, through design that brings people together. (This is a core tenet for New Urbanism, for example.) The culture of a community can naturally connect people and build what sociologists call social capital. The reality is that some places do this better than others.

You may be in the perfect place. Or, you may not be. Perhaps the pandemic has made your assessment more clear. Snowvid-21 was revealing for those in Texas.

One neighbor, Doris, is in the right place. She is in her 80s and lives alone. After losing electricity, she was greeted by neighbors who brought warm soup, buttered rolls, salad and hot water. While the food was nourishing, it may have been the thoughtfulness of the community that impacted her most. She shared, “I felt so loved.”

I dream of a time when all of us can feel the same way – and ideally without first needing to lose electricity and water.

Ryan is an expert speaker in the aging industry. Want to have Ryan speak at your event? Find out more.


If you like this blog, you can subscribe to Ryan’s mailing list to be contacted with links to his latest blogs and other relevant content.

Subscribe to Ryan's Newsletter
Start with Why

Start with Why

Simon Sinek’s TEDx Talk, Start with Why, has been viewed over 50 million times. He argues that for leaders to inspire action, articulating the why of the movement is far more important than the what or the how.

It turns out the same is true in the context of successful aging. Since thriving over a long life depends more on good lifestyle decisions than our genetics, we need to be motivated to consistently make the right decisions. Understanding our own why can be instrumental in this process.

Purpose is important at any age and is one of the best predictors of happiness. In this context, purpose is defined as the sources of meaning that are both goal-oriented and motivated by a desire to make a difference in the world beyond one’s self. People who have a defined purpose tend to be both psychologically and physically healthier than those who do not. Individuals without purpose are more likely to suffer from depression, loneliness, and anxiety.

One of the challenges is that living with purpose can get harder with age. For many of life’s earlier stages, purpose is more clearly defined and socially acceptable. Find a fulfilling career. Provide financial security for family. Raise kids. But as we approach midlife and beyond, purpose can be elusive, particularly if some of the earlier goals were met. Retirement can add fuel to the fire. The word “retire” means to withdraw. A move to retirement can be a move away from purpose, particularly the type of purpose that is goal-oriented and motivated to make a difference beyond one’s self.

A grandfather’s reward for a year of hard work

A grandfather’s reward for a year of hard work (Source: Supplied)

Doc Morris, a European pharmaceutical company, highlights this lesson in a recent holiday season ad called “Matters of the Heart” that has already been viewed over 15 million times. The two-minute clip features an older man who lives alone and becomes motivated to lift weights every morning to strengthen his core and arms. His initial struggle to lift a kettlebell alarms his nosy neighbor and perplexes other passersby. His mission propels him through early challenges and he gets stronger. His purpose is to be there for his extended family, his granddaughter in particular. He wants to be strong enough to lift his granddaughter to put the star atop the tree at Christmas.

Start with Purpose But There’s More

It’s important to start with purpose, but it’s not enough, argues BJ Fogg, behavioral scientist at Stanford, in his book Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything. In his research, BJ finds that motivation, or one’s why, is powerful, but it’s unpredictable. Some days you’re motivated to exercise or avoid the ice cream in the freezer; other days you’re not. Relying solely on motivation is generally not a recipe for sustained behavioral change.

BJ’s research points to two other key areas that help define behavioral change: ability and prompts. If the older gentleman was incapable of getting stronger, if he had a degenerative disease for example, it would be unlikely he could have been able to do the exercises to get stronger. However, he had the ability to get stronger and, further, he did not let the stereotypes of aging, often referred to as ageism, prevent him from doing exercises for which he was capable.

Prompts play an important role, too. He develops a daily routine. When the alarm goes off – much earlier than one would expect for a retiree, he takes a look at the picture of his granddaughter and this propels him to take action. He brings her picture with him as he works out as a constant reminder of his purpose. This prompt helps him stay committed in what appears to be a full year of sustained effort.

Fogg Behavior Model

The Fogg Behavior Model: Focus on where motivation, ability and prompts align (Source: BJ Fogg)

Make It Easy – Even Tiny

He starts small. His first accomplishment is to find his kettlebell in the shed and drag it a few feet. Over time, he lifts it. He has setbacks – at one point he drops the kettlebell and grunts in pain – but he keeps progressing. He gets stronger.

He raises the ante. He wakes up earlier and dons an exercise outfit. He assumes an identity as someone who regularly exercises and is not deterred by his skeptical neighbors. He becomes able to do repeated squats with his kettlebell.

Success begets success. He builds momentum and confidence. He is soon able to do what others would not have imagined and perhaps what he would have doubted initially. Ultimately, he lifts his granddaughter without trouble to everyone’s surprise and joy.

Consider the Role of Place in Behavior Change

Place has an important role in his success. The pictures of family hanging on his walls serve as the initial impetus to get stronger. He lives in a physical dwelling where he is able to exercise and on his schedule. He transforms his shed from a storage receptacle to his exercise room for all seasons; he uses the outside entry when the weather is nice.

Importantly, no one stops him from his dreams. The nosy neighbor shoots looks of disapproval and his family expresses concern but does not intervene. At one point, his granddaughter even mimics his squats with him. His environment enabled his success.

What’s Your Why for 2021?

2020 was an awful year by many measures but we can hope that 2021 will be better. Our behaviors will have a key role in our outcome for the year. What do you want your 2021 to look like? Do you have dreams you would like to realize? Is there a new challenge you want to take on? Do you want to live closer to family and loved ones? Do you want to help others in a more proactive way? Are there intergenerational relationships you would like to form and nurture?

Start with why.

Ryan is an expert speaker in the aging industry. Want to have Ryan speak at your event? Find out more.


If you like this blog, you can subscribe to Ryan’s mailing list to be contacted with links to his latest blogs and other relevant content.

Subscribe to Ryan's Newsletter
What's your map of life?

What’s Your Map of Life?

We are working on an outdated paradigm for living argues Dr. Laura Carstensen, Director of the Stanford Center of Longevity. Our society assumes a three-chapter life – education, work and retire – where the final chapter is approximately a decade. However, this narrative doesn’t match the reality for many people today, and certainly won’t match the one-hundred-year lives of tomorrow. The life script needs to be rewritten. This week, Dr. Carstensen, along with dozens of luminaries and thought leaders, laid out the case for why it is so important to think differently about ways to live in light of a one-hundred-year life, as part of the virtual Century Summit.

To help change the narrative, Stanford has embarked on a project called the New Map of Life. The goal of the initiative is to “envision a society that supports people to live satisfying, engaged and financially secure lives for 100 years.” The initiative focuses on seven domains – early life, education, health, work, financial security, social influences and, yes, the built environment. The work has a global lens with implications for public policy and research.

Your map of life may involve lifelong learning to help create new opportunities for income and growth (Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash)

The Map of Life at the Personal Level

Stanford’s efforts are important, but the exercise of creating a map of life is most critical at the individual level. One is best to envision what is desired and then build a realistic plan to bring this vision to life. This map has a number of components to consider, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • An optimistic mindset. Dr. Carstensen asks her students what they would do if they were to live a bonus of thirty extra years. This is what has happened in recent generations, thanks largely to advances in technology and healthcare. Additional gains are expected in the decades ahead. How do you wish to spend these extra years? Do you have older role models that you would like to emulate? Who do you wish to become?
  • Work extended and supported by lifelong learning. In the context of longer lives, people have the opportunity to create intermixed chapters of working and leisure and to pursue new challenges. One thing is for certain: in an age of knowledge-based work, more educated people can work later in life. AARP estimates that about 50% of its members are still actively working. How long do you plan or need to work? Do you have new vocations that you wish to pursue? If so, what levels of additional education may these require?
  • Intergenerational engagement. A recurring theme from the Century Summit was the need and likelihood of increasing levels of intergenerational interaction. Some of this will happen naturally, perhaps through lifelong education, work and living arrangements. Marc Freedman, CEO of Encore.org, refers to this as the undoing of “age apartheid.” There will be a growing number of opportunities for intergenerational interaction if that’s desirable to you.
Denver offers dynamic economic opportunities, an active lifestyle and intergenerational interaction (Photo by Lonely Planet)

The Critical Role of Place

Place has a key role in the map of life. You may have specific visions of where you want to live. Perhaps it’s a warm climate or a place with four seasons. Maybe it’s a single-family home in a walkable neighborhood or a downtown condo. Perhaps the plan is to stay where you are but make modifications to make it a better place for you.

Place also has important indirect considerations. Place can help or hinder other parts of your map of life. Place can impact purpose, social connection, physical well-being and financial well-being. In short, where you live matters both directly and indirectly.

Consider work. If you are a knowledge worker and want to extend your career – or at least have the option to – living near a dynamic job center matters, even in an era of increasing acceptance of remote work. Being able to cultivate a network of people and companies doing interesting things is aided by proximity. While working remotely is more possible now than ever, it remains more challenging for making friends and work connections than in-person interactions.

Consider intergenerational engagement. If such interactions matter, you should think twice about moving to an age-restricted community, or choose one where inviting younger people to the community is part of the culture. Some living options, such as living near family or an intergenerational co-housing community, can make intergenerational interactions a part of daily life.

Something to Talk About Virtually with Friends and Family

As 2020 – the year of COVID-19 – comes to a close, many of us will have our holiday plans disrupted. Our family will spend Thanksgiving and Christmas without extended family for the first time. It’s both sad and weird. But this disruption in our schedules coupled with vaccines rolled out may allow many of us to think about post-pandemic life. I invite you to use this time to envision your map of life in the context of increasing longevity. Perhaps even do so as you virtually connect with friends and family. While the pandemic has dominated the headlines this past year, it is likely that the trends of increasing longevity and associated visioning and planning will be of greater consequence to you in the long run. And for this, taking a cue from Stanford, many of us will need a new, or at least updated, map of life.

Ryan is an expert speaker in the aging industry. Want to have Ryan speak at your event? Find out more.


If you like this blog, you can subscribe to Ryan’s mailing list to be contacted with links to his latest blogs and other relevant content.

Subscribe to Ryan's Newsletter
Home as health

Home as Health

9/11 was a life altering event. Like many of us, I can remember exactly where I was when I received word of the attack and saw live footage of the twin towers collapsing. It was a shock to the system. Soon after, pundits speculated how our society would forever change, including how many of us would never again feel comfortable flying. Many of those predictions proved wrong. Within two years, US airline travel rebounded to its pre-9/11 levels.

We’re going through a similar moment with COVID-19. Much has been written about how our society will change from the pandemic, including its impact on aging and retirement. (See Wall Street Journal article: “How Covid-19 will change aging and retirement.”) Predicting how society will change in the midst of a disruptive event can be a fool’s errand. For one, I am confident the attractiveness of urban living won’t disappear, remote working won’t be the norm, and we will shake hands and hug once again.

However, I think that how we think about housing will be different. I was a panelist for the launch of Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing’s Housing and Health Initiative. The discussion covered the link between place and health across the life spectrum, highlighted innovative approaches, and discussed the next frontier for important research. I was part of a similar session recently with the Brookings Institute.

The pandemic has put a spotlight on the intersection of place and health, and it’s something critically important for researchers, policymakers and, perhaps most important, consumers to carefully consider.

The 9/11 terror attacks shook the world, but air travel traffic rebounded sooner than many expected (Source: Business Insider)

Home as Health

Where we call home matters. Research on longevity show us that DNA is a factor, but its significance is far outweighed by other elements. By rough numbers, genetics only account for at most 30% of our longevity. Other lifestyle factors, including the role of place and your living environment, are more influential in healthy aging.

Research has highlighted the impact of place. Raj Chetty, an economics professor at Harvard University and director of Opportunity Insights, has harnessed big data to demonstrate how life expectancy can differ by decades based on zip code. And, Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, a book by Dan Buettner, shows specific regions where people have lived significantly longer and healthier. In each case, place had a key role in nudging people towards greater purpose, social connection, physical activity and more.

How to Think About Home

The first step is to think about home as more than a house. Often, the terms are used interchangeably. A house has a set address and is a physical dwelling, most often a single-family house. A home is much more. Home is a composite of our country, region, metropolitan area, neighborhood, streets and physical dwelling, such as a house.

But home is more than a physical space. It has economic, psychological, and social dimensions. It is also a feeling, a sense of attachment. Home has a time dimension, as well. A connection to home can change without necessarily moving. Friends and neighbors move. Interests shift. The perfect home for one point in time can be a terrible place later on.

The right home can elevate well-being. It can help promote purpose, facilitate human connection, catalyze physical activity, support financial health, and inspire community engagement. The wrong home can do just the opposite.

The right home as health
Home should not be confused with a house; it is much more (Source: Jacques Bopp)

What to do about it?

In some cases, nothing. You or a loved one may be in a great spot. It may be the right region, metropolitan area and neighborhood. The physical dwelling may precisely fit your needs and desires.

More often, a minor modification may be best. It could be a lifestyle change, such as making efforts to strengthen social connections – no doubt harder in a pandemic, but even more important – or exercising more regularly. It could be a change to your physical environment. Since we spend about 90% of our time indoors, mostly in our homes, even small changes to our place can have a big impact. Small ideas include finding ways to include more indoor plants, utilizing natural colors, and rearranging furniture for better aesthetics and safety. More significant changes can be done through remodeling.

In other situations, a more significant change may be required. Maybe it is a move to be closer to family. Maybe it is a relocation to a different neighborhood where it is easier to develop and maintain friendships. Maybe it is a move to a smaller place that is more affordable and more in line with the needs of your current life stage.

People who live alone should be particularly cognizant of the impact of place. Older people who live alone are less healthy, and they feel sad or depressed more often than their counterparts who live with a spouse or with others. These correlations stand up even after controlling for demographic factors such as gender, race, age, income and education. Maybe the necessary change is to find a roommate or to move into a congregate setting when it becomes safer after the pandemic.

Big Decisions Take Time

Pundits aren’t the only ones to come to brash conclusions about the long-term impact of the pandemic. Many of us are equally capable of making predictions about the future that don’t last the test of time. The key is not making big decisions that we may regret.

We do know that our environment helps drive our health and well-being. The pandemic has made this link more obvious. With more research, we’ll know more about the factors that matter most when choosing place. Ultimately, it’s our choice as to whether we take advantage of this information and add more quality years to our lives.

Ryan is an expert speaker in the aging industry. Want to have Ryan speak at your event? Find out more.


If you like this blog, you can subscribe to Ryan’s mailing list to be contacted with links to his latest blogs and other relevant content.

Subscribe to Ryan's Newsletter
A-Team - SmartLiving 360 blog

Who’s Your A-Team?

I probably watched too much TV as a child. A Gen-Xer, I consumed many of the iconic shows of the ’80s, including The A-Team. It was one of my favorites with Hannibal, Faceman, Murdock, and B.A. — played by Mr. T – defying the odds to get the job done. If someone was in trouble, a call to the A-Team would save the day.

I was reminded of the A-Team as a recent guest on the Dr. Cloud Show Live to talk about the intersection of place, including housing, and successful aging. One question particularly struck me. A caller asked: How can I successfully age on my own? How can I manage all that’s necessary, from housing to health to health care to finances to purpose and beyond, by myself?

The answer: You can’t.

Successful aging is a team sport.

Unfortunately, not enough of us have our own A-Team. One of the great successes of our modern age is increasing longevity. Researchers predict that half of babies born today in developed countries will live to at least 100 years of age. However, a long life is only a positive if paired with a matching health span and wealth span. It is best to create a plan that includes others to help you.

The reality is that successful aging is incredibly complicated and multi-faceted. Even with the Internet and social media, it’s impossible to stay on top of everything. It requires much more than information collection. Setbacks and curveballs are inevitable. These hurdles require emotional support and at least an extra pair of hands.

This poses a challenge for singles and couples. More than a one-third of people 65 and older, including nearly half of women, are single; 2 million of these people do not have children and are described as “Solo Agers” by author Sara Geber. In absence of a partner or children, these individuals must create a support network. But it can also be a challenge for couples. It’s unrealistic to expect a spouse to handle all that’s required to help you age successfully. No one person can do it all.

Successful aging is a team sport (Source: National Senior Games)

Creating Your A-Team

A recommended approach is to create your own A-Team. An A-Team may include a talented and committed combination of people ranging from family and friends to professionals and subject matter experts. Here are some of the areas to think about:

  • Social Connection. Who do you enjoy spending time with? Who will help you no matter what? The longer we live, the more likely we will need to rekindle existing friendships and create new ones. We need to find our kin.
  • Exercise Buddies. Exercise is critical for healthy aging, and its powerful effects are even greater if pursued in tandem with others.  Do you have friends to walk or jog the neighborhood?
  • Health Advocate. It’s easy to get lost in our complicated health care system. It is important to have someone looking out for you who has knowledge of your condition and of the health care system. Do you have a family member or friend who can help in this area?
  • Health Care Professionals. A primary care physician who knows your health history, genuinely cares about your health and has access to a network of quality specialists is vital. Consider making an appointment to better get to know your family doctor and provide an update on your current health.
  • Legal Advisor. Getting key documents in order, including a will and health care directives, is essential. Seek recommendations or online resources to make sure key documents are prepared.

Being Part of Someone Else’s A-Team

The best relationships are reciprocal. Consider not just how to build your own A-Team but how to be a member of someone else’s A-Team. Many of us could use help.

There are benefits of being a member of someone else’s A-Team. It can provide purpose which is one of the best predictors of happiness. It can be valuable to be needed and be in a position to help others.

Adult children are often key members of their parents’ A-Team. However, adult children must not assume too much responsibility and make sure that their parents have a team of support. Adult children trying to be a one-person A-Team is a recipe for failure.

Pocket neighborhoods and shared spaces can make it easier to get to know neighbors (Source: Patrick Schreiber)

The Role of Place

Place has a significant role in cultivating your A-Team. At least some members of your A-Team should be local. Face-to-face connections make a difference. It’s impossible to have your A-Team only exist on Facebook.

Consider your community and neighborhood. Do you know your neighbors? Do you have close friends that you can see on a regular basis? For older adults, the best places to live are often where support structures are in place. A lack of sufficient support may be reason enough to trigger a move. Where you live matters, including in finding your A-Team.

The Time is Now to Create Your A-Team

In the famous words of Mr. T, I “pity the fool” who does not make time and effort to assemble an A-Team. To be fair, this is hard work and may require resources. At a minimum, we should recognize the significance of successful aging as a team sport and be resourceful in attracting others to join our journey.

Dr. Cloud points out that people should look to build their team at a young age, as early as their 30s. My A-Team is a work in progress, partially because I recently moved to a new area. I hope my answer to the talk show caller was instructive, but the question was an important reminder for me. I’ve got some work to do and so may you.

Ryan is an expert speaker in the aging industry. Want to have Ryan speak at your event? Find out more.


If you like this blog, you can subscribe to Ryan’s mailing list to be contacted with links to his latest blogs and other relevant content.

Subscribe to Ryan's Newsletter
Should You Move?

Should You Move?

On average, people move 12 times over their lifetime. Demographers attribute most moves to changes in life circumstances: new job, marriage, kids, and so on. The data bears it out. Most moves are front-end loaded. By age 45, the expected number of moves is shy of 3.

But what about 2020? This year has been a litany of body blows from a pandemic, economic recession, political strife, urban unrest, hurricanes and fires. There are plenty of reasons to wonder if your current home is the best place to weather these times, irrespective of whether there is a change in life circumstances.

While the media has highlighted people moving, in some cases with buyers purchasing houses across the country without having physically seen them, the trend may be overblown. Many of the recent moves may be people accelerating a decision that was already in the works. For others, a move may be temporary until life returns to normal.

Regardless, it is best to carefully weigh moving to a new location, particularly as we get older.

Over 400 Age-Friendly Communities Nationwide (Source: AARP)

Pros of Moving

Moving can offer the prospect of being part of a better environment.

Climate change is an increasing concern, with some places affected more than others. I have a friend who lives in Northern California who may move out of state due to the increasing frequency of wildfires. For him and his wife, it’s not just the risk of losing their home, it is the ongoing stress from the threat of a fire that hinders peace of mind. They find it hard to sleep during the ever-increasing wildfire season.

Where you live matters. If you are in a place where are you not flourishing, better alternatives exist. If you are socially isolated, finding a place where it is easy to make friends could be worthwhile. If you live a sedentary lifestyle but wish to be more active, a move to a locale where activity is the norm could be helpful.

Moving can elevate financial wellbeing. For homeowners, selling a home and moving into a less expensive rental apartment or house can free up capital to help fund retirement. Homeowners are often not aware of the true costs of ownership and the risks of having a meaningful illiquid asset.

Lastly, a move can help with successful aging. There are over 400 age-friendly communities in the country. These communities have taken specific steps, through outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing and more, to make life work better for all ages. A home in an age-friendly community with age-friendly features, such as single-story living and bathrooms with slip-resistant tiles, can be a wise choice for the long-term.

Cons of Moving

One of the biggest risks is assuming that a new location will necessarily lead to a better life. If you’ve lived in a place for a while, you likely have a network of friends and knowledge of the area, a valuable commodity that takes time and effort to replicate in another place. The elements that you appreciate about your current home may not be possible in a new environment. A move may lead to a worse situation.

Moving is expensive and takes energy. If a move involves a house sale, transaction fees and taxes can be meaningful. Moving costs, especially if across regions, can be many thousands of dollars. It also requires a lot of energy to move, particularly if there is downsizing involved. Decluttering can be exhausting.

The wrong move can be hard to undo. Given the cost and energy involved, it can be difficult to return to your prior life if you so desire. When moving, it is safe to assume that you will not be able to recreate your prior life.

Moving, decluttering and downsizing is a chore (Source: Wisconsin Public Radio)

Best to be Patient

The headlines are not encouraging these days. There can be a temptation to make a change in the hope that change can improve our lives.

Chip Conley, best-selling author and founder of the Modern Elder Academy, lived in San Francisco for decades before realizing shortly before the pandemic that he needed a change of scene. It was a challenge for him to leave close friends and a place with many memories, but his soul was ready for something different. It was a good change.

Chip’s story may be the exception. For most of us, we may be best to stay where we are unless there is an overriding need for change. There are ways to improve your wellbeing without necessarily moving. Even a modest renovation can go a long way toward making a place work better for the long haul.

The best strategy may be to be patient and make sure you make a move at the right time and to the right place, if a move is required at all. This is far better than making a panic move. I suspect in the coming years we will hear stories of panic moves from 2020 that didn’t work out as well as envisioned.

Ryan is an expert speaker in the aging industry. Want to have Ryan speak at your event? Find out more.


If you like this blog, you can subscribe to Ryan’s mailing list to be contacted with links to his latest blogs and other relevant content.

Subscribe to Ryan's Newsletter
Community as a Technical Term

Community as a Technical Term

The word “unprecedented” has been used a lot during the pandemic. Nearly 75% of public companies reporting their earnings in the spring used this word, including IBM which used it seven times. Google Trends shows that searches for the word have spiked about five times higher than ever before. That is unprecedented.

The fact is that words and their definitions matter. Excessive use dilutes significance. Broad definitions water down meaning. The word unprecedented may have already lost its power.

A Proper Definition of Community            

Consider “community.” According to Webster’s, community is a “unified body of individuals such as people with common interests living in a particular area.” Master plan developers routinely describe subdivisions as communities. Apartment developers do the same for apartments. I’ve even seen empty buildings described as communities by their creators. Has the use and definition of community become too broad?

What if community had a narrower definition? According to Charles Vogl in his book, The Art of Community, community is defined as a “group of individuals who share a mutual concern for one another’s welfare.” This definition would limit the word’s use and give it more significance.

The pandemic has been a reminder that community – the more technical definition – is critical for wellbeing. People with strong social connections have better immune systems, better brain health, and they sleep better. This definition of community is more involved than simply living in an area with people with shared interests.

Gated community
Does this gated community deserve to be called a community? (Source: RealManage)

Do You Live in a Community?

Do you live in a place where others care for you and, just as important, you care for others? As Warren Buffet says, “You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.” The pandemic has likely revealed the truth on whether you have community or not. If you don’t, it is not necessarily a simple fix.

Community doesn’t just happen. It takes work and relies on reciprocal relationships. It’s one thing to recall the name of your neighbor, but a completely different thing to truly know your neighbor. And, it’s rare: only about a quarter of Americans purport to know all or most of their neighbors. When you know your neighbors, you’re informed about ways to support them. Equally important is for neighbors to get to know you. There’s a level of mutual vulnerability.

It takes time. For nine years, we lived in a neighborhood that is a community. People know each other and are quick to help and receive help. It is a natural back and forth. No one keeps score. A year ago, we moved to a new neighborhood and we are in the process of determining whether it will be a community for us. Our daughter recently delivered care packages to older adults in our neighborhood. I was encouraged when she received a call from a recipient to say thank you and also to see how she was faring. This is mutual concern.

Capitol Hill neighborhood
Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C. has a reputation for strong community (Source: The Wandering Road)

Building & Finding Community

If you don’t have community, there are two options: build or join.

Charles Vogl provides tips for community builders. His seven principles include: boundary, initiation, rituals, temple (or place), stories, symbols and inner rings. Vogel’s advice is important because, unlike a passive building, a community is active and changing. It requires investment and leaders to get involved. Community can’t be taken for granted. Places change as do the cultures around them.

An alternative to building community is to join one. There may be opportunities to engage in your area by joining a neighborhood association, connecting into a faith community or volunteering at a local school. In some cases, however, a search for community may require moving.

Finding community can be an important but challenging issue for older adults, particularly when their current home lacks social connection. Jill Vitale-Aussem, CEO of the Eden Alternative, is an expert in creating community for older adults. In her recent book, Disrupting the Status Quo of Senior Living, she highlights that too often senior living errs on the side of safety, like a hospital, or on service like a hotel. It’s not that safety and service are unimportant – particularly during a pandemic – but these approaches often don’t adequately engage the human side. True communities require active engagement where people act as citizens, not patients or consumers. Older adults searching for community need to look far beyond websites and marketing collateral to get a sense of whether a particular senior living location is a community or just a building serving older people.

Use the Narrow Definition of Community

Be on the lookout for “community.” Ask yourself whether the term is properly applied. In my experience, the claim of community is often unsubstantiated. Community anchored in mutual concern is a good thing for your health at all times, but particularly when the next unprecedented event hits.

Ryan is an expert speaker in the aging industry. Want to have Ryan speak at your event? Find out more.


If you like this blog, you can subscribe to Ryan’s mailing list to be contacted with links to his latest blogs and other relevant content.

Subscribe to Ryan's Newsletter
Places change - New York City

Places Change

The coronavirus epidemic has highlighted the importance of place in our lives. Certain countries have been able to contain the outbreak and lower fatality risks associated with the disease. Others have not. In the U.S., we have seen a wide range of outcomes within regions, states and metropolitan areas. In a number of respects, our individual health has had more to do with where we live than how well we practice social distancing.

Places, like people, are not static. They change. Sometimes imperceptibly, other times more obviously. Sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad. And, given the fact that where you live matters, ensuring that you are in a spot appropriate for you, particularly as you age, may not be a simple exercise.

Uncertainty of Urban Environments

Take urban environments. I have a friend in her 70s living in the Northeast, who traded a bucolic, suburban lifestyle for an active, urban one. Her suburban life required a car, and she felt socially isolated as she increasingly knew fewer of her neighbors. Her move into a downtown apartment allowed her to walk to various amenities and regularly participate in social events, including seeing nearby friends and family.

Then covid hit. Her place changed dramatically. She has been confined to her apartment and has been unable to meet new acquaintances or see friends and family. She has also felt less safe, with protesting and riots near her home.

While these current conditions may be temporary until the epidemic subsides, there may be lasting changes to urban environments that make living there less compelling. Remote work has been surprisingly productive. Most large companies have not seen any productivity loss and more than quarter have reported a productivity increase. Researchers speculate that nearly half of companies may allow as many as 40% of their employees who switched to remote work during the pandemic to continue doing so after the crisis, at least in part. Fewer workers downtown may result in less congestion, but it also translates to less demand for restaurants and various amenities that help create the energy of cities, as well as a critical loss of tax revenue for city services.

Percentage change in murder and robbery from 2019 to 2020

Safety may become a greater issue for cities, too. For years, crime has fallen dramatically in the U.S. Since 1993, crime in urban environments has fallen nearly 60%. However, in 2020, there has already been a noticeable uptick in crime in various large cities across the country. No doubt, recent rioting contributes to these figures, and this activity may be more of a moment in time than a trend. However, as author and urban studies professor Joel Kotkin points out, “Safety is a prerequisite for urban growth. I can’t see how cities can thrive if they’re unsafe.” Safety, even just its perception, is perhaps even more important as we age.

Given these challenges, coupled with the high cost of living in large cities, more people may opt to live in smaller cities or more dense suburban areas that provide some of the urban lifestyle benefits but without some of the current drawbacks of larger urban environments.

Places Where Healthy Aging is Getting Easier

If certain urban areas may be getting more difficult, where is it getting easier? The network of age-friendly states and communities can be a guide. There are nearly 500 communities covering nearly 1/3 of the country that have signed up for a process to make themselves age-friendly through an assessment, planning, implementation and evaluation. This process can lead to a number of potentially valuable interventions, ranging from better transportations options, improved housing and more age-friendly infrastructure in general, including dedicated walking and biking areas.

Places where healthy aging is getting easier tend to benefit from strong political leadership and available resources for older adults. Cities with strained budgets or other high priority issues, including public safety, may simply not have the bandwidth to make their places work better for an aging population. The Milken Institute’s Mayor’s Pledge is encouraging civic leaders to commit to purposeful, healthy aging at the metropolitan level and is another resource to identify leading places.

Springfield, MA
Springfield, MA has been focused on various age-friendly initiatives (Source NextAvenue via josepha/Flickr)

Springfield, MA, a city with a population of about 150,000, is an interesting example of a city that is operating on all cylinders as an attractive place for older people.  In this case, a mayor is helping to create a momentum for the city and bring together various stakeholders. It is the first city to complete the age-friendly trifecta: Age-Friendly City, Age-Friendly Health System and Dementia-Friendly city.

Implications

Pay attention. See what’s happening in your current environment. If it is becoming better as you age, appreciate your good fortune. If it the environment is getting more difficult, see what you can do to mitigate its effects. It may even become an opportunity to get to know your neighbors better. As crime became a greater concern in our old neighborhood, neighbors banded together to walk the streets and create a text thread for regular communication. This intervention helped.

If you are considering a move to a new place, it is valuable not just to get a sense of how it is today but, perhaps more importantly, in what ways is it changing and how quickly. It is also worth considering how sensitive a new place could be to sudden changes, such as with pandemics and climate change. This research is well worth doing.

We’ve learned a lot from the pandemic. It’s been a reminder of the importance of place. But it’s also a reminder of how our places can change for the worse, and quickly. Best to be prepared.

Ryan is an expert speaker in the aging industry. Want to have Ryan speak at your event? Find out more.


If you like this blog, you can subscribe to Ryan’s mailing list to be contacted with links to his latest blogs and other relevant content.

Subscribe to Ryan's Newsletter