Older people staying in charge of their lives – Maria Brenton

I recently gave a presentation on this topic to a large audience of University of the Third Age members in Barnet. The North London U3A is a fast-growing group with some 1200 members and I look forward to joining them when I eventually move to North London. My theme drew on a longstanding interest in old age and ageing and a fierce determination to do what I can to challenge and change that spectrum of attitudes which ranges from well-meant paternalism to outright ageism in British society.   Naturally, I offered as a powerful solution for some the example of cohousing – whether the family-based, so-called ‘inter-generational’model or senior cohousing, which is also pretty inter-generational if you think about it.

A frequent refrain in my researches on Dutch senior cohousing – and one echoed by my audience in Barnet – was ‘I don’t want to grow old in the way my parents did, where they had no choices and decisions were made for them’.

Planning ahead for ageing makes a lot of sense – but not very many people seem to realise this.  Being very comfortable where you are is great, if you can see yourself managing equally happily there ten to twenty years on.  I get the feeling from many people that their heads are firmly in the sand in relation to the latter consideration. The Danes have a saying ‘Make your choices before they are made for you’.  This is wise and, although it may be a wrench now to tear yourself away from the non-age-proofed house you are living in, you may live to congratulate yourself on being so far-sighted as to move to a setting where your environment is not only built to Lifetime Homes standard (as Cohousing Woodside will be) but where you will enjoy the helpful neighbourliness you yourself have participated in building.

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