One of the many benefits of working at Next is to see firsthand the various ways older adults adapt to the inevitable process of aging.
With 2,500 members spanning from 50 years old to 105, there is a tremendous variety of personalities, capabilities, skills and needs. Sometimes I see patterns, other times surprises, but always there are lessons to be learned.
Today, most Americans can expect to live 25 or even 30 years beyond the half-century mark, and many live well beyond that. Living to 100 has become a realistic goal and not that unheard of. I’d like to share one case study that embodies the highs, and challenges of living a longer than average life.
This case study is personal, it’s about my 95-year-old mom.
We grew up a tight knit family, with typical family dynamics. Parents that guide you through school years, first jobs, marriage and so on. But as the years pass, and children become adults, roles shift.
As her adult daughter, for years I enjoyed seeing my mom at Next as she spread her wings and made new friends, in spite of her not being a joiner. She enjoyed the camaraderie and was “somewhat” open to different points of view. (You don’t get to be 95 without being at least a little bit stubborn). Next became part of her weekly routine that she very much embraced and looked forward to.
Now she is slowing down a bit but I am fortunate to spend a lot of time with my mom. We reminisce, share perspectives and jokingly, attempt to solve all the world’s problems with our infinite wisdom.
As my mom moved from middle age to old age, she anticipated the loss of contemporaries – her husband, siblings and several friends — but yet she finds much to appreciate. I see the pride in her eyes at the sight of her expansive family gathered around a holiday table or squeezing into the living room – all her decedents. The legacy she and my father created together still grounds her today.
At this point in her life, she misses her independence, but at 95 years old, that’s one of life’s contradictions – gratitude in the face of limitations. Her energy level and mobility make daily life more difficult. Still, her days are punctuated by visits with family and friends, and with a smile on her face, she is grateful to have experienced so many big moments and important milestones.
My mom is part of a remarkable transformation in the demography of this country. She is at the vanguard of a wave of 85-plus year-old Americans who will number close to 20 million in the next 40 years. The Census Bureau projects that among those millions of late-age older adults will be at least 500,000 people who are 100 years old or older.
This case study can be summed up with the words I hear almost daily from my mom, “growing old is not for sissies,” but it certainly is a privilege.
Every new phase brings its own reasons to celebrate, an indelible lesson I learned from my mom – and so many other Next members living their best life possible.
Cris Braun is Executive Director of Birmingham Next