The recent statement from this presentation from Right Sized Newton (page 12) that “… seniors overwhelmingly DO NOT WANT to live in luxury high-rise rental apartments” is simply not true.
I say this based on academic background; extended membership/ leadership of the Newton Council on Aging; 25 years as a caregiver; my research/publications on getting older; and the actuality of my own aging. Reflecting on my varied experience and knowledge, I take a multi-layered approach to examining that statement.
Right Sized Newton cites this Newtonville Area Council survey (Q#42) as the source of its conclusion.
“If you are over 60 years of age, what do you eventually hope to do about your housing?”
The main problem with Q42 is that it asks people to respond to something that they don’t know yet. It is difficult to acknowledge and foresee our aging. We know what has already happened to us, but none of us can predict five or 10 years from now. When I was 70, I figured I would stay in my house. Five years later, I didn’t want to deal with ice dams and plumbing problems.
Second, good data are available. The Council on Aging and Department of Senior Services commissioned a survey of Newton seniors (2014) with UMass Boston Gerontology Institute “Living and Aging in Newton: Now and in the Future.”
Recognizing the problem of responding to future-focused scenarios, we asked people to think about life if something should happen to them. The answer to the question “If a change in health required a move from your current residence in the next 5 years where would you want to live?” is on Page 37, Figure 19. The range of responses differ by age: younger elders more frequently want to stay in their homes. Older elders preferred an apartment/condominium.
Third, we know the reality of who is currently living in apartment/condo complexes in the Newton. Residents in my condo building, The Towers of Chestnut Hill, range from babies to centenarians, but the majority is older people. We have 423 units with more than 600 people and most of us are seniors who downsized or moved to be near children. I don’t know the precise percent of older people in rental places like the Avalons, but data on registered voters collected by Allison Sharma roughly indicate that around one-third are over age 60. The truth is that a lot of seniors are already living in multi-unit buildings, and some are staying in their homes because there is no place for them to down-size.
Finally, I have lived through the shifting wishes and needs of my “carees”, friends, and myself. Aging is not one moment in time. It is a process that we can’t predict for ourselves or others, but it is highly likely that a few years from now we won’t be exactly the same as we are now. I have been pretty healthy, but I know intimately how horrific sciatic nerve pain can change my life in an instant. All of the people I cared for experienced decline; some wanted to move, others didn’t. The ones who refused to think about leaving their long-term homes ended up being at serious safety risk and I had to make decisions for them – a terrible situation for both of us. I have friends who five years ago were adamant about staying in their homes, but who ultimately decided to move to a safe, accessible, “age-friendly” place.
Making absolute-sounding statements based on imperfect research contributes to the denial of aging and its related massive problems. Ultimately, flawed research and misinformed statements can nurture faulty decision-making. As caring, reasonable, thoughtful people, I don’t think that is what we want to promote.
Marian Leah Knapp is a 50-year resident of Newton and writes a column for the Newton TAB called “Aging in Places”