By Deirdre Cassidy
Are you a baby boomer?
Look around — there are a lot of us. If you were born between 1946 and 1964, you are part of the largest group of folks over 55 in the history of the United States. Ten thousand people turn 65 every day, and statistics predict this will continue for the next 19 years!
In 1790 less than 2 percent of the population was over age 65. Today they constitute 14 percent in the United States and 20 percent in Germany, Japan and Italy. China has more than 100 million elderly folks. No one knows for sure how this will impact the world, and I believe, our government has no idea how to deal with this “silver tsunami,” as it has been dubbed.
If you are a boomer you may find the book Being Mortal by Atul Gawande an interesting read. The premise of the book is that in America we have prepared people for living but not for death. Gawande points out that our medical efforts to extend people’s lives have not also included preparation in dealing with the influx of elders in our society. He has some very interesting statistics about what is called the “rectangularization” of survival.
Typically, in societies throughout history, populations formed a type of pyramid with the youngest children representing the largest amount at the base and the top would be the oldest of the population. “In 1950, children under the age of 5 were 11 percent of the U.S. population, adults aged 45 to 49 were 6 percent, and those over 80 were 1 percent. Today, we have as many 50-year-olds as 5-year-olds. In 30 years, there will be as many people over 80 as there are under 5,” Gawande states. This is staggering data.
Boomers are a group of resourceful folk. We are the generation who protested for social and environmental changes in the 1960s. In 2001 a group of boomers created an organization in Boston, Massachusetts, called the Beacon Hill Village. The idea behind the “village” was to help people live in their own homes as long as feasible and to provide more opportunities for social interaction.
Ninety percent of people age 50 or older say they would rather stay in their own home than move into a retirement community, assisted living facility or group home. Currently, in Washington state, the average cost of a semi-private room in a skilled nursing facility or group home is $6,235 per month. That alone would discourage many of us from utilizing that option.
The Beacon Hill concept spread nationally. Today in the United States there are over 10,000 members in the “Village to Village” movement, with 190 villages and 185 in development. Canada, the Netherlands and Australia have formed villages and there are 40 countries worldwide that have started new ones.
The good news for the Methow Valley is that a group of local visionary folks heard about this movement and formed the Methow At Home Village (MAH). They are now a registered nonprofit organization and “launched” on Dec. 1 with 78 members and 53 volunteers.
In a village members pay dues and volunteers — many of whom are also members — help with basic needs to ensure that people can remain in their home for as long as they would like. Many see it as the “pay-it-forward” philosophy. One may not need the services now so they volunteer. The idea is that, as one ages, the village will be there for them when they need it.
If you’d like to become a volunteer or member call MAH at (509) 996-5844 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Check out their website at methowathome.org. Anytime is a good time to join the movement. People of all ages are welcome. Everyone knows it takes a village!
Deirdre Cassidy is coordinator of Methow At Home.