Lutherans in Minnesota

Living a life of expectation

For many families, Friday night has been game night. Many people have strong memories of sitting around playing Yahtzee, Monopoly, or Sorry.

But kids since the 1960s have really adored Milton Bradley’s The Game of Life™. As young players, we were able to imagine freedom provided by the driving of a car, filled with children, with thoughts of a career dancing in our heads.

But that’s where The Game of Life ends. There is no talk of retirement or questions about the “third third of life.”

Webster’s Dictionary defines “retired” as “withdrawn or secluded from society or public notice, quiet, private.” Too often retirement has been a time when elders “disappear.”

But now retirement is literally the last third of life for some. Paid work may end sometime around 65, and the assumption is a time of leisure, with golfing as the ultimate metaphor.

Treating elders like elders

When Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS) undertook a design process during the summer of 2012 to determine ways to serve the needs of an aging population, the conversations reinforced that the aging of the baby boom generation would necessarily change how services are provided to elders. In the past 20 to 30 years, according to LSS CEO Jodi Harpstead, society has been affluent enough to pay for professional services for the care of the elderly. But, during the next 20 years, she adds, it will be more difficult to afford such care in nursing homes or other care facilities.

But Harpstead sees an opportunity in these changes, if we are willing to have intentional conversation about how to help retiring individuals “to continue to contribute.”

Neighbors in Minnesota can help neighbors to live independently and with dignity.

“It is soul sapping to not have expectations of people,” Harpstead explains. “Rather than think of elders as over-the-hill people … headed toward a tombstone, … we could develop rites and rituals that demonstrate that we have a plan for people to continue their contribution to the community. After all, can we really afford to waste their talents?”

Harpstead believes that congregations can start the process of recognizing the worth of community elders by the development of caregiver support committees, a resource that could unite people in need of support with people willing to provide it, and with the time to do so.

Neighbors in Minnesota, she believes, can help neighbors to live independently and with dignity. But what would such neighbor to neighbor activity look like? LSS has concluded it would include elements such as these:

* older adults and young people sharing homes,

* respite offered to caregivers by neighbors,

* Senior Companions calling on older adults for companionship/transportation, complementing of medical personnel and keeping people out of the hospital and out of the nursing home, or

* sharing skills, talents, chores, expenses in neighborhoods and communities: “Hour Cars”; “Nice Ride Bikes”; sharing trash removal or Wi-Fi; handyman and painting chores in exchange for meals, babysitting, or other skills and talents.

LSS has been involved in elder care, with programs such as Senior Companions and Caregiver Respite Services, for more than 40 years. Beginning in the rural areas, where other services were in short supply, she sees that the demographic changes mean the need is becoming more statewide. And since life is not a game, it is important to find responses, she feels.

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