“We don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m trying to help people tune into themselves and what is realistic for them. How can we re-engage our mindset with a more curious approach to the changes we’re going to experience and start to generate a more positive experience?”
Have you thought about how you want to live when you’re in our 80s and 90s? Most people will answer ‘no’ to that question. We live in a society that values youth, and aging is often thought of with fear and dread. Sue Lantz is trying to change that. The Toronto-based policy and implementation expert on aging, health care, and housing is the founder of Collaborative Aging, a consulting firm that helps Baby Boomers and their future caregivers prepare for and navigate a healthier and more socially connected, aging experience.
A Boomer herself, Lantz recommends starting your planning in your 50s and 60s with an attitude of curiosity, much like you would when taking a trip. You think about whether you’ll go to the beach or a city, research where you’ll stay, how you’ll get around, and who will go with you.
In her book, Options Open: The Guide for Mapping Your Best Aging Journey, Lantz recommends this same pragmatic approach to planning your aging. “If we think about what we want for ourselves earlier,” she says, “We engage in the self-navigation part of health care, housing, and caregiving. And by doing that, we’re actually creating more certainty for oneself and more choice.”
Lantz outlines a five-strategy framework that includes: maintaining your best health, making timely housing decisions (does your current home need to be adapted in some way?), establishing a solid social network, creating a caregiving plan, and determining what you will be able to afford (how much does it cost for an overnight nurse, for example).
Lantz is a passionate advocate for aging in place which she defines as the ability to live in the same home or community safely, independently, and comfortably. “There’s actually a spiritual and value-based dimension to this that we don’t talk a lot about,” she says. “People see it as an alternative to institutional living [and it allows them to be] more empowered and have stewardship over their home and their decisions.”
In the future, Lantz sees the housing options for older people expanding to include village models, smaller congregate settings versus large institutional ones such as seniors’ homes with 24-hour care integrated into regular apartment buildings, more sustainable housing, as well as co-ownership and co-rental options (like the Golden Girls where several older adults live together and share expenses).
The pandemic has of course shined a spotlight on how we, as a society, treat our elderly. Yet Lantz has a hopeful view of the future. “It has been an eye-opening experience for our aging care system, and we need to do much much better,” she says. “I see this pandemic as a teachable moment. Many people are talking about how they want things to be different and that gives me optimism.”