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If We’re All Aging Then Age-Friendly is For All of Us

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By, Misha Stallworth, Director of Arts and Culture

When you look in the mirror, when you think of yourself, how do you identify? How does the list of all the things that you are formulate? Are you a natural-haired woman? A queer man? An athlete?

I see myself as Black, a woman, and a professional (among other things). Those identities first come to mind for me and in that order. It’s normal for all of us to experience our identities in a prioritized way; the list can shift sometimes depending on where we are or who we’re around, but it’s always there. For example, when you’re caring for a parent, you may see yourself as a daughter first. When you go out to dinner with your spouse you may see yourself as a husband first. When you show up for art class, you’re an artist first. This is all common and normal. What is also normal is that we rarely see ourselves as our age first. Looking in the mirror you see all the other things you are before your number of years. And yet the outside world is very pre-occupied with age as a point of reference. I’m asked how old I am constantly and there are always conversations that include someone’s age relative to their lives or behaviors, “she’s only 50,” they say about a woman with arthritis. “He’s way too old to be in the club,” they say about a man who goes dancing and so on.

There is dissonance between the way the world prioritizes our identities and the way we do so for ourselves. The interesting thing about the world’s perspective is it ignores that age determines very little about our lives—while there are many inevitable changes that come with aging, most of the things we associate with it, like declining health and mobility, are moving targets across the life span. However, what is solid, consistent, and true for all of us (should we be so lucky) is that we’re aging regardless of where our age is prioritized on our identity list or what the world sees.

This is what makes the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Age-Friendly Communities and Cities initiative so essential. It demands that we look at all the intersections of needs across the lifespan and life experience. It is about, “creating barrier-free and affordable housing, accessible public spaces, and transportation [that] enable people to stay independent and participate in community life.” ALL people. A sidewalk should be an accessible public space. If it is well maintained—without cracks and tree roots—it is accessible for the early morning runner, for the person with a stroller, for the toddler learning to walk, and for the person in the wheelchair.

We must demand that people look at the development across Detroit with an age-friendly lens; a lens that asks the question “is this accessible for as many people as possible as they (and we) age?” It is a marker of our society that as we age we are pushed to the fringes assumed to only be interested in McDonald’s coffee and the 11 o’clock news. Committing to being age-friendly is a commitment to keep all people enfolded in the community and its development process. Development that is driven by only a few groups is not lasting or accessible, yet often it takes little to make it such. It doesn’t require funding set aside for “senior projects,” because our needs are not determined by age but by the diverse changes our bodies and lives experience as time goes on. Doorways can be built wider in new homes for wheelchairs and improved sight lines for families with young children (widening a doorway after the fact can cost up to $3,000); benches at public parks can be built at just the right height and without that slant backward for people who need assistance standing and those of us who are, let’s say, vertically challenged. A person over 60 could fit in any one of the categories I just listed without fitting in others. Wearing the age-friendly lens while we drive and participate in change across the city ensures that we all stay more connected, especially those often pushed to the fringes. It is an inclusive approach that benefits the broader community and common good.

Talk to your friends, your family, and your neighbors about how they see themselves and what kind of built environment would best suit them. Take note of the areas that are similar for people who are 17 and 70. Share that information with others—from your colleagues to your council(wo)man—and as you move through your neighborhood notice the areas that could change for the better. Congratulations, you are now participating in building an age-friendly community.

After-work Caregiving Means Working a Second Shift

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When an older loved one needs care, those who step in may find themselves balancing the demands of full-time jobs with the demands of providing that care. Whether it’s calling for a doctor’s appointment, stocking the fridge or paying the bills, being there for a person in need means adding work hours to an already busy day.

That’s why the Hannan Foundation created the Next Shift program – to assist full time employees who are also providing unpaid care to a family member, neighbor or friend. This free, confidential service helps full-time, employed caregivers secure support and resources for both their loved ones and themselves. But first, the person who is pitching in will need to recognize that providing such loving support defines them as a caregiver.

“Few people identify themselves as a caregiver. Many spouses, sons or daughters, siblings, or friends see what they do for loved ones as simply the right thing to do,” says Vincent Tilford, Hannan’s executive director. “Failing to reach out for help can add additional stress and greatly impact the health and well-being of the caregiver and of the care-recipient.”

In fact, research finds that caregivers who do not access supportive services are more likely to experience depression, difficulty sleeping, and fatigue – as well as challenges balancing work and home life with these added responsibilities.

Next Shift Services Include:

  • Navigating Medicaid/Medicare
  • Connecting to community resources such as food, transportation and healthcare
  • Assistance with long-term care planning
  • Legal Services/Family mediation
  • Educational Workshops/Support Groups
  • Consultations with licensed master social workers to develop personalized care plans

Next Shift program partners include the Alzheimer’s Association-Greater Michigan Chapter, Elder Law & Advocacy Center, and the Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology. The program is funded by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.

To learn more about this free service or to see if you qualify as a caregiver, call a Next Shift representative at: 313-833-1210, or email Stacey Molinaro at smolinaro@hannan.org. You can also visit the Next Shift website at: nextshiftdetroit.com

LGBTQ Ally and Aging Advocate

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You may ask just how a woman who identifies as straight, is married to a man, and has four children and five grandchildren becomes an advocate for the LGBTQ community. She says she got her heart for the gay and transsexual communities from her mother’s example of openness and support.

“When my cousin began transitioning from male to female, and sat my mother and me down to announce the news, my mom said, ‘I love you. I want you to be happy, whatever that is.’ That set a good example for me,” says Pat Baldwin, director of the Beyond U community of shared learning at the Hannan Center, as well as of the center’s Volunteer Services.

The Hannan Center operates programs to enhance the quality of life for Detroit’s seniors. Over the course of her 17 years spent working in aging services, hearing individual needs and observing gaps in services, Baldwin says she identified unmet needs for those in the LGBTQ community as they aged. In 2013 she founded the Detroit Elders Project which holds monthly presentations at Hannan Center on topics that affect LGBTQ elders.

“In many senior centers and places where seniors go for services there was no mention of the LGBTQ elder,” Baldwin says. “I wanted to change that.”

Baldwin says that while many young LGBTQ people are embraced and sup- ported by friends and family, LGBTQ elders grew up in a time when they may have lacked resources, advocates, employment rights and a sense of safety caused by reprisals against those who did come out.

The advocate says senior centers ignore LGBTQ elders but other settings can present more troubling treatment. In the long-term care system, a national survey by the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging found, older adults were frequently mistreated by care-center staff, including cases of verbal and physical harassment, as well as refusal of basic services.

Working with legal advocates, Baldwin says, she also learned that there weren’t legal protections for LGBTQ elders.

For example, Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act prohibits sex discrimination, among a list of categories of protected rights. But the law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. These advocates are awaiting the outcome of their recent testimony before the Michigan Civil Rights Commission as it considers issuing an interpretive statement to include LGBTQ protections in its list of enumerated rights. They also presented the Commissioners with a letter signed by 30 legal experts reiterating the importance of clarifying the law.

“This clarification is so necessary,” Baldwin says, citing a transgen- der person whose appointed legal guardian did not support their gender identity. The guardian withheld vitally needed hormones and other gender-affirming medical care, putting the transperson’s health and well-being at risk.

Baldwin is a board member of SAGE Metro-Detroit, the nation’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ elders. She says that, SAGE focuses on securing inclusive protections for the LGBTQ community and identifying welcoming housing, medical and social services, and business services.”

To learn more about LGBTQ ser- vices offered by the Hannan Cen- ter or by SAGE-Metro Detroit, visit or call: hannan.org 313.833-1300; or sagemetrodetroit.org 734.681.0854.

Creepy Old Men

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by Misha Stallworth, Director of Arts & Culture

In the face of the numerous sexual assault allegations in the news over the past few weeks I am affronted by the fact that the face of this news is that of an “old man.” Across the stories what is common is that the men who have been accused are not only older but look “older” in the ways we have come to understand age. They have gray hair, their skin is wrinkled, their bodies are not particularly taut and so on. My worry with this is that we start to misappropriate certain behaviors with certain ages especially given that it’s something we already do. If an older man is attracted to a younger person, they are more likely to be looked at as inappropriate. If he hits on or attempts to hit on a younger person, he quickly becomes a “creepy old man” or a potential “sugar daddy.” We see this image all the time in television and movies and we see the response of the older man being berated, made fun of, and or ignored. These are labels that erase the sexuality of men after a certain age— they can no longer be attracted to people or interested in intimacy instead they are reduced to financial sponsors and predators.

What people do and how they hurt one another is not a function of age but of the individual—it’s important that we remember that. It’s essential that as we are bombarded with images that tell us the Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” is suave, attractive, aging appropriately, and therefore allowed to be used in sexual messaging, we are equally aware of the messages that tell us men who become wrinkled and lose some mobility are no longer allowed to have any sexuality. These messages isolate older people from intimacy and romantic connection not only with people of different ages but also among their peers in age. No one is immune from picking up the de-sexualizing gaze toward older people. However, adults of any age continue to be human and humans overwhelming thrive with access to loving physical touch. We must honor that in ourselves and others. Older men can find women of any age attractive, can have new love across age, can have consensual, nurturing and loving sex lives through relationships or hook ups. Being an older man does not make one a predator.

It is essential at times like these that we are cautious in the conclusions we make and that we do not blindly condemn groups of people for the wrong reasons. Have older men been raised and come of age in times that emphasized disempowerment of women? For sure. Are there likely new lessons about gender dynamics for older men to learn. Yup. But that doesn’t mean that an older man’s sexual appetite is inherently problematic. Ashton Applewhite puts it perfectly in her book This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism “people are creeps because they’re creeps, not because they’re over a certain age.” Older people have every right to a consensual sex and love life, so find love where you can and watch out for the creeps.

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