Reframing Aging: The Big Move

"It's like a cruise ship on land!" My 80-year-old aunt declared three weeks after she moved to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). She enjoyed participating in a variety of activities that she had previously curtailed because the transportation was so difficult. Her social life expanded because many more people were around her. Granted, she had the financial resources to enter a beautiful, well-equipped and well-programmed facility. But even these living situations have a bad rap. Anne M. Wyatt-Brown, in The Big Move: Life Between the Turning Points, challenges this notion.

Anne moved reluctantly to Roland Park Place, a CCRC in Baltimore, because her husband needed more care than she could provide. At first, Anne saw herself as an outsider, different from the other residents, but as she engaged in conversation with them, she discovered vibrant, curious people who perhaps had some physical limitations. She joined a group of caregivers and learned many hints to make her life easier.

To her surprise, she found that joining this community was like joining any other community, in that she had to reach out to others and contribute to the group dynamic. Her participation in both conversation and activities enriched her life by introducing her new ideas, thoughtful people and interesting activities. She, like all the other residents, used her knowledge to help others in the community and receive satisfaction from doing so.

Her moving personal story is expanded and analyzed by experts. Ruth Ray Karpen, author and professor and expert on women's aging, late-life writing and feminist gerontology shows us how much we can learn from oral histories. Helen Q. Kivnick, Professor of Social Work at the University of Minnesota and clinical psychologist, points out how Anne used the skills gained over a lifetime to maximize her enjoyment of her new community.

Margaret Morganroth Gullette further heightens our understanding of aging in the afterword by embedding Anne's experience in the cultural context. Anne's fear of being stigmatized because she was associated with old and disabled people, gives us a mirror to look at our own prejudices toward both aging and disability.

We Americans prize independence, but for many elderly people, the price they pay for independence is loneliness and worthlessness. The Big Move is a fascinating attempt to marry personal experience with academic analysis to help us all reconceive of one option for later life living. Moving to a continuing care retirement community need not be viewed as a withdrawal from life, but rather as a new platform to manage one's infirmities at the same time as one uses one's skills.

This slim and informative volume demonstrates that living communally in your later years can be just as engaging as summer camp or college dorms. I congratulate these authors on giving us all a new perspective on both aging and the merging of two modes of exploring a life stage. The few hours reading it is rewarded with practical ideas on preparing for the third third of our lives.