The New Senior Class

11/20/2009  |  BETH CORNING
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Mary, a retired kindergarten teacher sips her coffee and reviews her schedule for the day — at 10 a.m. her watercolor and oils class, concert lunch at noon, Science and Theology class at 2 p.m. She’ll try to get by the pool for the 4 p.m. aerobics class.Tonight’s plans are already made — she and her husband Jim, a retired NCAA track coach, will join seven others for dinner and finish the evening by catching an off-Broadway performance of Rent.

In their early 70’s, Mary and Jim are part of the 38 million 65-85 year olds in America.They may be near your parents or grandparents age, or, closer to your own. Folks like them may be helping to raise one of your students or, if you’re lucky, volunteering in your school. Because of their numbers and their nature, you will surely interact in a variety of ways with them.

Statistics tell us this group has more income, is more diverse, more physically fit and more educated than any seniors before them.Their college education rate is 300 percent higher than their GI generation predecessors and they continue to pursue lifelong learning. Some 7.3 million of them are enrolled in adult education courses, and close to 500,000 are enrolled in US colleges and universities.They’ve seen astounding medical advances and embrace physical fitness and alternative forms of medicine.They seek to be in community with others, deepen their spirituality and contribute to those around them. Having spent much of their lives delaying gratification, as retirees they are ready to live.An image of those 65 and older, spending the day in front porch rockers, is not their picture.

Many have juggled raising families and maintaining careers, while taking on the responsibility of managing the needs and care of their aging parents.Their health and well being is very important to them — they don’t want to be a burden to their loved ones.

Since this group has experienced more moves for college, military service, and jobs, they will relocate more readily and seek avenues that nourish their interests and help them explore new ones.

Mary won’t drive a single mile to enjoy her day today and, she’s not on a cruise ship, but in many ways she feels like it.That schedule she checked changes daily, offering her and Jim varied opportunities for social interaction, personal and intellectual growth and support for optimum wellness and health. Mary and Jim, along with 400 others live on the campus of one of America’s 2400 continuing care retirement communities and, right down the road are other campuses for them.

Their 50 acre community includes homes, apartments, an indoor aquatics and fitness center, and a community center where they can mail a package, chose from multiple dining venues, check out a book in the library, visit the business center, sit in on a lecture in the auditorium, or make a deposit at the bank.

“We chose this community because of all the programming. Jim and I particularly appreciate all that is available to us right here without having to drive one mile.We have a monthly activities book, not a calendar, but a book. It’s filled with lectures, concerts, classes for our heads and our bodies. We do both use the pool and take advantage of the variety of exercise classes in the fitness center.And, an added bonus of being here, with our on campus health center, we have a doctor readily available for primary care, and if anything more serious comes up, physical therapy, rehab, assisted living, skilled nursing and even dementia care is right here for us.We have no worries about burdening each other or our children with what may come down the road.We all sleep much better.

“We had to be in this environment, she continued.“Our alma mater is right down the street and two other major universities are within seven miles — on their campuses and with the things they bring to ours, there is often too much to do! College sports is one of our passions, so we’re really in heaven. I feel like we’re back in school in so many ways — old friends, new friends and lots of stimulation.We’re enjoying it without the small dorm rooms, the cafeteria food, the early classes, and of course, the grades.”

The National Wellness Association describes wellness as “an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a more successful existence” and define six areas of wellness that are essential to one’s well being — social, physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and vocational. Mary and Jim feel they have chosen the right atmosphere to enhance each one. Actuaries agree and predict based on how they are living and where they are living, Mary and Jim will likely reach their mid-90s and do it with a high quality of life.

“Each day brings something new to experience,” says Mary. “I love being here, and being a senior here, for the second time.This time I plan to stay a lot longer!”And with that, Mary grabs her satchel and is off for the day.

For more information visit www.forestduke.org.
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