Women and Retirement: The New Golden Girls

Women and retirement: the new golden girlsKay Reimer and Nancy Welsh share a home in Pittsburgh. At 68 and 74, respectively, they are two retired, widowed show dog enthusiasts who find living together a lot more fun than living alone.

When Welsh, a retired teacher, went to Paris for 10 days last month, Reimer minded their three Great Danes and greyhound, and when Reimer visits her children in Florida and Detroit over the holidays, Welsh will return the favor.You might say that Reimer and Welsh are part of the new Golden Girls movement, a way of living that is revolutionizing how many Baby Boomers are growing old.

"Not very long ago, growing old meant just struggling to stay alive. But today with the advent of better medicine and improved standards of living, the focus has moved to maintaining quality of life," says Robert Goldberg, who is spearheading the Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORC) initiative for the Jewish Federations of North America.

More than 80% of people older than 45, told AARP that they want to remain in their own homes as they age -- even if they need special help. To make that happen, older Americans are joining forces and developing innovative solutions all over the country.

Some of these arrangements are very informal: Bertha Glandau, 81, swims, paints and lives in an apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., right next door to her fashion-plate, shopaholic sister, Esther Weiss, 82. The two widows are independent, but when either needs anything -- from a dinner companion to emergency assistance -- help is close by.

"[Esther] puts Zsa Zsa Gabor in her prime to shame," says her niece Rachel Weingarten. "She is a Golden Girl. We even call her Blanche."

Other more formal arrangements are organized by groups such as Village to Village Network, which helps aging residents of city and suburban neighborhoods organize so-called Intentional Communities like this one in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, where 300 households pay an annual $550 fee for everything from home maintenance assistance to recreational activities.

Other resources with advice for those who want to set up a NORC include:

What all of these groups have in common is an avoidance of traditional, expensive long-term care – nursing homes and gated over-55-only retirement communities. And they have a strong commitment to making these solutions work for the long haul as longevity becomes the norm. As Gail Sheehy says in her new book, Passages in Caregiving, "This isn't a sprint; this is a marathon.
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