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Next generation gap
It's what happens in seniors' residences when Sinatra meets Shostakovich

March 05, 2007
Judy Gerstel
Life Writer

A few years older than the first cohort of aging boomers, Joe ? not his real name ? has been living in a luxury retirement residence for about a year, ever since severe arthritis forced him to sell his multi-storey townhouse.

Joe is among the first Canadians to arrive at a new, somewhat weird and, finally, final manifestation of the generation gap.

With Statistics Canada's reporting last week that the number of seniors has almost doubled since 1981 and will double again in the next two decades, it's a gap that's only going to grow as aging boomers move into institutions already occupied by their parents' generation who are living well into their 90s.

Asked how he communicates with the nonagenarians, Joe replies, "I shout a lot."

It's likely there will be a lot more shouting when two generations, with their very different values, comfort levels and tastes in everything from food to music to programming, live cheek by jowl.

"People coming in are very clear about their needs and expectations," says Paula David, senior social worker at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care. "The transition is happening already."

For example, she says, "We play a lot of old Yiddish music but there are more and more who want to hear Frank Sinatra."

She adds, "Instead of chicken soup and matzo balls, we'll probably have to have more fresh salads."

And, no doubt, in the not too distant future, the Stones instead of Sinatra and sushi along with the salads.

In the United States, where it's more common than in Canada for young retirees to opt for the residence lifestyle, a rift has opened around the country between 90-year-olds and comparatively spry 70-year-olds, reported USA Today.

In a San Francisco highrise retirement community, younger residents successfully challenged the dinner dress code calling for coats and ties for men and skirts or dresses for women, leaving older residents disgruntled. In other retirement communities, older residents object to paying higher fees to maintain fitness centres, lap pools, business centres and WiFi demanded by their juniors.

At Leisureworld long-term care residences in Toronto, computer access is important to new, younger residents, says spokesperson Christine Nuernberger. "It's a typical request. They want to be able to use chat lines. Internet caf?s are becoming part of the nursing home scene."

New residents at the Terraces of Baycrest, an 11-storey retirement residence, are even more demanding. "They want their rooms wired," says Kelly Connolly, media relations officer.

But in at least one way, the younger generation in nursing homes may be less demanding.

They're more accepting of their situation, says Carmela Franze, director of resident and family services at Villa Leonardo Gambin in Woodbridge.

"The 90-year-olds, they expected to get old with their families," she says. "They expect their children to visit more and be more active in their care. The transition takes longer for them."

Residents at Villa Leonardo Gambin span three generations, ranging from their 50s to 99 but, says Franze, "the younger ones still appreciate the old customs and traditions and the 90-year-olds are still open to going to the Mandarin (Chinese buffet) every month."

"Beyond bingo" is how Mary Nestor, director of communications for Central Care Corporation, describes the multi-generational challenge. Her company owns and manages 65 long-term care homes in Ontario.

Programming for younger people, she says, might involve community resources, mall visits and "movies that speak to their interests" ? for example, Little Miss Sunshine instead of The Sunshine Boys.

But even that might not satisfy a young mobile senior like Dave (not his real name) who uses a suburban retirement residence as his Toronto pied ? terre between visits to family members scattered across the continent.

In his early 70s, he's at the lowest end of the age range of residents that spans almost three decades. Dave dates and dines with women friends, manages his stock portfolio and says he's living in the residence, perhaps temporarily, for the convenience, the housekeeping, the meals and "in case anything should happen."

Not that he's thrilled with such meals as baked fish and lamb stew.

"You're dealing with elderly people," he says. "They know from shepherd's pie, basic stuff. They've never been to the Keg. Even in their younger days, they didn't know what was going down."

If he were ordering at a restaurant, he says. "I don't think I'd order lamb stew. I'd order leg of lamb."

Likewise for his tastes in music and the live musical offerings at the residence.

"I'm going to listen to some kid come and play the piano? I used to have season tickets to the symphony."

He says he spends as little time at the retirement home as possible.

"It's so hot in here you can die," he says. "I have to get out.

"They've got the heat up to 90 (Fahrenheit)," he explains. "But we have people here who are 100 and they are so cold they still go around with sweaters. I come, eat my meal, goodbye."

As aging boomers begin moving into retirement hones and care facilities, things could heat up a lot more.
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