Aging in Addison County: A large and vibrant aging population

WHAT EVERY 96-YEAR-OLD wants to still be doing in the fall …picking apples.Victor Quesnel of Whiting last month visited a local orchard to continue an autumn ritual he has probably done for decades.
Photo courtesy of Madeleine Quesnel

I remember as a child, when I would imagine my future, all I wanted was an apartment of my own, a VW Bug, and a German shepherd, its head hanging out the window as we cruised down the highway. Sure enough, by my mid-20s, I had all three, although the Bug was on its last legs, the dog was a mutt that looked a lot like a German shepherd, and the apartment little more than a glorified room with kitchen and bathroom over a garage.

Our dreams for our lives can be powerful this way, fed, of course, by a car-based culture that prizes independence and youth. I never imagined for myself what it would be like to grow older beyond that, and now that I am solidly seeing the end of the runway of middle age, I find myself at a loss when I try to envision that hoped-for future. Growing old is not something we want to imagine, nor has it ever been something we hoped for. Yet it comes for us anyway: white hair, wrinkles, creaking joints. The names “Geezer, Granny, Old-Timer” are evidence of our distaste for the last chapters of our life.

But as we denigrate the very natural process of aging, we deny the possibilities of one of the most dynamic and meaningful times of our lives, and create the dismal process we fear. Ageism is one of the last accepted forms of prejudice, and is something we will all experience. As with other -isms, ageism extracts its pound of flesh from our bodies and minds. Ageism costs the health care system billions of dollars each year, according to thorough research done by Yale professor Becca Levy. It also costs us our relationships, our sense of self, and our vitality.

Addison County is no different than the rest of Vermont; the demographics show more and more people over 65. This Silver Tsunami, far from detracting from our community, is a powerful part of our workforce, our volunteerism, and our collective wisdom. With awareness comes opportunity. Individually and together, we can rewrite the narrative of life over 65. There is much to celebrate as we grow old, and things we can work on together to improve the lives of everyone here.

Oct. 7 was Ageism Awareness Day. Let’s take this moment to look ahead to the last chapters of our lives, not with fear but curiosity and hope. Let’s imagine a community that supports interdependence as well as independence and celebrates the lives and contributions of people of all ages. And let’s imagine our own lives intertwined in that future that supports all the facets of growing old. I’m already dreaming about it.

Kristin Bolton is the executive director of Elderly Services, Inc.

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