Making the Most of the Sunset Years

Where you age affects how well you age.

Jim ’54 and Susan Wiltshire ’55 met at the University of Florida in 1953, married in 1957 during Jim’s tour of active duty in the Navy, lived in various locations in the eastern United States, and ended up in Hamilton, Mass., where they raised two sons and two daughters. In 2007, the Wiltshires began thinking about reducing and relocating. At the same time, Jim’s mother’s health declined rapidly, but she would neither leave her house nor welcome strangers to care for her, placing the caretaking on the family.

The Wiltshires researched continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) and in 2011 moved into Gainesville’s Oak Hammock, a CCRC associated with the University of Florida.

UF Professor of Geography and gerontologist Stephen Golant says that the Wiltshires have done all the right things to guarantee they will make the most of their golden years. Golant, author of Aging in the Right Place, contends that place is a critical factor in successful aging — and it’s also something many people either overlook or purposely do not see. He says people have deep attachments to a home they’ve lived in for 40 years and that staying there represents independence to them when, in fact, exactly the opposite is true.

The Wiltshires, for example, lived in a 3,000-square foot home on a large lot. Both the house and yard required extensive upkeep. In their current dwelling, they do no lawn care, have regular housekeeping, and rarely have a need to drive. They also have time for kickboxing, ballroom dancing, continuing education, barbershop quartet, volunteering, and international travel, activities that Golant says encourage both happy and healthy aging.

Photo of the Wiltshire at Lake Alice. Jim is hugging Susan and kissing her forehead.The Wiltshires are committed to making the most of their sunset years. Lyon Duong/UF Photography

“We decided to take a different approach,” says Jim. “We didn’t want to put that burden on our kids.”

Making the decision to downsize is emotionally charged, says Golant, and by the time most people reach retirement age, they have accumulated far more than they need. Susan’s advice: “People need to make changes sooner rather than later. Downsizing is physically demanding.”

At night, the Wiltshires rest easily knowing a security force patrols their neighborhood, and emergency care is minutes away. “Some people report feeling isolated in CCRCs,” says Golant, “but overall, they feel more competent and in control of their lives.”

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