Age Friendly Berkshires: We're growing older, so let's make life better


This is the first in a monthly series about aging in the Berkshires.

There's a rumor going around that aging can be quite difficult. Katharine Hepburn supposedly said, famously, "old age is not for the faint of heart."

Of course, she lived on the lower Connecticut River, not in the beautiful age-friendly Berkshires.

What's the Big Idea with this "Age-Friendly" business?

It is a collaborative initiative created to enable people of all ages to remain healthy, active, and engaged in their community for as long as possible. That's the mission of the Age Friendly Task Force, an organization composed of community leaders from all parts of Berkshire County, a group of professionals working together to make the Berkshires a great place for people of all ages to live.

The Task Force, with the guidance of the World Health Organization, AARP, Tufts Health Foundation, and others, is addressing our problems, and will make recommendations, in housing, transportation, health services, community living space, civic participation, employment and more.

What's with the Active Agers Advisory Council?

It is a group of older residents who meet periodically to share their experience, wisdom and knowledge with the Age Friendly Task Force. Although the Age Friendly Berkshires is about all ages, the Active Agers Advisory Council is clearly the group closest to the problems of an era where we are living way longer than we were expected to. And we don't expect to hit the rocking chairs anytime soon! By the way, if you're of a "certain age," and you would like to join our august group, just email our fearless leader, Erica Girgenti, at We welcome talkers and walkers, and, particularly people like ourselves, who are positivists about the future of life in the Berkshires.

What's "The Big Idea in 4 Minutes?"

Check it out on YouTube. It's a super simple explanation of coming of age in aging America, and what life will be like in an aging society. For example, Social Security was enacted in 1935, when the average life expectancy was 62.

Now, when we're living an average of 15 years longer, we're healthier, working longer (many of us have to), and our societal infrastructure is totally unprepared. It isn't just us oldsters on the AAAC. We've got our Social Security covered. The problems loom larger for the Baby Boomers, Gen X, and the Millennials. Check it out!

What's with No. 43 in Time Magazine's 240 Reasons to Celebrate America?

It's a shout-out for the city of Los Angeles, for pledging to make the city more hospitable for the aging population. Seventy-five percent of Americans currently live in, and want to grow old in, urban centers, but problems such as the high cost of living and inaccessible transit systems can force some to move out.

Apparently, since 2014, 140 mayors have signed a pledge to make their cities more senior friendly, and L.A. "hopes to best them all." Paul Irving, chairman of the "Future of Aging, at the Milken Institute," says that "evidence suggests that cities that enable successful aging end up having the most effective economies and cultures."

Other big cities, like Atlanta, Chicago and New York, have pledged to follow suit. Hey! We all know about politicians' pledges. Here, in the beautiful Berkshires, we're already walking the walk.

By now, if you've even read this far, you've probably figured out that I'm one of these old guys who loves his life, and wants to do his small part to help make it fulfilling for everybody in these parts. I have a sign over my bathroom mirror which says, "So, this is what fourscore looks like."

Naturally, I like it better when the mirror is fogged up from the shower. Whatever! You've probably read about the many studies which show that seniors are the happiest age group, less responsibility, less stress, probably. Baby Boomers seem to be the unhappiest. Why? Maybe because they're dreading the onset of the aging process, still living in their "most productive years," still caught up in the quest for the "big score."

They're working hard to care for family, pets, cars, homes, and worrying about what they're going to live on down the line. Good news, friends: At some point, if you're reasonably lucky, most of those responsibilities will fade into the past. You'll be able to see past the ever-present health issues, the everyday annoyances of life, and focus on doing what you want to do, including enjoying the wonders of this marvelous place in which we live.

As Spock might have said, "Live long and prosper and stay active!"

Roger Gutwillig is an Active Agers Advisory Committee member and volunteer at the Berkshire Museum, RSVP, The Trustees of Reservations, and more.

Clarence Fanto is on vacation; his column will return next week.


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