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Not Older, Better

Local retirement community embraces a more Eastern philosophy of aging

by Ali Hibbs on May 8, 2014 · 1 comment


“It’s like living on a cruise ship,” said resident Mary Murphy, who has lived at Shaker Pointe with her husband for more than a year. The Murphys made the decision to leave their split-level home in Albany when taking care of the home and yard became an inconvenience, and the stairs were a growing concern.

This Monday was the grand opening of the second phase at Shaker Pointe at Carondelet, a local community in Watervliet that provides a holistic approach to, essentially, getting old well. A retirement community for ages 55 and over, Shaker Pointe eschews the prevailing Western cultural idea that aging necessarily means mental and physical deterioration and embraces the more Eastern notion that people continue to grow and improve with age.

Former Bishop Howard Hubbard at the opening of Shaker Pointe

“We looked at a lot of other places,” Murphy said. “And this place had the feeling of community to us—everyone was very welcoming. We wanted to be connected; we wanted activities. I think social connection is very, very important.”

“I never really knew my neighbors,” said Mary Ann Lettau, another resident who has been at Shaker Pointe for a year and a half. “Everyone was always so busy, with kids and working and shopping. Lettau admitted that her husband was originally more enthusiastic than she was about moving to Shaker Pointe. “I was always more of a recluse; I preferred a more anonymous, big-city setting.”

“But,” she continued, “to be with people with whom you have a lot in common and with whom you have a lot of great experiences and try new things—it’s worked out very well.”

Lettau was sitting at a table in the cavernous main community room this Tuesday, welcoming residents and nonresidents who had come to listen to author Dr. Roger Landry, a “preventative medicine physician who specializes in building environments which empower older adults to maximize their unique potential.” Shaker Pointe plays host to many speakers covering a wide array of educational topics, but Landry was there that day to discuss the reasons that make Shaker Pointe philosophically different than many other retirement communities.

Landry is the president of Masterpiece Living and the author of Live Long, Die Short: A Guide to Authentic Health and Successful Aging. His philosophy was inspired by and largely draws from a 10-year study conducted by the MacArthur Foundation on aging. Currently, said Landry, one in five Americans is past the age of retirement and, as the population grows up, that percentage is only going to grow. So, he concluded, it is important to age well—not just for personal reasons, but for social ones as well.

According to the MacArthur study, said Landry, 70 percent of physical aging and 50 percent of mental aging is determined by the lifestyle choices of the individual. Four distinct factors that can determine how successfully a person ages, he said, are whether or not they maintain a physically active and mentally stimulating lifestyle, have strong social ties, continue to have purpose and meaning in their life, and whether they are in an environment that supports these lifestyle choices. By way of example, Landry told of a study done on nuns in Minnesota who had remained mentally and physically active. When they died, several of the nuns were found to have “Alzheimer brains,” but no symptoms.

“We are the architects of our brain, not matter what our age,” he told his audience. “We can continue to grow and learn like 30-year-olds—with a few modifications—but if we accept the idea our brains get smaller and we will eventually get demented, that’s what will happen if we expect it and don’t challenge ourselves.”

“It’s very important,” Landry continued, “if you’re going to develop resilience, that you pay attention to all aspects of who we are as humans—not just the physical or the mental or the social or the spiritual.” His 10 tips for living well include the admonition to “use it or lose it,” to keep moving, to continue learning new things, to stay socially connected, to laugh often and to never act one’s age.

Sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, Shaker Pointe outlines a mission to provide and promote an environment conducive to that lifestyle for its residents—in a brand new building that is so eco-friendly it was awarded the platinum-level LEED certification this week. It is, in fact, the only LEED for Homes in the Capital Region to have earned that rating.

“This building is really an extension of [the resident’s] homes,” said Amy Vanderploeg, the director of sales and marketing. “One of the biggest things that happen to seniors is that they get isolated as they get older; they get isolated in their home. Here everything is taken care of for them, but there is also camaraderie and socialization, there are lots of activities and chances to learn and so it keeps them young.”

The 35,000-square-foot community center includes a large main room, three dining rooms, a library, a fitness area and a large indoor pool. A “meditation” room is used for spirituality-based activities of any faith. An arts room that provides space for residents to play music and be creative is also used for ongoing classes that are offered in everything from painting to claymaking and even screenprinting. There is a pool table in the bar, which has personal liquor lockers to encourage the residents to do their drinking socially—apparently it’s a popular place to congregate before going in to dinner next door. There is a barbershop, a beauty shop and even a doctor’s office—St. Peter’s Health Partners Latham Primary Care has an internist available 5 days a week.

“All these different lifestyle things are what help people to age successfully,” said Vanderploeg. “It’s not just a matter of having the right genes.”


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