Howard and Shirley Bernstein speak about the changing face of aging in a modern world. They are residents of Seashore Gardens Living Center’s Assisted Living. The Bernstein’s are long time board members and supporters of Seashore Gardens Foundation and Living Center. Elder living can be full of technology and activities.
In her cozy new apartment, accented with photos and treasured mementos, Shirley Labov Bernstein looks comfortably at home. It’s no wonder, as Seashore Gardens Living Center has been a beloved part of her life for as long as she can remember.
Shirley grew up hearing stories about the Hebrew Old Age and Sheltering Home, now known as Seashore Gardens Living Center (SGLC). Both her grandfather, Benjamin Labov, and her father Milton, were pivotal in its early success. “I’m third generation,” she explains. “My father and grandfather each served as president, and my father also was chairman of the board. There wasn’t pressure for me to get involved but the cause is so worthwhile that I wanted to help.”
Over the years, Shirley and her husband Howard have volunteered countless hours, serving on the board of SGLC and helping to define its current direction. “We went to every planning meeting for the new building in Galloway, met with architects, experts, staff and the community. We were truly involved in creating the home where we live today.”
As a result, Shirley and Howard Bernstein have a unique and multifaceted perspective of SGLC—and the Louis Edelstein Assisted Living residence which they now call home. They’ve seen it through its various stages, and at the same time observed the evolution of aging in the residents that pass through its doors.
“We’re probably the last generation with one foot in the old ways and one in the new,” said Shirley. “The next generation is going to fully immersed in technology and they’ll demand that in a home.”
It’s part of the changing face of aging that not only will be impacting SGLC, but the rest of America as the country transitions to an older population. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that “before 2020, people aged 65 and older will outnumber children under age 5 for the first time in human history. By 2050, the 65+ population will be more than double that of the world’s youngest citizens.”
Is the U.S. ready for the graying of America? Speaking from her perspective and those of her peers, Shirley isn’t so sure. “I don’t think America regards older people with the same reverence as Asia does,” she says. “We will need to change the conversation around aging so that younger people see us as vibrant members of our society who still want to contribute, learn and enjoy life.”
In the past, she notes, residents of the Hebrew Old Age and Sheltering Home were largely immigrants who were content with three meals a day and a safe place to be. “Today, we have residents who are mentally alert at ages 93, 99 and even 103. They have been active all of their lives and don’t feel as if they should be limited by having a walker.”
That’s why SGLC has a dedicated activities staff that plans everything from chair exercise to trivia, meditation and more. Technology and social media play increasing roles in therapy and daily life. The ItsNever2Late computer was used to help a former pilot recreate his flying days virtually. The book club flourishes because there are so many avid readers. Assisted Living residents enjoy trips out to lunch, and excursions to see a concert or show. Recently, a group toured the murals in Atlantic City by Jitney.
The Bernsteins attend many of the activities, but also venture out on their own. “You get to keep as much independence as you want, but you get the support you need,” says Howard. “Everyone on staff is incredibly friendly and helpful. We’re very happy here, very happy.”
Shirley likes that she doesn’t have to go food shopping or cook, and that Howard’s physical therapy is right in the building. She also knows that the services at SGLC may have to expand for the next techno-savvy generation. “My children go to a gym and work out. They’re probably going to want a gym in their retirement home.”
It comes down to this, according to Shirley. “What we think of as old has changed, and we will need to adjust as a result—not just Seashore Gardens but our society.”
She emphasizes that we have to see the worth in older people. “Your mind is there but your body changes. It’s like a vintage car. It runs but not the same as a new one. Maybe the headlights aren’t as bright. But it will get you to where you’re going. Plus, you’ll have the wisdom from years on the road that you can share with the younger generation.”