Why we need older friends

Flagstaff Gardens, Melbourne, Australia, photo courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons

Earlier this week, I watched three buses from an elder housing community pull out of the parking lot near a theater where we had just seen a play. Ah, so that explained the presence of so many eighty-somethings in the audience.

It was an easy leap at that moment to imagining a time when I will have less control over my life, just as this older crowd seemed to. Will I ever live in a facility like theirs, have to be chauffeured to entertainment with others who live in the same setting, and build my social life and group activities around them?  Would I still see old friends who weren’t residents there or would my life center around “The Home.” (A group of friends and I joke that we’re going to establish our own version of “The Home”.)

Everyone I know wants to live independently forever. But watching the older adults as they exited the theater and boarded their buses, I became very aware that aging takes different forms.

What people need are older role models. I’m serious. What better way to learn about next stages in life than from those who are living them?  The fastest growing population in the county where I live is the eighty-five and older group.There must be plenty of people to look up to and model myself after right now. I have good friends aging along with me and a few older ones. It’s time to ask them what they’re thinking about as they age and what changes they’re experiencing, no matter how subtle.

My best — though atypical — guide to the future is Eleanor at ninety-six. She has as much spark and energy as she probably had when she was forty. Something about her high level of activity and involvement in many projects tells me she’s not yet concerning herself with what will happen next.  She’s decided she wants to live to 101 and I’m confident she’ll make it at least that far. I hope she lives longer.

March 20 Addendum: I can’t believe I forgot to bring up another role model, my 85-year-old yoga teacher, Joyce. I will never have hamstrings as limber as hers. Some of my classmates have been studying with her for more than twenty years. Now that’s loyalty and proof that she’s a good teacher.  She’s studied with some of the best and never pushes.  “You’re in charge of your body,” she says.  “If it hurts, don’t do it.”









About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness. Also, I'm on the third draft of my second novel since retirement.
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9 Responses to Why we need older friends

  1. Shirley Shimada says:

    I watch my 81 year old peers at the temple and wonder at their energy and enthusiasm for life, grateful for amazing models of aging well.

  2. Eleanor has spunk and energy, and appears to be unconcerned about her age. So commendable! Hope to be like her someday!

  3. dkzody says:

    I have numerous friends who are in their 80s and 90s. Some are doing remarkably well, still living on their own. Others, having a harder time navigating their elderly years. I want to maintain my mobility and independence, and so I try to eat a healthy diet and do my exercises. So many of my elderly friends will say, just keep moving. You’re in trouble if you sit down.

  4. Karen says:

    Learning and reflecting from those older than us I think is a very good idea. It has changed my plans that I would “live in my dream house forever” to live here till “I’m old, but not really old”. After experiencing both of my parents in assisted living, volunteering with several older ladies and couples, and watching friends with parents at home, I have lots of arguements for NOT living forever at home. The #1 reason being Socialization vs Isolation. Home ultimately equates to isolation because you can’t drive forever wherever and whenever you want. Some people can’t see well, some have early dementia, some can’t walk far or without aids. That means no going to the grocery store at the last minute, no trips to theatre/concerts/events without asking a friend or coordinating with Access. At home, you are constantly at someone else’s mercy to do things to help you. At least in a facility, there is a full schedule of activites every day/every week. And I will have control of choosing the things I want to participate in and I have the ability to suggest activities at resident councils. In the end, I will have more freedom, more independence and more choices than living alone. I think people will be mentally and physically healthier living in a supportive environment. Being around others, even if you choose to sit in your apartment all day, chances are you will be forced to talk to 3 or 4 people in the hallway, at meals, etc a day. At home, it is too easy to settle in and be a hermit. (The hard part of this plan may be affording a facility but I think it is worth it.) “Use it or lose it” is true for our physical muscles including vocal chords and our minds. Like my 91 Dad says when people ask him if he is anxious, worried or depressed when he had a stroke and had to trade his car/condo for walker/assisted living “no, what is there to worry about?” His thought was meals are always ready, medical help always there, no plumbing or car repairs to worry about…nothing to be worried about any more.

    • ann oxrieder says:

      i hadn’t considered all these pieces. thanks for sharing a different and more complete perspective. I know there’s a lot of research on mental health and longevity tied to having a social life. But that this point in my not so old life, I have trouble imagining the smells — just like I don’t like the smells walking down the hallway of a hotel — and the routine and the proximity of so many people like living in a college dorm.

  5. JANET says:

    So enjoyed reading your original comments Ann, and certainly those of others as well. I’m one of the fortunate ones…at 80+ outliving both parents, younger sis, and many friends. Certainly, staying carefully active as long/much as possible AND socializing are the keys. Humor (with a bit of silliness thrown in!) & positive thinking make life so very worthwhile.

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