As I have mentioned before, I spend a lot of time working with senior citizens. They come in all different shapes and sizes, backgrounds, health and lucidness. I often joke that meeting people through work really is a mixed bag. I never know what I will find and who I will meet.
One stark contrast is a 65-year-old woman who has had more than her fair share of health problems and very often does not leave the house. On the other hand, I recently met an 85-year-old man who is volunteering regularly, riding his horses and serving on boards in the community. When most people think about getting old, they picture themselves like the first woman: with a myriad of health problems and becoming a shut-in.
Well I have news for you. Being a senior is more than just comparing health insurance quotes with Medicare, watching Matlock and cross stitching. Getting older can be wonderful, and the 85-year-old man in my story (who is real, by the way) is the perfect example how.
The biggest thing I have learned from my job about aging is there are some things you can control in life and there are those you cannot. There are many diseases that cannot be avoided. Call it back luck or genetics, but no choices in your life can change the course of these diseases. These are things like certain types of cancer, dementia and others. These cannot be avoided, and your life will be a lot worse if this is compounded with a disease that is avoidable, like Type II diabetes, some forms of liver failure and obesity. Those who have more than one disease are often much worse off than if they only had one of the “unavoidable” diseases. Do yourself a favor, eat healthy, exercise regularly and take care of yourself so you do not make it worse for yourself.
Keep your mind active. The happiest seniors that I work with and visit are those who keep their minds (intellectually and socially) active. I recently visited a man who said his entire life was lived in front of the T.V. He left it only to go to the bathroom and to sleep. Sound exaggerated? It is not. Those who are much happier step away from the T.V. and connect with actual people. Now I understand that it not always possible, but human interaction brightens anyone’s day and leads to a happier life. (Do the people on T.V. ever talk back to you? If they do, we have bigger problems.) There are programs that help those who are home bound and cannot get out to visit people. Red Cross has a free program where someone will call you everyday at the same time. They can just check in, or you can talk for hours. It is up to the caller.
If you are unable to leave home, senior centers are a great way to meet new people and continue to be social, which is key to overall well being.