Aging Parents: How One Elder Lived Independently, Alone and Well To 101–Part 2

How 101-year old, R, staves of loneliness and remains connected and independent–continued from last post

Staying Connected

–Telephone: R used it to its full potential. Long conversations with friends and relatives were part of her daily life before and after being widowed. I think phone calls take on greater value for people living alone. R’s line was always busy–her social life and most business was handled on the phone.

–Taxi: 50 years ago as a recent, non-driving widow, R had no desire to drive. Indeed her husband’s car remained–unused–in the car port–as a burglary preventive! R took taxis.

She used that mode of transportation for decades. When she found a taxi driver she liked, she got his number and used/requested him from then on–phoning ahead to arrange a pick-up time.

She also organized her errands by location–one location on a given day (eg. grocery store/bank/pharmacy), giving the driver a time to return to take her home (long before cell phones). It always worked out for her.

–Entertainment: R enjoyed music and other cultural offerings. She’d purchase 2 tickets to the symphony, for example, inviting a friend, neighbor or family member. They drove. She’d take them or lunch or they’d take her.

Our Role in Combatting Social Isolation

As those we care about enter old age, we tend to visit them–in their home; in assisted living; in a rehab center–or nursing home if allowed. Why not make the effort to take them out and give them a change of scenery? Otherwise, doesn’t our visit usually go something like this: We visit. We make conversation. They listen and respond. They remain in place. We leave.

It’s easier for us for many reasons, but is it better for them? Taking them out provides:

  • Stimulation (obvious)–there’s a lot to look at out there
  • Exercise–getting in and out of a car, in addition to walking, especially important for people who should–but don’t–exercise….like my mother. See Related for my strategy with Mother.
  • Feelings of accomplishment–doesn’t accomplishing something make everyone feel good. What about including elders on short shopping trips to buy groceries or things at the drug store?
  • Fun–a meal, driving back to old neighborhood; visiting aging parents’ elderly friends; watching (the last inning, quarter?) of grandchild’s team playing sport; visiting a zoo, or any production (ballet, symphony, lecture)–handicap accessible  [if needed].
  • Change of Scenery (lake, river, mountains, ocean…)
  • A “carrot”–Sr. Advisor R always said knowing–ahead of time–that she was going out to something was “a carrot”– gave her something to look forward to

Lastly, being around a sweet babies or young children is especially uplifting to most older people. Barb, one of R’s helpful neighbors, cares for her grandson while her daughter works. Since infancy, when Barb realized she could count on his being good for a while after his nap, she would put him in the car, pick up Sr, Advisor R, and do quick errands she saved for these occasions. All was arranged around his nap schedule and included R. How thoughtful is that! P.S. Barb is quick to say her grandson: “has his moments” (was a typical 2), but R never experienced those moments.

Throughout her life R. took an active interest in–what we were doing; her neighbors and their children and grandchildren; world affairs; the latest styles of living, fashion, restaurants. In addition–even in her last months, she continued to do her part for others, saving her magazines for one neighbor and financial newsletters and each week’s Baron’s for another. Clearly not the norm, she models an elder who remained engaged and embraced connections with others.

And since we know “connections with others” is one of the 3 most important “ingredients” in aging well (MacArthur Foundation Report), don’t we think Sr. Advisor R’s life is further proof of this?

While loneliness is a great threat to longevity (last post), it isn’t a given for those who live alone. Some people can live alone and not be lonely.

…Hoping that some of preceding ideas can be used to stave off loneliness–as we try to help parents age well.

*                   *                     *
Related: R’s 10 sayings (she made them up) that influenced the way she lived life.
Strategy with Mother to include (sneak in) exercise.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.

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