Aging Parents–Research: Wisdom’s Importance in Successful Aging

For satisfaction in later life–to age well, research has told us that maintaining physical and mental health, volunteering and having connections with others are necessary.
One researcher, Dr. Monika Ardelt, an associate sociology professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville, wondered could people in poor health, those who’d suffered losses, and those “whose social roles were diminished”–age successfully or would they just have to “give up.” Her recent findings:
Wisdom is the ace in the hole that can help even severely impaired people find meaning, contentment and acceptance in later life.
The above and what follows come from an interesting 3/13/14  NY Times article: The Science of Older and Wiser.” It highlights research confirming the importance of wisdom in aging well–in part: 
  • “People who show evidence of  high wisdom are also more likely to have better coping skills …they would be more active than passive about dealing with hardship”
  • “….when people in nursing homes or with a terminal illness score high on Dr. Monika Ardelt’s wisdom scale, they also report a greater sense of well-being”
  • “True wisdom involves recognizing the negative both within and outside ourselves and trying to learn from it”
  • “Wisdom is characterized by a reduced self-centeredness”
  • “If you’re wise, you’re not focusing so much on what you need and deserve, but on what you can contribute.”
  • “Gererativity”–thinking about the next generation, giving back without needing anything in return….the wisest people do that in a way that doesn’t see their lifetime as limiting when this might happen.”
  • Whatever the nature of one’s limitations, simplifying one’s life is also a sign of wisdom.”
(Looking back we find that Erik Erikson, renowned for his 8 stages of human development theory, and his wife were in their 80’s when they added a ninth stage emphasizing wisdom.)
R, now 100 and a Senior Advisor to this blog, is the wisest person I know. She has maintained her mental and physical health as well as her connections with others. While she doesn’t volunteer in the literal sense, she is constantly doing for others–giving support– and advice (when asked), and little gifts. Her “Words of Wisdom,” posted a year ago:
  • As you age, it helps to simplify your life.
  • Know when to say “no.”
  • Don’t abuse yourself; you get enough from the outside.
  •  Don’t assume.
  • Take care of yourself or you won’t be able to take care of anything else.
Is it wise to say more? Perhaps. The above may give an idea of our parents’ wisdom. For specifics–and an “impediment” to wisdom, click the full article.
Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and professionals, plus ideas–to help parents age well.

Sr. Advisor R’s 100th Birthday

Candles spell out the traditional English birt...

“Getting Old is Hard Work”
“You have to learn to be responsible.”
“Life is
 tough, you have to get through it”
“Don’t Assume”

It’s 10:15 am. R has already heard from 35 people, wishing her “Happy Birthday.” Her 100th birthday is today. The doorbell just rang as we were on the phone, so it may be that the 36th well-wisher has sent flowers. That said, R has made it known at each opportunity that she only wants peoples’ good wishes (and hopes not to get flowers).

Too many flowers arrangements require work: carrying the heavy-for-an-old-person container of water or lifting and carrying a heavy vase to the sink to keep flowers watered; having a steady hand so as not to spill; removing the dead and drooping blooms, and ultimately taking them out to the garbage. While no problem for younger people, it’s work for those who are old and live alone. R has said so often recently that “when you’re old you need to simplify”…it’s the only way to stay on top of things and remain independent. Bottom line, R has asked that we take any flowers she receives to hospitals and rehab centers. Her life has centered around being thoughtful of others in word and deed.

R hadn’t reached 100 years of age when interviews for the 2012 publication of “Extraordinary Centenarians in America….” were done. Not surprisingly many of these centenarians  were–as is R–seriously focused on doing for others. The number of birthday remembrances are testimony to R’s impact on others’ lives*–and the day isn’t over. (I’ll try to update the “remembrance” total tomorrow).

Many times the last 2 years, R has said: “getting old is hard work.” While the “hard work” statement may not be true of all the “extraordinary centenarians,” R has an impressive ability to see and assess things with clarity. I guess the latter is especially necessary when you live alone in your own home (though choice, which we honor), do your own cooking and marketing, still handle your financial affairs, and your only child (and his wife) live across the country.

R credits her father with her resolve to handle all this. When she was very young he told her “”You have to learn to be responsible. Life is tough, you have to get through it.” Of course having responsibilities and doing for others gives her purpose, which we all need to remain engaged.

R’s family is small in number and the few relatives living near are not in good health for the most part. We, of course, live far away. What’s amazing is how R has nurtured relationships with younger friends and neighbors over the years. They have willfully fulfilled a “treasured friend” role and think of her as family. And R has made certain we know each of them and their spouses. (This was especially helpful when she broke her hip and during rehab.)

We can learn from our elders and hopefully some of R’s wisdom and experiences resonate. While clearly one size doesn’t fit all, R is an excellent example of a parent who has aged well.  No wonder so many say she’s “a role model.”

–And yes! We had a lovely just-family birthday party in a private dining room for her guest list of 21 people.


About to blow out candle on her 100th birthday cake. (Click to enlarge)


*R’s impact on others’ lives described

Note-New: Check out “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities about cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Aging Parents and Loneliness

What makes old people lonely? Were they lonely when they were younger, and if they are our parents were we never aware?

Were they shy?  Were they slow to initiate–did they even try? Did they have friends? Were they loners? Were their personalities such that people didn’t like being with them? Remember–people change, not much.

Many old people are lonely. We just know that, even if we don’t know them.  But if they’re in our family, it’s troubling isn’t it?

For many of us there’s an internal pressure to “make it better” for them. With the demands of life today, however, this isn’t necessarily easy. So do we feel guilty, do we do the best we can and connect whenever we think about it and have some free time, or do we repress this reality and go about our life?

A short article from this summer’s issue of UCLA Medicine (the University of Calif. at Los Angeles Medicine Magazine) caught my attention. While we know loneliness is emotionally awful, their researchers report that people who continually feel lonely may also be at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegeneration. Any of those undesirable conditions are burdensome for aging parents and add additional complications to their children’s lives.

If our aging parents fall into the loneliness category, what can we do? Probably not much of substance unless we:

Post Reminders
     — on our computer calendar, paper calendar, engagement calendar, the refrigerator–making certain they have human contact on a daily basis.  OK. Easier said than done, I know, but it can become 5-10 minutes of a daily routine if we phone or fax.

A fax takes only the time spent to write it, which I think is the beauty of a fax.  A lonesome aging parent has something newsy come into his/her life to read and reread, while a phone call lasts for an unspecified amount of time with good or bad news, but leaves only memories after it ends.

On the other hand, D in her 80’s, who will soon be added as a Senior Advisor to this blog, relates: “One morning recently I made two phone calls to friends and received one from a third, and as I thought about the three calls, I felt buoyed up for the day.  

To assuage the feeling of loneliness, nothing can approach the power of a phone call and the warmth of the human voice, which is multiplied geometrically by a second call -no matter how brief – from the same person or another one.”

A visit is best, a phone call is evidently 2nd best, then comes the fax. Also Paw Paw email (click “Sites and Blogs I Like” tab above) qualifies for non-computer users. Its simple purpose is to bring email into a person’s life.

There’s an old saying–I think it an AT&T ad:  “Reach Out and Touch Someone.”  Daily personal contacts can help dispel loneliness as we aim to help parents age well.

Related: Click link for some specific lonesome-parent strategies

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