A few years ago a woman came into the office to interview me. She was thinking about appointing me as her agent under a durable power of attorney. Her health was declining; she knew she would need more help soon. She wanted to create an environment that would take care of her after further decline.
She wanted me to know a little about her earlier life. She had attended a liberal arts college and had gone on to have a busy career in a large city. Never married, she had no immediate family. For fun she had travelled the world with friends, read broadly, and dove into the community and culture of her large city. Her diverse interests helped her develop a big “world view."
Aging made her world smaller. As her eyesight and mobility diminished bit by bit, she lost contact with people and activities she enjoyed. Pessimistically, she predicted she would end up in a room all alone.
She scared me. She made aging sound like Chinese water torture.
I sympathized, and then I challenged her to create what change she could immediately. I suggested she ask herself each day if she was doing everything she could to combat her isolation. Was she refusing anyone’s help? Had she reached out to our senior community centers for opportunities to make new friends? Was she willing to spend money on a caregiver who could help her get out of the home, or who could help her shop for books on tape? Was she willing to age with others in assisted living? Was she doing all she could?
We need interaction with other people to be happy. But now scientific evidence indicates that people who aren’t satisfied with the closeness and frequency of their relationships are at risk for serious illness and a reduced life span. For seniors, staying big means staying as close as you can to your family, friends, or a community like a church, senior center, or neighbors. It’s good for you.