In October I turned the big six-o!
This got me thinking about my career working with older adults. My first job out of college was working as an activity director in a senior community. I was all of 24 years old. I loved my job and the residents. I was the age of their grandchildren and had many “foster grandparents”. The experience set me on a course to make this my life’s work.
Later on, I moved into a marketing position. I had seen so many positive examples of people joining my community and thriving in a supportive, engaging and social environment. The years passed. Almost without recognition, I became the age of the residents’ kids rather than their grandkids. It wasn’t until my recent 60th birthday, though, that I became the age of my residents! I am now officially age-qualified to join Paradise Valley Estates.
My experiences over the years have been overwhelmingly positive. I have seen the power of successful aging time and again. My role models have set the bar very high, but I’m eager for the challenge as I enter my 60’s and near retirement.
Here are the the Top Ten Lessons I’ve Learned for Successful Aging:
1. Have friends.
As we age our world can shrink. We lose touch with longtime friends. I want the opportunity to meet new people. PVE residents Marianne Siembieda and Lynn Ridgway moved into PVE about the same time. They quickly became acquainted and then close friends. Lynn’s comment, “I never imagined I would find a new best friend here!”
2. That family house you’ve been in for 25 years (or more) is just a structure, holding NO emotional ties.
People hang on tightly to the family home. I’ve learned from residents who’ve taken that leap of faith and moved beyond that house to a new chapter in their lives. The last time I moved my kids were 4 and 7 (now 28 and 31!). I was the last one out of the house that day. I realized without our things and especially without the family, it was just a house. My life and heart were already in the new house with my family.
3. Love where you’ve been, but focus on the future.
I’ve gotten to know so many wonderful people over the years. They’ve lived interesting and fulfilling lives. They’ve earned the right to reminisce about the “good old days”. There are great opportunities here to do just that, including the Men’s Coffee and Bull Session and the Memoir Writing Class. Most folks don’t dwell on the past, though, because there are so many opportunities to do something interesting this afternoon, tomorrow or next week.
4. Pursue lifelong interests you haven’t had time for.
I have a long list of interests. My counted cross stitch projects alone will take me years into the future! I am a little jealous when I chat with residents about what they are up to. Their list is as long as the list of names in our resident directory.
5. Better yet, find a new interest that you never even thought of.
I’ve always wanted to learn to play a musical instrument and tap dance (Not at the same time). PVE folks are always up to something new and interesting. Opportunities include conversational Spanish, bocce ball (it’s a PVE obsession), guided creativity (painting), pickle ball or The Termites woodworking group. It’s important to be surprising!
6. Do something to stay physically active every day.
My passion for the past 22 years has been playing ice hockey. (See #5 “It’s important to be surprising!”) I’m not alone in that passion here at PVE. Resident Jim Graham is a lifelong hockey player. He finally hung up his skates a couple years ago, on the plus side of 80. He’s my inspiration. I’m ready for another 20 years, just like Jim!
7. Have someone who can be your expert advocate for health care as you age.
A funny thing happened when I hit middle age and was the age of my residents’ kids. I began to get one call after another from friends and family who were dealing with issues of aging parents. I was their expert. Find (or become) your own expert.
8. Plan activities, trips and outings—always have something to look forward to.
This is dedicated to my mother. At almost 96, she is happiest when she is planning her next event. Whether it’s hosting a card party, getting together with longtime family friends or flying to California to see me, she’s always looking forward. She is also a testament to the power of #6!
9. Do something to benefit others.
With a more flexible schedule, I look forward to opportunities to give back to my community. Our resident volunteers are doing so many wonderful things, including animal rescue and dogs for the blind, tutoring at risk kids, delivering “Meals-on-Wheels” and mentoring high school ROTC kids.
10. Be creative, perform, and share yourself with the world.
Being a ham and going beyond your comfort zone is important (See #5 Tap dancing and playing the piano). There are so many performers here. There are chimes players, two choirs, a reader’s theater group, dancers and musicians. Twice a year they put on a chorale program that involves over 50 performers and crew. Our marketing department even got in the act with a couple dance numbers!
Being in a senior living community isn’t a guarantee of a successful retirement, but many of these important life lessons are more easily achieved in this setting. If you are considering your next move, get out there! Visit places that interest you and take some time. Talk with staff and most importantly, talk with residents.
As for me, I’m thankful for a wonderful, 35-year career, but I can’t wait to retire. Ice Hockey and Counted Cross Stitch, here I come!