When you picture an 89 year old, you might think of a frail older person who maybe does a lot of TV watching. But not this 89 year old! Maureen is as sharp as any person you might meet at any age. She looks healthy, sounds clear, and knows what she wants. What’s her secret to healthy aging?
It’s about long standing habits, using common sense and making smart choices in her life. Six years ago, she lost her husband to whom she was married for 64 years. She did not allow that to defeat her. She was already involved in her community, and after the profound loss, she expanded her social connections with two other community-based groups. One is a widowed persons group. “They’re all just like me” she says of the connection. She serves as president of the organization, which meets weekly, now that Covid is less of a threat, and they play dominoes, among other social events.
She’s a former teacher and remains active in her retired teachers organization as well her other community-based groups that meet regularly for activities. The pandemic forced her into lockdown, which certainly can lead to depression and isolation. Fortunately, her youngest son, who was able to come from out of state to help, was able to move in with her when the pandemic began. She has large, comfortable house which easily accommodates others. Her son and his partner saved her from feeling trapped.
“They do everything for me” she says. One or the other drives her to her activities, appointments and errands. They do the laundry, cooking and grocery shopping. They give physical assistance, as she is a bit unsteady on her feet. She acknowledges that she could not live there in her big house without that help. She absolutely does not want to hire someone from outside the family to help. She gives her son and his partner some money to pay for the cost of being there. Otherwise, her son has a job in tech and his partner works from home. Between the two gentlemen, someone is there with Maureen nearly all the time.
They watch over her. “They made me stop driving”, she says with a chuckle but they take me anywhere I need to go. They encourage her to limit sweets, eat well and avoid heavy work. Nonetheless, she does do some of her own housekeeping. I met Maureen in her fastidiously kept home with everything spotlessly clean. She acknowledges that she, her son and his partner feel like a loving family to her. She reports that she suffered far less from the lockdown than anyone who was alone during that time.
Maureen follows what experts suggest can stave off dementia and prevent other chronic illness. Besides maintaining a good weight (hers appears normal to the observer) and eating a healthy diet, she reads daily. She doesn’t smoke. She walks for exercise. She is fully vaccinated as are her housemates. She takes just two daily medications as well as her vitamins. She doesn’t need frequent doctor visits. “I just go to a doctor when I need to if something comes up” she says.
One of the most important parts of her success is maintaining excellent social connections. She does more than go to a meeting once in awhile. Rather, she serves on boards of directors and with her widowed persons group, she serves as president. I saw the group’s well written newsletter. I didn’t ask but it appears that she wrote it. A former English teacher would be good at that.
She suffered tremendous loss when becoming a widow, but she found the support she needed to get through her grieving process. She is optimistic, and speaks her mind. There is no doubt that adapting to massive lifes change would challenge anyone, particularly an elder who is used to having things a certain way. But adapt Maureen did. She sounds like a happy person and had no complaints when I interviewed her.
- Healthy aging is more than eating right, getting some exercise and refraining from smoking. It’s about habits over the long run. It’s never too late to start some new, healthy habits. Stay committed to them as Maureen is.
- Social isolation is a significant contributor to poor health, according to research. Preventing loneliness and isolation requires making and keeping connections to others. Staying regularly engaged is essential too.
- Each person who is not cognitively impaired can adapt to change, even when it takes tremendous effort. Maureen adapted to widowhood, found a way to stay in her home with her son’s and partner’s help and is thriving from any perspective. Her willingness to make changes helps her survive old age.
I look at how Maureen lives her life and I am inspired. One can see that it’s not just luck that keeps her happy and reasonably healthy at 89. I hope she inspires you, too.