I thought of this recently. The DownSize Columbus team had a booth at Columbus’ Senior Living Festival at the Hollywood Casino. This annual event in it’s 7th year is a celebration of all things old but great! Members of the Senior Services Roundtable of Columbus and Franklin County conceived the idea of a festive event targeting older adults and have created a fun (and popular! the 2016 event hosted over 3000 attendees!) seniors-only destination for a day. The Kathy Chiero Group of Keller Williams Greater Columbus and DownSize Columbus had the pleasure of meeting 100’s of over-55 adults from all walks of life.
It gave me an opportunity to see how our neighbors are coping with aging: some gracefully, some reluctantly, and some with an enviable joy de vivre. What makes the difference? Is it money? Health? A stress-free environment? While all of these certainly favorably contribute to the enjoyment of our later years, a great body of research suggests that the happiest older Americans are those that value experiences over possessions. Jim Bettman, a professor of business at Duke University says that the senior citizens who claim the most enjoyment in their lives are those that share experiences with others. “They live outwardly” says Bettman, purposefully cultivating relationships with their family, friends and loved ones.
At the Senior Living Event I met three sisters: Dorothy Gandy from Salisbury, N.C., Charlene Torer from Highland Heights, Ohio, Nancy Evans from Columbus and Nancy’s best friend and neighbor, their “adopted” sister, Rosemary Sokolowski. (The sisters were at the Senior event to support Nancy who, well past retirement age, started personal safety and security business with her husband, Mike. New Age Crimestoppers was a vendor.) The annual sister-trips began in 1997 as a way to stay connected after the death of their mother. Through many life-challenges they have remained committed to this time together. There were times the “trips” were to each other’s homes when spouses needed care, and there were a few years where illness kept the trip on hold, but “Oh how we missed that time together!” said Nancy.
2017 called for Las Vegas! Nancy’s daughter gave them a ‘bon voyage gift’ of matching t-shirts: these three senior-sisters + bestie wore rhinestone t-shirts which proudly said “Sisters Loose in Las Vegas.” They were a hit on the Vegas strip. Tourists stopped for selfies, they were cheered in restaurants and at the conclusion of their visit the CEO of the MGM Grand Hotel insisted on giving them a ride to the airport in a sleek silver limousine. Why? “Because we were old!” said Charlene. I beg to differ. I think it was because they defied the stereotype of old. They were vivacious, loved life and each other like school girls, and still ventured out to Las Vegas (with rhinestone t-shirts) when their combined ages equal the weight of a good-sized NFL linebacker. In short, they are FUN! Nancy called their joy “infectious” and I agree!
Anecdotal evidence shows that community often cures depression in the elderly. As we age, the tendency is to isolate ourselves, especially following the death of a spouse. Or, we lean heavily on our adult children to provide our social ‘fix’. While they may love you, their lives are in a different and busy stage and they cannot meet your need for interaction and activity. Are you struggling today? Are you lonely? Do you feel those that “should” meet your needs are not? I encourage you to find ‘your’ community and make yourself “infectious” in the best possible way! You don’t have to don a rhinestone t-shirt and stroll the Strip, but can find the local senior community center; exercise class, or somewhere to volunteer. Find your connection near you. Find a best friend. Or be one.