Acrylic on canvas
by Mel Walsh
Though retirement is stereotyped as a geezer Garden of Eden furnished with recliners and a flat screen TV, it can be tough. You’d never know it, though, from the ads. You’ve seen them—beautiful Botoxed models with silver hair, riding bikes on a country lane or sitting in seaside bath tubs waiting for the moment to be right.
In reality, retirement is no chocolate truffle. It’s a mixed bag. Some people love it, some hate it and some just struggle, trying to understand who they are besides unemployed and what they should do now since they are finally in charge.
Sounds good—being in charge of your life, but if you’ve invested total energy in a job now gone and in a family now departed, facing the future is scary. What will you do with yourself? Who will you become? The silly old person of the stereotypes? A super senior who skydives and makes the news? A grandpa who babysits and loves it because he missed out on his own kids’ childhoods? (Too busy earning a living.)
Maybe a grandma who starts a new business? Or someone who never retires—who works as a consultant or at a part-time job to make money or to feel useful? (The biggest poverty of the later years may be the lack, not of money, but of meaning.)
How to get a grip
First, go easy on yourself. You don’t have to get the new you in place tomorrow. A good first thing to do: practice some personal archeology. That means digging out the interests you used to have. Did you always want to raise orchids, sing in a choir, be an artist, take photos like Ansel, help abused animals?
You may reply it’s too late for all that and I will reply it’s only too late if you don’t start now. Actually, that’s the title of a book by Barbara Sher—It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now: How To Create Your Second Life At Any Age. Sher is a genius at getting people off the dime, out of their fear freezes and into new lives that fit. Certainly her books helped me go back to school in my sixties and get an MA in Gerontology, the study of older people. So any Sher book on Amazon would be number two on my get-going list.
Third: Find a retirement buddy, someone who struggles with the same issues. This could be your mate, a former co-worker or a neighbor. It helps to know you are not alone. Exchanging ideas may result in a new perspective on retirement issues. Sometimes others can see you better than you can and might share what things they think you could do and enjoy.
Fourth: Test out some ideas with classes. Take classes in your interests at community colleges or adult ed classes in your area. Also look online. I got my degree from USC totally online. If you don’t care about credit—you just want the subject matter—-take free online university courses.
A major wakeup call for the brain
Free online courses from major schools are a treasure chest of ideas and information and a good way to get your feet wet in any subject. For a list of high-quality courses, go to http://tinyurl.com/2xr7sd.
MIT excels at this, and not just in science, but in the humanities with a wide offering of music courses. Carnegie Mellon is a leader online with many science courses. Tufts has wide offerings and excels in nutrition and medicine, both human and veterinary. UC Berkeley is not to be outdone. I had to stop writing this column just to listen to a computer class. All the links to these universities are at the website above.
Fifth: Don’t wait for the perfect thing to magically come your way. It takes effort and bravery to go down unknown paths. To his credit, Cranky Pants ventured forth to fall in a river after a fish, to suffer through golf lessons in the heat of an LA summer and to spin out on a race track going over 100 mph. He decided who he was not: a fisherman, Tiger Woods or Sterling Moss. He found civil grand jury work instead—interesting and done on cool dry land at zero mph.
So, again, we salute him and others who get out there in retirement as test pilots of their own lives. Fly on.
Mel Walsh is a columnist, blogger, gerontologist and author of HOT GRANNY, Chronicle Books. She lives in Carmel CA with Cranky Pants.
Note: This is a repost of a former column, but I meet so many people just beginning the journey, thought I would post it again.
I’m writing a book about preparing for and recovering from joint surgeries on knees, hips, shoulders, ankles, feet. It will be a nitty gritty guide, patient to patient, with tips and hints for getting the best outcome from these surgeries.
Am especially interested in hearing about your knee and hip replacements.
Please write back with any experiences or opinions about such surgeries:
Here are some things to write about:
What difference did the surgery make in your life?
What made you decide to do it?
Would you do it again? Did you know what you were getting into? What, if any, were the surprises?
Did you have good pain control? What meds were used?
What, if anything, did you find hard about recovery? Was any equipment useful? Walkers, leg lifters, etc. What were the biggest problems?
What advice would you have for others?
Did anything really help in recovery? The kind of help you had? Friends and family? Physical therapists? How did you handle daily living? Food, getting around?
Did you feel you got good discharge instructions from the hospital?
Did you go to a rehab/nursing facility after the hospital? If yes, what was your opinion?
Did your family come in to help? Was there conflict about what to do, how to do it, etc?
How did you handle any frustration, depression during recovery? What got you through the post-op nights?
What are your observations about family and friends who have had joint surgeries?
Really, I am interested in anything you have to say. I will not use names if I use your quotes in the book. If I think your remarks still identify you, your family, your hospital or doctor, I will change your location and leave out those names, but I don’t change your opinions or experience! Don’t worry about grammar, lovely writing, doing it just so…just write.
I very much appreciate anything you care to send about the experience. If you want to forward this to anyone who has had joint surgery, please do so. Love to hear from them too.
Send privately to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a public reply below. Thanks. Mel
Trying to keep up to date on every issue connected with growing older—well, that used to be a task. But one great free site makes it all easy. Subscribing to the free weekly newswire at http://www.savvysenior.com will convey everything you need to know about life after 60. (OK, it doesn’t tell you how to cut your toenails if you can’t reach your toes, but it will help on most every other front.)
Another favorite here at Our Geezer Home is http://www.peoplespharmacy.com. That too is a free subscription and is full of useful and up-to-date health information, both mainstream and home remedies. Subscribers will also get special health and pharmaceutical alerts when important items hit the newswires, such as a drug being taken off the market because of its harmful effects on consumers, one of whom may be you.
Subscribe to those two free sites and you will be ahead of the aging game.
Why Am I Telling You This? It’s the R word, Retirement
After almost 40 years of writing professionally, I am tired. I started writing professionally back in the 1970’s. I have written four non-fiction books for major publishers, been nationally syndicated for a few years, had regular columns in the San Jose Mercury News, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Huffington Post. I’ve also written for the Oprah magazine, Glamour and Working Women. Those things along with a ton of work for Silicon Valley corporations have kept me afloat in addition to with some surprise consulting jobs for Gallo Wines and the CA Olive Industry.
As for aging issues, I got an MA in Gerontology at USC when I turned 60 and since then I’ve written one book about aging, HOT GRANNY, and hundreds of newspaper columns about life in the geezer lane. Also on the aging front, I had one of the few weekly radio shows in the country that was just about aging at KVMR-FM.
I’ve had the honor of doing national book tours, doing interviews on national TV, one of which is on YouTube evidently forever, and you can find it if you Google: Mel Walsh CBS. (There you will find clueless me who forgot to take off her red socks and walking shoes before going on the air.)
Looking back at it all, it was more than I ever expected out of life—but now I want to do something different. I’m 77. Average age of planet departure in the US is 78. Now or never is the time to have fun, do some art, smell the roses and kiss my profession fondly goodbye.
But and however, I just didn’t want to leave you all high and dry when it came to info about the later years. So consider subscribing to http://www.savvysenior.org and http://www.peoplespharmacy. They are gold mines of good information as is http://www.mayoclinic.com if you want to research any ailment or body glitch.
Thank you very much for subscribing here and I wish you all a very good New Year. My motto for the year is taken from my friend June who has this to say about aging and having fun in the later years: Eat the popsicle before it melts.
So eat your popsicles. Love, Mel
I guess we ordinary people always suspected it—moods can effect our heart health. But we mostly heard this in a downer way, people dying of broken hearts.
However, what’s getting attention on the medical landscape these days is the opposite idea—-people can live longer because of a happy heart. The Rx suggested here is joy, pleasure, contentment and yes, happiness.
Is there evidence that happiness promotes heart health?
You bet. Just consider this: Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center in New York followed 1,739 healthy adults over 10 years, taking periodic measurements of their negative emotions—depression, hostility, anxiety—and their positive emotions—joy, enthusiasm and pleasure. They also monitored the state of individual heart health or heart disease. Without boring you with details about how they controlled for this or that, what they found was a correlation between the state of the emotions and the health of the heart. Happier people had healthier hearts.
Happiness Seemed to Ward Off Heart Disease.
This finding and others like it might have major implications for the treatment of heart disease. If heart troubles can be prevented by boosting positive emotions, will doctors prescribe HBO comedy specials, golden labs or whatever else floats your happiness boat?
The team’s leader, Karina Davidson, Ph.D., said the study was the first to examine the relationship between clinically-assessed positive emotions and heart disease. She called for more research, but said people should try and put fun into their daily routines, rather than enjoying life in short bursts.
“Some people wait for their two weeks of vacation to have fun and that would be analogous to binge drinking, ” she said. “If you enjoy reading novels, but never get around to it, commit to getting 15 minutes or so of reading. If walking or listening to music improves your mood, get those activities in your schedule. Essentially, spending a few minutes each day truly relaxing and enjoying yourself is good for your mental health and may improve your physical health as well.”
Other studies came to a similiar conclusion. Julia Boehm, Harvard School of Public Health, did a meta-analysis of the many studies about health and happiness. Her findings? Optimistic people have half the risk of a first heart attack than pessimistic, negative people. The stress associated with negative emotions evidently harms the heart and vessels.
Tragedy: Get Outta Here
Which gets me to the subject of what we choose as “entertainment” at the end of the day. Call me a wanna-be Pollyanna, but since life can be tough, it’s a daily challenge to keep spirits buoyant and I don’t want my movies and TV to bring me down when I’ve worked all day to be Zen and pleasant. So count me among the people who will not currently be seeing the movie “Amour” about the disintegration and death of older people. Why pay to face death when you can get it for free in your own life? Me, I guard my moods and can barely take the passing of Michael Crawley on Downton Abbey.
Same goes for news. Almost all bad and depressing. I read newspapers just enough to know what is going on and it’s my husband, Cranky Pants, who keeps Brian Williams company at the end of the day.
Sure. While the Columbia study is regarded by the cardiac community as the one that most clearly suggests happier people have lower rates of heart disease. a correlation does not prove cause and effect. More research is needed to prove that happiness is an evidence-based Rx for heart disease. Also note: this study does not mean any of us can ignore established risk factors—smoking, high blood pressure, inactivity and wallowing in saturated fat—my once favorite form of edible entertainment.
So what to do?
You probably already know what makes you happy. Unless you have a heroin habit, do those things more often. Some of us, though, have forgotten some of the simple joys of childhood and need to excavate them from memory. I am currently enjoying peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Benny Goodman and sunrises.
Same to ya.
Thanks to Stephen Bowler and CarbonNYC for their photos and please post any hints you have for staying on the sunny side of the street after 60.
Well, ok, maybe you don’t, but I do. Trouble is, they don’t make the kind of dog I want. There are therapy dogs trained to help people with disabilities, to hear for the hearing-impaired, to help people convalesce in hospitals and nursing homes, to help veterans recover from the trauma of war. The airport in San Jose, CA even has therapy dogs walking the terminals to calm those anxious about flying, the theory being that if you pet a dog, you will forget that your airplane is going to go down in flames over Kansas.
No, I want a therapy dog for the money-impaired retiree, we who are trying to recover from the post-traumatic shock of the market and housing meltdowns of recent years. Maybe you too now need some soft fur therapy if you lost 40 to 50% of your house’s value…the house that was going to be the family piggy bank since you hadn’t saved 8 times your annual income for retirement. (Who actually does this?)
Me, I’d like one therapy dog for past losses it and another puppy for current investments yielding under ½ of 1% percent, which is the current overnight rate, lower than inflation, higher by a smidge than absolutely nothing at all. Actually, it is nothing at all since inflation is beating it by several points. I’d call that dog Benny after Ben Bernanke, head of the Federal Reserve.
What I Can’t Get Over
I can get over the notion of people in retirement becoming the newly poor…not nouveau riche, but nouveau pauvre…but I can’t get over the idea that we are not marching in the streets over federal policy that denies savers and investors any livable return. Well, maybe we have not marched in the streets since the Vietnam War, but we could at least write letters, talk to our representatives and prod the AARP to get on board this issue.
Now I hear a lot of reasons why the rates are so low—economic recovery being the most parroted—-but nobody talks about the benefits to the biggest debtor of them all, a federal government in the hole for over 16 trillion dollars. Call me paranoid for having these thoughts, but if I appointed the head of the Federal Reserve, the guy who sets the interest rates for my debts, I’d pick someone who kept the interest rates near zero.
And so it came to pass.
And who else benefits from these next to nothing interest rates? Certainly not responsible retirees, savers, holders of CD’s, treasury notes and other once reliable instruments of generating income for us who are either retired or let go in a downsizing.
What To Do?
First, listen to what most sensible and honest investment advisors say: Just because you are not as well off as you used to be, don’t go off chasing high-risk investments promising higher returns. Risk goes up as promised returns go up, yet cash-strapped retirees, too old to chase risk, are falling for investment schemes that promise high returns. An “investment advisor” told me to put all my money into marinas in Australia. I won’t even get into what friends and friends of friends say except one acquaintance wanted me to finance triangles under which one could sit to get magical vibes from the universe. He also wanted to give me other magical vibes—a two-fer.
Instead, I resisted both offers and put my assets into balanced funds at Vanguard. www.Vanguard.com. Vanguard doesn’t promise the earth or get you into docks on a far away continent. Instead, they bring you down to earth and have lots of good information on their site. Even if you think of yourself as investment illiterate, Vanguard will help newbies understand what to do in these unstable times. In a simple online survey, if you put in what you are willing to endure in terms of risk, they will suggest what diversified and balanced investments might make sense.
Which gets me back to my therapy dogs—dogs to calm economic assaults, money worries, and the fantasies of eating cat food when I’m 95.
So what kind of dog would make the best therapy dog for wallet worries? Is your own dog a best friend when you read your bank statements? Are there therapy cats? Please post comments and photos below.
Woof. And thanks to Pohan, Lindyi and Tuppus for dog pics.
Wonder what you’ll be like as an older person?
Well, researchers at the University of Chicago can polish your crystal ball. They did a study of people aged 57-85—the National Social Life, Heath and Aging Project. They went into people’s homes and asked about health, relationships and sex lives, though how they got honest answers about sexual behavior in face-to-face interviews with a spouse in the next room is a mystery. Their walls must be thicker than mine.
Health Findings: Parfum De Tiger Balm
In the health department, arthritis is one thing these older adults had in common. In the 75+ group, 62.8 % had arthritis, which explains the sweet smell of Tiger Balm in the morning in the homes of older folks—that and our snappy copper bracelets. Among that same older group, though, only 16.8 % reported a heart attack. Is this good news or have those with heart problems already passed into the Great Beyond, beyond the questions of researchers?
Is a mystery.
Statistically, hypertension may also be in your future in that 60% of the same older group—75 to 85—have high blood pressure, which may be related to the fact that 55.2 % of the subject group was also obese. And the younger group is even more rotund—61.2 % of the 57-64 year olds are obese. (I am beginning to feel very self-conscious about the buttercream cupcakes I made last night.)
I hope this won’t ruin your day, but not all older people said they liked to spend time with their partners. Not a recreational choice. Only about 50% of men said they like to spend time with their partners and by the time partnered women got to be over 75 only 47.7 % said they liked to spend time with their honey-buns.
If these results aren’t misprints, we have a problem. Retirement means two people alone in a house all day. Lordy, if you don’t enjoy that, your days are toast.
But here’s the mystery: the vast majority of people in the study said they were happy in their relationships. Maybe the contradiction just translates into what has become a retirement mantra: I married you for life, dear, but not for lunch. Get the heck out of the house.
Now… The Sex Thing
The younger ones in the study had more lifetime sex partners than the people 75+. Forty-seven percent of women 57-64 had more than two lifetime sex partners, while only 20% of the oldest women had more than two sex partners in their lifetimes.
Well, no surprise here. The fast-lane Boomers among the group had reliable contraceptives and Woodstock. The older ones—well, they were pre-pill and pre-rock and probably lived more in the Tony Bennett lane.
Last, when it comes to sex, men stay true to form. While most women 75 and older said sex is NOT an important part of life, 75% of men over 75 said sex is still important.
So go ahead. Put that picture in your crystal ball—it’s going to be marriage counseling in our walkers.
I never thought I’d grow up young.
But, in the 21st century, that’s not unusual. I’m just one of many—women who are 50, 60 or more on the outside, but girls of 20 on the inside. This is the era of young older women—vintage girls—a contradiction, but a truth, an ordinary miracle. Outside may be a bit crinkled, but inside it’s still dewdrops and roses. That leads us vintage girls to big surprises: the faces we see in our mirrors. We ask: Who’s that in my mirror? How could that face possibly belong to me? Looks like my mom.
What we see in a mirror, the outside us, doesn’t match our inside selves and because we don’t feel old, we imagine age has happened to others, but not to us.
“My girlfriends look old, but I’m just in disguise.”
Me, I’m accidently old…hit and run by the passing years—and I’m thinking of making this bumpersticker for my car: MY OTHER AGE IS TWENTY.
Age takes many of us by surprise. Now that’s really funny. Where did we think those birthdays were going? Backwards?
Anyhow, with menopause in the rear view mirror of life, I finally realized I was on the outskirts of age. There could be a huge run of longevity ahead of me and all I knew about it could be put in a nutshell. I just knew that a stretched-out future in retirement was a new thing under the sun, nothing like my grandma’s life—which was tatting, tapioca and tending to her canary until she died younger than I am now. With today’s medical rescues from conditions that used to kill people, some of us could live to be 100. And if that isn’t a demographic miracle, dumb luck pouring down on our heads, what is?
Think about it: Around 1900, people in the US died at the average age of 48. But we’ve been given a reprieve from extinction. Don’t have to die. Not yet. A forty-year gift of life. This is unprecedented in the long history of human existence. In fact, it’s an immense gift, but many are blind to it. Women look at their older bodies and they don’t see the gift because their packaging is wrinkled.
The gift is invisible. They see the package, not the gift.
So here’s my advice. Take it twice a day.
Say this aloud to yourself:
Age is a gift, an invisible gift. Thank you. I’m still alive.
With that perspective you will find an instant cure for wrinkles: You will no longer care about them…it’s just the package, not the gift.
Please add your tips or comments. Mel Walsh is a gerontologist, author and columnist. Her book, HOT GRANNY, is available at Amazon. Twitter: @MelWalshWriter.
By Mel Walsh. Published May 29, 2012 in the Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com.
Summer for Dummies
Some days I think I am no smarter than your average roadside weed. That’s because every year, come summer, I have to re-learn the ways to stay cool and comfy when the temp goes over ninety. But then I had to re-read Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care after every birth, so the sieve brain issue is not new for me. So, should you also need a reminder about how best to take care of yourself in the summer heat, here’s a Summer for Dummies refresher.
Take off your clothes That’s a no-brainer for teens, who strip down to short shorts and midriff thingies as soon as school is out. But older people, with each passing decade, seem to cover up more and more of themselves as the years go by. In our culture, the sags and other signs of aging are to be hidden, and so we wear long sleeves and long pants when it’s 100 degrees out. (Ever see beach pics of older people in other cultures? They just don their swimsuits like everybody else. None of this burqa-esgue hiding.)
So take off your clothes. Most of them anyhow. My spies tell me that there are women who even abandon their bras in the summer, not wanting to be wired into an extra layer. A sleeveless tank or cami under a light cotton top takes care of the too-revealing issue. Around the house, panties and a tank are adequate for women and certainly get the seal of approval of Cranky Pants, my mate, who walks around in nothing much himself. Capris (also known as pedal pushers among the older set) are great for going out in the world. Kmart has a range of cotton capris for women that are just $6.98.
Neck coolers These look like rolled bandanna scarves and will keep a person comfortable in the heat. They have little beads sewn inside that will plump up when wet. So first you soak the neck cooler in water to get the beads soaked and expanded. Then you put the scarf on and let the evaporation work to keep you cool. It’s like having your own personal evaporative cooler. Turn the scarf around when the side against the skin gets warm. I keep my extras plumped up and ready to go in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Look in local sports stores for neck coolers. (Yes, neck coolers are a bit dorky, but better dorky than in the ER for heat exhaustion.)
Hand fans I can’t figure out why we in the US seem to have abandoned these. I carry a folding paper fan in my handbag all summer long and can be found shamelessly aflutter when it’s hot. I buy them by the dozen on Amazon—$6.99 for 12, free shipping for Prime members. Great gifts for friends with hot flashes.
Managing the hot days Think Italian or Spanish when it comes to at living in a hot clime. They take the afternoons off for siesta and are active in the cooler parts of the day and evening. So, take a hint from them if you want to hike, run your errands or garden. Do these things in the early morning. Take a nap in the afternoon. (If you’re working, don’t let the boss see you.) Then stay up late and enjoy the starry nights. Even cooking dinner ahead of time in the cool mornings makes sense. Then the main food folderol is already in the bag for the day.
Keeping the house cool Electric fans and air conditioning help out many, but so do simple window shades. Also, opening the house when it’s cool at night and closing it up when it starts to get hot in the late morning will manage the temps. You can go greener by not using the AC 24 hours a day and by setting it to 75 or above. As for electric fans, local hardware stores have some great sales.
Drink It seems silly to remind people to drink water, but the older you get, the more your thirst mechanism goes awry. Keeping a big bottle of water in sight is a good reminder. In sight, in mind.
So stay cool, will ya?
I’ll probably have to write this again next summer.
Please add your tips or comments. If you want an audience of millions, comment on the Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com. Search term: Mel Walsh—to get to this column and others. Mel Walsh is a gerontologist, author and columnist. Her book, HOT GRANNY, is available at Amazon. Twitter: @MelWalshWriter.