Let’s sing along with the Beatles…

September 25, 2016

Are you wondering who will still need you – and feed you – when you’re 64? Or, better yet in this time of increased longevity, when you’re 84 or even 104?

Researchers are thinking about this as well. In fact, recent studies show that social isolation is as bad for your health as obesity or substance abuse. Loneliness may even increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. So, what can you do now to make sure you have the supports you need to age well and live well?

For the sake of your health, you need two kinds of social support.

As you age, there’s a good chance that some aspect of your daily life will become difficult and you will need instrumental support. This means you’ll need help with practical and health- related matters – everything from driving to housework or managing money. Or in the case of a serious illness, you might even need daily nursing care. Here’s a great resource for thinking ahead about the help you might need one day and where you’ll find it: http://planyourlifespan.org/

The other kind of social support is emotional. Who will be there when you need a shoulder to cry on, or someone to laugh with, or confide in? The good news is that as we get older we may have fewer relationships, but we usually experience greater satisfaction with the relationships we do have. But, at the same time, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to weather the loss of a spouse, partner, or close friend.

If you feel anxious when you think about social support as you age, you are not alone. You may not live near any family or friends who could care for you. Or your family or friends may be busy with other obligations and not be able to spend much time with you.

Here are some ideas that might help:

  • Diversify your social portfolio. In his book The Creative Age, Dr. Gene Cohen introduced the idea that just as we need to have diversified financial investments in later life, we also need a range of interests and creative pursuits. He suggested thinking of activities that could be done both alone and with others, and activities that require different levels of mobility. Having a range of interests means we are likely to form new social connections and improve the ones we already have.
  • Get your advance care planning done. Every adult should have their advance directives in place. These documents spell out the kind of care we want at the end of life and who we want to make health care decisions for us in the event we can’t speak for ourselves. Getting those documents in place, and talking with the people who might care for us one day about our preferences are strategies for insuring we have social support when we most need it. There are several resources online that can help you begin to think about your advance care planning, but here are a few favorites: https://www.agingwithdignity.org/five-wishes/about-five-wishes, and http://www.nhdd.org/public-resources#where-can-i-get-an-advance-directive.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Feeling lonely, or coping with the loss of a spouse or close friend, or worrying about who’s going to help you if you get sick are serious challenges. It can be helpful to with a therapist, and get some advice about how to form new relationships and improve the ones you have.

These are just a few strategies to ensure you have practical and emotional supports as you age. Have any other ideas for how to stay connected when you’re 64 and beyond? Let us know in the comments!

By Deb Rubenstein, MSW, LICSW

Deb Rubenstein, MSW, LICSW has been on staff at Iona for over 20 years. She has worked as a care manager, psychotherapist and support group facilitator, and has served as Director of Iona’s Consultation, Care Management and Counseling Services since 2005. In her current role, she oversees a staff of social workers and nurses who provide direct support to older adults and their families. Deb also leads workshops in a variety of settings, including workplaces, for the public, and professionals on a wide range of topics from “How to Help an Older Adult Who Doesn’t Want Your Help” to “Legal and Financial Planning for Retirees and Caregivers.”   

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