A TGB Extra: Tech Support Fun
INTERESTING STUFF – 21 May 2016

Me, Myself and I in Old Age

A friend who lives on the east coast mentioned to me last week that his wife, at an age when they are both coasting toward retirement, says she feels more and more like being a homebody these days.

Me too. Even in childhood, I had no trouble being with myself but in the years since I retired in 2004, I have gradually become more appreciative of my own company, to even crave it when life sometimes feels too busy.

This does not mean I don't want to be with other people. I just seem to want a bit less of it these days, of shorter duration and to give myself more time between each encounter.

Scheduling can get tricky because my weekly visit to the farmers market during the season seems to count as visiting time for me as do long telephone conversations – an hour or two each – that I regularly have with friends who live far away.

Not often but now and then, up to three days can go by when, not counting a short greeting with a neighbor at the mail box, I don't see or speak to anyone. And that doesn't bother me.

But it sure does bother people whose jobs are in the field of ageing. Old people are lonely they tell us. Their social circles dwindle as they age leading to more time alone and the isolation that results can be deadly:

”Isolation has been associated with people developing more chronic illnesses and facing a higher risk of death. Hypertension, less physical activity, worse mobility and increased depression have been tied to loneliness and isolation,” reported U.S. News & World Report last year.

“Not too surprisingly, mental abilities can suffer as a person's world shrinks. Cognitive decline and dementia may become more likely with isolation.”

A 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that “among participants who were older than 60 years, loneliness was a predictor of functional decline and death.”

Some have called elder loneliness in the U.S. and in the U.K. an “epidemic” but how many old people are lonely is highly questionable. An AARP Foundation study [pdf] published in 2012, was unable to quantify it:

”...current estimates indicate that isolation could impact up to 17% of Americans aged 50+.”

Estimates? Could?

What is not hard to know is that wherever the health of old people is being discussed, loneliness and isolation are hot topics and the remedies suggested are always the same:

Volunteer
Take a class
Join a club
Move to a retirement community
Get a pet

(ASIDE: You can always tell when someone who is not old yet is writing about being old. It doesn't occur to them, for example, that for many elders, a pet might be too expensive, too difficult to care for or that concern it would outlive you and maybe not have a new home is too hard to contemplate.)

It is not unreasonable to assume that some people who are lonely don't want to admit it to people they know and we should all try to be sensitive to that with those we know, to do what we can to help.

But what I don't like is the sense conveyed by the ageing media that all elders are at “risk” for isolation and loneliness. Some of us, probably more than those experts realize, find increasing comfort in being with ourselves as we grow older, and being alone is not synonymous with loneliness.

This idea has come up in the past at this blog and a lot of us are on the same page with it as shown on Monday's post about Jung's seven tasks of ageing.

“I have learnt to enjoy my own company much more than I ever did before,” wrote Chillin.

“Solitude is not a sin--far from it. And it's good to use it for writing, including writing remembrances or memoir. Toward the end of life I think it's natural to experience occasional loneliness. We can survive it!” said Barbara Young.

“I'm 69 this year and I'm already tired of AARP reminding me to stay connected, wear high heels, get another job and stay busy! I was very very busy, employed, and connected for 55 years and now I'm going to embrace my essential introvert and explore these tasks in depth,” wrote Susan.

“I love to park my car at the pier, turn on some satellite music, eat my lunch, contemplate life and write. It's peaceful,” said doctafil.

It is a good thing in old age, I believe, to spend some time with me, myself and I. In that regard, here is a lovely little poem I found on the internet some time ago titled The Secret Place by Dennis Lee.

I suspect it was written for children but you and I are old enough to know that doesn't matter.

There's a place I go, inside myself,
Where nobody else can be,
And none of my friends can tell it's there -
Nobody knows but me.
It's hard to explain the way it feels,
Or even where I go.
It isn't a place in time or space,
But once I'm there, I know.
It's tiny, it's shiny, it can't be seen,
But it's big as the sky at night.
I try to explain and it hurts my brain,
But once I'm there, it's right.
There's a place I know inside myself,
And it's neither big nor small,
And whenever I go, it feels as though
I never left at all.

Comments

I love that poem and will share it. Thank you so much!

A 94 year old woman in our building is out & about every day, to the health club, the ballet, philharmonic, going for walks, etc., and always has a cheery smile and conversation at the ready. Yet she confided that despite all the visible activity, inside she is lonely for real connection to other people--emotional and physical. I never would have suspected, but now that I know, I greet her with a hug & kiss and make sure we talk about more than just the weather.

The poem accents this post beautifully! People are not ants or termites or bees. We are different creatures and perhaps we would do better to look to the other large primates who are more like us, and who do not spend all their time scurrying around all the time, going hither and thither, but often sit quietly contemplating what ever it may be, grooming their companions, nurturing their children, and even sleeping for many hours each day. Somehow we are able to accept this behavior as essential among other species that more closely resemble us than insects, but still want to apply what we interpret as more "productive" behavior to how we should be spending our time. After more than 50 years of a life spent largely in "busy-ness," I'm cherishing quiet moments of solitary activity, including gardening, watching birds, reading blogs and books and soothing soaks in a warm tub.

"Being alone is not synonymous with loneliness"--such an important point! I lived alone until I married in my late 30s and, with the exception of one broken heart, enjoyed the solitude. Now my husband and I spend most of our time in our house, each doing our thing during most days. I relish time alone.

Yet I have always been the outlier in any peer group. My dwindling number of friends all have very active social lives--book clubs, evenings out, hiking groups, eating out. They enjoy casual conversation. I rarely do. And I have an endless list of things I enjoy doing alone (I just learned how to make a bead necklace.)

My sense is that the social isolation argument is an apt generalization for a significant number of folks in their 80s and 90s who have lost their friends and are without nearby family with whom they get along. Particularly those who have physical or mental limitations on what they can do alone.

But generic prescriptions for social activity are not a satisfactory answer. Perhaps the younger generations will not have this problem since they will always be "connected"

While I enjoy solitude at times and doing anything or nothing at my choice, I need interactions to keep from becoming too introspective. Too much alone time brings on a dark cloudiness to my mood. I love what Wendl (above) did for his neighbor, and often look for opportunities to arrange group outings with some of my widowed friends. I know by their responses I could easily do it more.

It also helps that I drive as some never get to do evening jaunts because of driving after dark. But if nobody drives after dark, pooling for a taxi could make sense, and there are lots of daytime things to do. Just lunch or a scenic drive can be a fun outing when done together. In my experience many people just need someone else to come up with a plan because they are not ones to initiate activities.

In the end, it's nice to come home to quiet times, and, fortunately I still have my understanding husband who enjoys even more solitude than I do.

I've been feeling that "homebody" sensation myself and I'm years away from retirement. I think a part of this is a growing self-confidence that only comes with age. Our younger selves often look for validation from others. If we do a lot with other people, we feel successful. As I've grown older, I've come to realize that I'm often quite happy with my own company and my husband's companionship. I have a few close friends, but have let some others fall by the wayside to concentrate more on what is most valuable to me.

The poem gave me an essential look at myself..I too am an introvert.

My job (of 35 years, plus an assortment of jobs for 10 years previous to Ma Bell ) all required me to interface with people the entire day. Either on the phone or in person, I had to put forth a smiley face and cheerful tone of voice.

It gets tiring, always having to force myself to be the efficient, cheerful face of the company!

Along with that was raising 4 children as a single parent, participating in scouts, band mothers, reading tutor, and 12 years as a foster parent where at least half of my vacation time was taken up with my foster children's case workers, doctors appointments and so on.

After I retired I spent5-6 years doing volunteer work or taking classes almost every day of the week.

As the tune in Cabaret. sung by Madeline Kahn says "I'm Tired..So Tired" .

After I broke my hip and spend a month in a Gig Harbor, Wa. Rehab center, where I had a room to myself for most of the time, my meals were brought to me for 2 weeks and the interaction was minimal I began to appreciate being alone. I had my computer and iPad, I read, listened to music and Audible books and when I finally was able to take the train back home I had to cancel all my obligations.

I became accustomed to nestling on the couch or in bed until 11 AM or so, having a late breakfast/lunch, sometimes I'd walk to a little coffee shop about a half mile away and have tea and a muffin, do some shopping at the grocery store and just be alone for days at a time.

Now I find myself isolating most of the time and oh how I enjoy it! I'm with Cathy, above, who cherishes her solitary time..I've been gardening, I cook for the family several days a week and eat dinner 2 out of 3 notes with them but for the most part I spend my time just dinking around (love that word), doing what I want, with my bluetooth enabled hearing aids tuned in to my iPhone, where I listen to music, or a book while I work in the yard, sew or just lay on the bed.

Lets hear it for choosing to enjoy our own company instead of firing ourselves to be social.

Elle In Beaverton

For me the most important words taken away from today's post were
"Being alone is not synonymous with loneliness". Getting very close to
83 years and other than just a few outside activities and one volunteer
job, home is my place of peace and comfort.

I've always been a homebody and a shy intorvert. My working years were extremely stressful with the unavoidable intereactions with other people, the office politics, and the never-ending deadelines that loomed constantly. My greatest joy in retirement is having those responsibilities lifted and being able to pass my days with just me, myself, and I. I don't care what the experts say (if they aren't loners themselves, they can't possibly understand). Any commitment to activity with others, however fun it might sound, is stressful to me. It's an obligation on my calendar, something I must plan for (what time to be ready? what to wear? how long will it take? will I have the stamina to enjoy it at all?). I go for days at a time without leaving my house or seeing anyone else, and I'm content.

I am 71 years old & retired. Most days my daughter calls me on her way home from work. I often tell her, "I didn't see anybody or talk to anybody all day." And she will respond, "Ah, you had a good day!" So true! I love my alone time. I appreciate knowing that others feel the same way. I'm not really odd after all! I have friends who like to constantly go & do. I don't think that they understand me. That's ok. I would not trade my life with them, & they would not be happy with mine. Variety is the spice of life.

Ronni,

I think your blog this morning, and the comments above probably contain the essence of what is wrong with most conclusions drawn in the popular and even the more sophisticated press. Some like being alone, some crave company, some never examine themselves to ever know, and for sure those
that have not gone inside themselves yet, are perhaps not reading this blog, so how can we know what they are thinking or doing. We are a variable and interesting lot, we older adults, and we come to whatever stage of life we choose to call this via an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds experiences and therefore "preferences" in our later years. Personally all of the above applies to me and will probably still change in my few remaining years. Thanks for continuing to shine a light on our adorable differences.

I am 90 and have just discovered this superb site.
It has saved me from what was just about to become a mildly depressive state.
I have felt GUILTY because I no longer volunteer for anything
I have felt selfish because I go to my local for lunch and do not cook much anymore
I have felt sad because no one comes to visit me (well most of my friends have passed on anyway

It has been absolutely wonderful to discover so many others feel the same or resent being told to get on with it.join this join that

My son lives close by and visits every Monday and yet unlike Jean when I say to him " I never spoke to anyone all week end I know I say it to make him feel bad. So you see I have indeed even at my age learned to be more sensible. More honest too.
I do go out most days and walk around the neighborhood. I can do X words and in spite of some Macular degeneration the medics have preserved good sight in one eye and I can read. My Library has large print books and they will bring me as many as I like once a month and collect them with a new supply.
So your site has shown me that I have many blessings to count and I am now saved from feeling sorry for myself.

Thank you all you great folk out there.

Kathleen

I've been an introvert all my life, as has my spouse, so alone time doesn't equate to "loneliness" for either of us. Never has. So there, ageing "experts"! At 79, I still feel the need to be active and productive--but not social. I've always said that I didn't want to just "take up space" on Earth, and I'm struggling with that, especially now that a shoulder problem has limited some of what I can do. Piedtype and I probably hold pretty similar views about being social except that I feel more connected to the world if I get out of the house for at least a short period most days.

We have two senior cats that are part of the family, but having pets isn't right for everyone. Vet care is expensive, as is quality cat food. In my view cats are easier to care for than dogs, but they still require some physical care.

I am in sync with all these comments. I look upon these years as finally "owning" my life.
It doesn't belong to the children I have raised an education system, a work place, ailing parents or even a young and in love newly wed. It's mine and I spend it as I wish.
I am not completely selfish though, I've always been the caring type and will run to anyone
(within reason) in my circle who needs help. Thank fully this doesn't happen too often.
Each day is a gift and just like getting a gift card for a special occasion I can choose how
to spend it.......now that's thrilling!

"...Old people are lonely they tell us. Their social circles dwindle as they age leading to more time alone and the isolation that results can be deadly "-

Whoa, did that strike a nerve - for me, and it looks like for most of the commenters above.

For more years than I care to count, I have been busier than the proverbial Bee, and now it's time to slow down and do some of the other good things in life. Like reading every book I want to read, listen to music, and enjoy the sunshine. If not now, when?

I still have plenty of friends, virtual ones as well as local pals. but I don't have to see them or talk to them all the time.

And if all else fails, I have a 10-year-old rescue cat that seems to enjoy the same things I do (except, maybe, for the books).

I hope some of the pontificaters who write this stuff read your column, Ronnie, and gain some wisdom - from your remarks and those of your readers.

Everyone arrives at 60, 79, 80, or more years from many different places and experiences. So it is not surprising that each of us finds our own way to be happy, satisfied, contented or some other emotion. And I do hate the way researchers produce reports that do not show an understanding of the aging process and the individual.

Wonderful poem, Ronni.
As for loneliness or solitude or isolation -- I've long thought of myself as anti-social. Although I can do it, I don't enjoy (see the point of) small talk and am not afraid of silence. I'm an introvert who can play the extrovert but the effort tires me. I have my hobbies...reading, knitting, cross stitch...can do these hour by hour with little need for anything else. My sister is the opposite...needs to be social and constantly involved with others. Different strokes, I guess.

Loving all these comments...I agree with most everyone, and truly enjoy my alone time. My husband still works, at 73, but I am retired now. I agree with the person who talked about always having to be smiley and "on" at work for all those years. I felt like a "show and tell" some days!

What a fabulous--and perfectly timed--column! Ditto the comments. I'm pushing 79. I've been "retired" for a long time. And I really enjoy just being at home! I do need more contact with people--I don't have children or family, so friends are it for me--but I belong to a variety of online communities, as well as some "real-life" ones that get me out from time to time. I'd guess I get out of the house somewhere between "most days" and "half the time." But at home I have an adorable cat and dog, my piano--I'm seriously playing these days and gave a handful of recitals last year, and hope to do that again, and . . . my computer! Online connections are really wonderful!

My main negative is that I have an enormous amount of resistance to exercise, and exercise would be good for my arthritis AND my mood. So far, I seem to have my heels dug in about that. Sigh. (I actually opted to hire a dog-walker, when in fact I should be the one doing the walking.)

Aside from that--I honestly think this is probably the happiest period of my life.

Thank you for this very insightful, and thought-provoking post. I must admit, I do sometimes get too caught up in what the "research" says. You make excellent points and offer a very refreshing point of view.

I treasure my "aloneness." I began working when I was 13, I always had jobs where I had to interact with lots of people -- and I excelled at them. Inside, however, was an introvert playing the part of an extrovert. The work itself was a "piece of cake," but the masquerade was exhausting.

Then in my early fifties the company I had worked for over ten years was sold to a competitor and I was suddenly redundant. I tried and tried to find another job only to realize that my age was against me even though my resume' and credentials were impeccable. Luckily my husband was still working and we figured out a budget that allowed me to stay at home although that meant that we would have little money for our retirement.

Suddenly I had this wonderful gift! For the first time in my life I had large chunks of time in which I could do whatever I wanted all by myself. My children were grown and had their own lives, my husband went to work five days a week. We did have a dog and two cats, so I wasn't totally alone, but I could finally read all the books I wanted since our town had an excellent library. I could garden, or cruise the 'net, rearrange the furniture. Or just sit and think.

Now that my husband has retired as well, we have moved back to our hometown to be closer to our children and a few relatives. Now I no longer have those chunks of "alone" time -- and I miss them.

I'm staying with my 86 year old mother in law at the moment -- she's had some health challenges and is losing some amount of independence. She's a sociable person, enjoys teas and dinners with friends. But her children fear she'll come apart if she doesn't have company and expeditions pretty much daily. I have found myself trying to protect her from having to interact all the time with various helpers they send along. She needs to find her own degree of sociability within her current capacities ... we have to have the freedom to find our individual appropriate mix of solitude and togetherness.

I'm easy for her to be around because I'm a complete introvert ... :-) My peculiarities happen to mesh well with current needs.

I notice that most of the people commenting here would describe themselves as introverts. (Me too.) I got curious, and... well, It turns out that introversion is nowhere near as rare as many people think. Introverts are not a tiny minority, nor even the '25% of the population' that you will see commonly quoted. (It seems that's an old, inaccurate estimate that keeps being recopied by writers who don't bother to do ten minutes of checking.) The divide is officially more like 50-50.

Still, just about all of us here, it seems, think of ourselves as introverts. Decidedly, over 50%. Perhaps over 90%. That is remarkable.

++++1 to the comments above in support of me-time!! After a life of looking after the family, its wonderful to have me-time. I go for about 2 weeks sometimes without interacting with anyone (thank God for the freezer). I go to the shops when my fresh milk and veggies run out.

”...loneliness and the absence of friends can be stressful and unhealthy unless you are seeking solitude, calm and self-reflection.”,,,,,,,,, From the Terman longitudinal study on aging.


I wish I could be an introvert, but since becoming a widow and having no children, I am lonely and I crave interacting with people. My husband and I were pretty much to ourselves after retirement, but now some suppressed need for small talk and connection to others has arisen. I am moving and will probably look for some volunteer work and joining something. I do have friends where I'm moving to, so this will be good. I admire all of you for being able to be so comfortable being alone.

10/10 comments above.

Something I have observed while volunteering at an autonomous living senior residence:

People who have thrived on being in a group from day one in kindergarten, are the the regulars who show up in the lunch room every day.

They seek togetherness. They love to share all sorts of personal details, no problem. They meet for coffee, activities.

(Residents do not have to eat in the dining room. The chef will pack meals in an insulated bag which will be delivered to the residents. )

And then there are the "ghost residents" who rarely show their faces. You wouldn't even know they live there. These people like their privacy and will guard it with all their might.

The "Greta Garbo" residents are comfortable in their own space. They "vant to be alone."

Elders are not one size fits all.

Nothing wrong with that.


It's the generalisations of these reports which are so annoying isn't it. By this time researchers should know that in old age everyone ages differently - as doctafill says 'elders are not one size fits all'! But as Jane D said - it's being able to choose that is important - if you are physically or mentally incapacitated then your choices are severly limited - so it's good if we lucky ones who can choose keep an eye out on those not so lucky.

I have read the new posts and that a lot of us think we are introvert but I have recently learned that there is such a person as an outgoing introvert and I wonder if that is what we do as we age become. We just, as so many have admitted can not keep up with being totally extrovert when most of our reasons for being so are no longer there. The old stamina is not there Maybe we learn to pace ourselves

The small contacts we make .a good morning to a passer by if we are out walking,or a little message by e mail or.if we are not on the internet,a phone call to say hello to someone,or as today as I was looking out of my window I saw one of the residents in this small block of flats where I live,walking rather less briskly than usual up the path,and I thought My he looks kind of weary,so,as I live on the ground floor I was able to go out into the foyer and speak to him,(we do often speak) and I said I thought he looked tired. He said he was and we decided it was the weather,but a little more conversation and it became evident he had just been doing too much.
So we agreed on that and he felt better I could see.
Even though we might feel sometimes we are not giving much to life,that is just not true we can always give something to another human being. Florence Nightingale confined to her bed in old age was able to do an enormous amout of good. Her life is worth reading.

I awoke from a dream this A.M.
The dream: I was with a woman I did not know in a cabin rented for us and three others. The 3 others had gone somewhere.

I was in a room getting acclimated to the space, unpacking and enjoying the quiet, when the front door was opened and the woman greeted a man, his wife, and two boys. The man came into my room, plopped down on the bed and turned on the tv and the boys came clamoring in.

I turned to go into a bathroom when the woman brought the wife through to show her the place. As I started to the bathroom one of the boys pushed in front of me and went in. I turned to try another bathroom, but the wife was just closing that door.

Angry, "who are these people. how dare this women invite them to come into what is not just her space."

I huffed and said, "Well, maybe I can find some peace and quiet in this bathroom (it had a single bed in it .) and closed the door---and woke up.

What does this have to do with this topic? Well, it is my inner space that is
being co-opted, not my outer. And it is three of my relatives who are invading that inner space. They are not in my face, they are in my heart/soul--with troubling serious health issues and loss of nearest and dearest----all at the
same time.

I had made a statement to a neighbor yesterday, really speaking to myself. "I can't take care of the whole world."

The tranquility of living alone while in good enough health is something I cherish. Having the ability to have interchanges with others as I choose to do so, is a privilege.

I think maybe, like Kathleen Stansfield has termed it, I am an outgoing introvert.

I am able to be open, friendly, and even helpful to others--but I don't need nor
go looking for interactions. Just being is my thing and if it involves being with others in times of need, I am there. But--looks like my psyche is saying to back off a bit, or at least see that I am not the only one holding loved ones as
they encounter inevitable life events.

I just love this column. I agree 100% list above commenters.

Like so many here, I put in a full life of work and childrearing. Now I enjoy long leisurely days, long sleeps if I want them, eating when I feel like eating rather than according to schedule, and being available for friends when they need me. This past week I had several events each day in a row for four days. I was fried. I require 2 to 3 days of recovery from that. My husband and I visited my father, age 85, for lunch on Tuesday. It became clear that two hours of a visit was more than enough for him. He is in great shape, walking or biking most days, having coffee with a group of older gentleman at a local grocery store, and joining in the residence happy hours twice a week. All of these have in common that they only last an hour. He can then take the rest of the day to recover. It's obvious to me that I am his daughter!

Perhaps the preponderance of introverts writing in to this blog is a reflection of the kind of activity that makes us comfortable. I think it's not that we dislike people. We obviously enjoy sharing our thoughts and attitudes with others. But I think for many of us, that's enough. We don't feel a need for extra-social situations, so this sort of intra-social activity performs a valuable function. I know that when I found this site, which seemed to be comprised of so many kindred souls, it felt like joining a "community" without the stress of dressing appropriately and actually going somewhere. I enjoy reading Ronni's always interesting posts and the comments are like having a conversation with friends. I find so often that what I had thought were my own peculiar attitudes or lifestyle were shared by many friends here in TGB-Land.

Oh, EmmaJay, you have put into words what I also felt but didn't know how to say!

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