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GRAY MATTERS: A 21st Century New Deal

The Longevity Prescription of Dr. Robert Butler: Connect with Community

category_bug_journal2.gif As Dr. Robert N. Butler points out in Chapter 5 of his book, The Longevity Prescription, many studies from a variety of disciplines over many years prove again and again that strong social relationships lead to good health. And in reverse,

[T]he link between isolation and suicide was firmly established long ago, suggesting that at the most elemental level, other people give us reason to live.”

The spectrum of human social needs stretches from hermit or anchorite to the gadfly who can't be alone (I've known a few; they exhaust me).

Here, however, Dr. Butler is addressing the majority of us who fall somewhere between those extremes and in old age, when we no longer have the daily social interaction of the workplace, when old friends die or move far away, and we sometimes become less physically able to get around easily, there can be a demonstrable threat to our health if we allow ourselves to become isolated.

Dr. Butler had already discussed the importance of nurturing close personal ties in an earlier chapter. This one discusses those that are more distant but equally important, and it is a Chinese menu of good advice and ideas on how to connect with others in retirement.

From ordinary people to Maggie Kuhn who created the Gray Panthers to the actor Kirk Douglas, there are real-life, inspiring stories about elders who found ways, when paid employment was no longer an option, to remain engaged and productive.

You religious congregation is one sort of community. You might use your professional experience and skills to mentor younger workers. There are dozens of affiity groups to become engaged with: clubs for specific activities, reading groups, yoga classes, adult education, volunteering and other charity work, tutoring children, political organizations, starting a small business, many ways to make a difference in other people's lives and – well you get the idea.

Importantly, however, Dr. Butler gives equal standing to the purely social with John's story. As he has for more than ten years every weekday morning, John stops for coffee at the the same shop in his town with ten or so other regulars.

”The conversation generally isn't especially profound,” writes Butler, “covering the weather, the fortunes of the baseball Giants, local politics, the day's headlines, and health issues.

"But this network of people, none of whom are best friends, providdes these men and women with an everyday sense of contact with a world beyond the walls of their homes.”

For some elders, that is all that is needed or desired of outside contact. There is no requirement to be doing all the time and you can't flunk retirement.

Dr. Butler gives over a couple of pages in this chapter to cyberspace where, he says, “nourishing contact can be made.” That gives me an opportunity to plug elderblogging – writing or reading and commenting – as a important part of one's personal social community.

For me, having left the workplace five years ago and having changed cities twice since then, I would be bereft without my online friends. That wasn't my goal or even a glimmer in the back of mind when I started Time Goes By, but – surprise! - now, well more than half the people I hold most dear I have come to know due to this blog.

I have met maybe two dozen in person and every time, we fell into conversation and camaraderie as easily as if we were old friends who hadn't seen one another in awhile – and in sense that is so since we keep in regular touch online.

Alone does not necessarily mean lonely and the degree to which we need others varies widely. But I do not doubt Dr. Butler's prescription in this chapter:

“Having caring people around you – or even just making meaningful contact witih them by phone, via the internet or by other means – amount to a special kind of health insurance.”

Next week, Chapter 6: Live the Active Life.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Nancy Leitz: The Wedding Gown


This is the very thing I worry about in regards to my mother. She worked as a teacher all her life, and now is pretty much restricted to very short 5 block trips to her pharmacy or grocery store. She is a very social person normally, so I know this new lifestyle is depressing to her. I do the best I can to talk to her every day or drop in, but I am sure it is not enough.

I don't think I could get her interested in anything computer related but worth a try!

In regards to cyber friends, sometimes, I think the distance created by being online friends enhances rather than detracts. Makes you more appreciative of the effort that goes into keeping these kinds of relationships going.

And you don't get to see me without my makeup.

I am an alien living in anonyminity here on Planet Earth. My real face would scare Jupiter into another orbit without my L'Oreal mask.

(I was going to add a *wink* to the end of this comment, but that made me look like a Sarah Palin rah rah girl...and I surely ain't. She's ruined the ever popular *wink* for me. Chalk another mark over in the "Why Sarah Palin Disgusts Me" column)

Interview with Walter Breuning, 114

I retired two years ago from a very large corporation where I had few friends because 98% of them were super conservative and we did not have much in common. I was afraid to be left alone with my husband, and we are. But, and that is a large but – now I have the time to search for good travel deals and we travel, on a budget, constantly (just came back from Savannah, GA and going to NYC next month.) Sometimes, like this week-end (thanks to the Smithsonian Magazine which is offering Sat 28th, Museum Day, free admission to museums in the US) we visit places around our town.

Having a blog, though, which I started as a way to remember my past and travels, has brought me many new friends – and I have met some of them already (as in Oslo, Norway, last month.) Having no friends locally is no problem yet, maybe when I get old, like in my 90s…

I made a mistake above, the free admission day to museum is Sat 25th September not 28th. (It’s hard to remember the days when you are retired…)

This chapter depressed me when I thought about how isolated I have become. Because I quit driving years ago and because I quit hearing before that I have become housebound.

It is partly by choice. I could take a van if I wanted to go someplace, but the trip seems pointless when I would still be alone when I got there.

I used to volunteer when I still drove, but physical limitations have pretty much ruled out any help I would be now. The normal social outlets Dr. Butler recommended are no longer pleasurable because of not being able to participate.

You could say I am one of those people who should have died a long time ago due to loneliness.

Then why am I not miserable? I think the biggest reason is the friends I have on the Internet. I have never met most of you face-to-face and yet I feel closer to you than to people I have known for 75 years. I am in contact with some of you daily and you probably know more about me than my mother did.

It's easy to be open when you are writing to people who will not judge you. Or, if they do, are kind in their comments. It is also easy to find people who share your beliefs and interests and are, therefore, more fun to be with than the people you are in actual contact with who are not of a like mind. I have a very wide circle of friends through blogging. I share your views on cyberspace, Ronni.

I guess the Internet has saved my life. I would probably be even further reclusive without it.

Darlene, I am one of your fans. You are a person who keeps me sane – you are a lot of fun, very wise and open minded – you are very young in spirit, a lot younger in outlook that many young people I know.

I absolutely get the concept of "social capital." Having just parted with my husband of six years I worried I might feel very alone and was surprised to find I had so many resources in the community. I have weekly or more often contact with my large family, church friends, friends from my last two jobs, and people I know from volunteer gigs in grade schools, hospice, and a museum. These are my usual weekly contacts, not special to the situation, and last but certainly not least, my cyber space companions, some of whom stuck with me while I was out of commission during the death throes of the marriage. Thank you all.

Now I am eyeing the local Saturday market. In another life I created crafts and sold them in such places, and I'd like to do so again. Trying to do the homework, I notice in the current economy that it's the edibles and creative, utilile home products that are selling best.

At the end of this chapter I got a chuckle out of the "Rock of Ages" piece about the over 70 year olds performing on stage. Not because of their ages but because at 68 I am the same age as Mick Jagger who is still pounding the music out. Not so sure about Keith Richards who looks like he might have died but doesn't know it yet.

It's really great to be in touch with people whose points of reference I share! Love the reference to Keith Richards :)

These two relationship chapters have been my favorites. I've found them to be a very useful way to think about keeping friendships fresh and keeping friendships going. I also have decided to quit a community activity I've been doing for a couple of years because I haven't made any friends through it, and the fun I have isn't equal to the time it costs.

Thank you for your very kind words, Vagabonde. I deeply appreciate it. You made my day (maybe my entire week.)

Social capital is important in my life. Been single for over 12 years and when you go from being a couple to being a single woman, you have to create a whole new social life. I have many friends of 20-30 years and have made some great new friends over the past 3-5 years especially because I have reached out to people who interest me. I like in person contact but I do have some Internet buddies, too.

Darlene, you have more friends and fans than you know! I agree, it's not hard to find people who share some of your interests online. Our physical limitations don't really matter there, and we can "travel" just about anywhere to chat with them.

Thank you so much Joni. You really made my day. I so appreciate your kind words.

I understand this completely. I tend to be agorophobic and have an anxiety disorder that makes it hard for me to leave the house and I really have to push myself to go anywhere. Fortunately, medication helps but I try not to take it because it's addictive and only take it as needed.

Working on my Congressman's re-election campaign has been good for me -- the college kids are great and effusive in their appreciation of my work. And I get a kick out of listening to them. They give me hope for the future of this country. And they keep me laughing,

Darlene: I love your blog and your friendship. I've long contended that, in addition to being a great friend, that you are one of the best political writers on the planet.

Ronni,your blog and this course have been real life savers.They remind me of what I need to do and avoid getting lost.

Years ago after most of my friends moved away, my spouse working, later retired or otherwise focused, I became part of a coffee crowd, all of whom were irregular attendees which fit perfectly with my erratic work/personal schedule and changing obligations, especially after my husband's health began to decline. Since we all lived in the immediately surrounding community but hadn't known each other previously (male, female, single, wed, with 20 yr or so age spread,) a few of us subsequently had limited contact outside of there, with spouses sometimes involved. We each had wandered in singly, sat at the counter, kibitzed with the waitress and eventually started talking with one another. That activity has since changed and we've all long since scattered. Currently, I've noted similar groups elsewhere but my interests are presently otherwise.

Having lost so many family and friends, I treasure my few remaining distant living friends with whom I have life-long personal intimate relationships. Likewise there's a similar such couple of over thirty years here but still an hour away. That couple is younger but retired now.

Earlier this week we had a discussion about reasons for needing to have some younger friends, which I laughingly confirmed they seriously needed to have, as us older ones might suddenly leave them in the lurch. They're just entering the having-to-care-for-older-parents-and-other-relatives stage, too.

I've enjoyed blogging and all I've met here and continue to meet, including Darlene who others have mentioned. Some bloggers have been especially significant to me. Some time after the fact of encountering blogging, I realized the newness of computer use, blogging et al, coupled with my husband's death, had resulted during that initial time period in my tending to distance myself from flesh and blood people around me, and, perhaps, attending too much to bloggers and/or blogging activity.

I still strongly believe in the value of blogging and continue to greatly appreciate the varied contact I have with bloggers here, including though the various communication modes we now have. I continue to promote blogging, this blog and writer, and the Elderblogger group in particular, to all those with whom I come in contact that I think might enjoy and benefit from becoming acquainted with such a delightful group.

Oh, Pattie! Years ago, one good friend with whom I enjoyed mutually agreeable spontaneous periodic short morning outings (if I wasn't working) could never quickly get started after she called to get together, 'cause it took her an hour to "put on her face." Yes, another southern gal! Having adopted my "natural look" by then I chuckled to myself about the futility of it all. Maybe you'll grow out of it, but some never do. To each his/her own. *grin*

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