It was my 65th birthday.
My daughters threw a big birthday celebration in my honor. You see, I was very happy to become a card-holding Medicare member. I even took my Medicare card and had it laminated.
Thanks to pre-existing conditions, and costs that needed payment before my supplemental policy kicked in, I was paying $1,000 a month for medical insurance. Why? Because I was self-employed.
Many of you may relate. Who would have thought anyone would celebrate their 65th birthday with bells, whistles and huge celebrations with friends?
According to a Denton Senior Guide, “around 10,000 baby boomers is turning 65 today and every day for over the next 15 years.” Staggering statistics.
Later, after I retired from 20 years as a real estate agent and had completed my bucket list, I found it was up to me to keep from feeling isolated.
Not one to normally be depressed, I awoke one day and asked myself a question: what next? I had traveled, spent time with friends, and took advantage of my retirement to sleep later. But now I wasn’t certain about what I should do. Fortunately, I soon I connected with meaningful activities and met new friends whom I now cherish. Old friends, I realized, were treasures. Now? My calendar is so full it’s hard to squeeze in another activity.
However, some retired folks tell me they do not adjust to being free from routine of work. I’ll be the first to admit it: retirement does require us to find our new normal. And without those colleagues, bosses and clients and children who are busy raising their own families and careers, isolation can be a problem for many seniors.
According to an article titled “Causes of Loneliness,” half of people ages 75 and over live by themselves, “and one in 10 people aged 65 or over say they often feel lonely — that’s just over a million people.” In March 2018, volunteers at the Silver Line helpline, a free helpline that offers advice to seniors, took 48,070 calls from lonely and isolated older people. That was 24% more calls than the same month a year earlier. They also report that 53% of their callers say they have no one else to talk to.
These statistics are gloomy. The promising news is there are many activities senior adults can do to combat loneliness. We must get the word out to those who are searching for ways to connect.
I learned through an article, “Senior Isolation: America’s Quietest Health Risk,” that senior isolation is one of the biggest threats to the health of America’s seniors.
There are many reasons senior adults become isolated. Getting older means senior’s spouses and siblings start passing away. Then their inner circle of friends get smaller as friends die.
The article also pointed out that today’s seniors had fewer children than the generation before, and with fewer children, older Americans sometimes can’t easily live close to a grown child.
“The fertility rate hovered over 3.6 births per woman at the height of the Baby Boomer generation in 1960. But the fertility rate then sharply plummeted for many years for countless numbers of today’s women,” the article said.
When the matriarch of my own family passed away, we began having fewer family get-togethers. While we still try, it seems our complicated lives make it difficult — if not impossible — to find times that work well for all of us. It is my opinion that demanding lives have become an enemy of family life, and it especially takes a toll on the elderly. In other countries, elderly men and women are revered. In America, with two working adults in a family, it takes extra planning and effort to take care of aging parents.
On a positive note, Denton is a community that cherishes seniors. Long ago, the city built the Denton Senior Center, and many have passed through its doors, finding new friends, hobbies and activities that enriched their lives. The senior center continues to be a welcoming place today.
I called the center, which is located at 509 N. Bell Ave., and talked to Lynda Leonard about seniors and isolation. She told me about the many activities that seniors can become involved in there. There are exercise classes, a fitness room, card groups, ceramic classes, a full wood shop, jewelry making classes, yoga and free movies. (Learn more by calling the center at 940-349-8720.)
Volunteerism is a wonderful way to use your talents. After speaking to Courtney Martin at Denton Independent School District, I learned that reading mentors are urgently needed. Volunteers commit to 30 to 60-minute time slots, and usually are assigned to read with the same student each week. Martin said volunteers are needed at every school in the district. Each volunteer gets a background check. Martin can travel to volunteers to do the background check if needed. (For more information or to start a background check and mentorship, call Martin at 940-369-0146.)
Houses of worship provide many seniors with opportunities, such as day trips, study groups or other activities where you can meet folks of your like interests.
When I was a child, my mother frequently visited a dear elderly friend of our family. The sweet woman often said she was “down in the dumps.” Looking back, I realize she had lost her husband, had poor transportation and many other reasons to be sad. I didn’t understand her phrase as a child. Now I do. She felt isolated.
My mother taught me that to have a friend, I must be one — just as she was by visiting a very lonely, elderly woman.
I’ve not always practiced what she taught me, but as I grow older, I realize it’s time to stretch, grow, learn and do for others.
It’s amazing how fast a new friend can seem like an old treasure at my stage in life.