Counseling Seniors & Aging Issues
Aging often brings challenges for which we are ill-prepared. Both men and women face a variety of difficulties as they get older: health challenges, moving into other forms of residence, losing older friends or spouses, and working out relationships with adult children and grandchildren just to name a few of them. Psychologist, Dr. Firestein specializes in working with older adults around a variety of life issues. She coordinates the counseling services she provides with services provided by your medical practitioner and others. Dr. Firestein also has established a support and discussion group for older women called the “Wise Women’s Support and Discussion Group.”
Dr. Firestein wrote a monthly Q & A column for the Healthline magazine called Uncommon Sense for seven years. Below are excerpts from previous columns.
Question: Dr. Firestein, I am a widow in my 70s and in good health. I just relocated to the area to be close to my daughter and her husband and family. I am a widow and live alone in my own apartment. Until this year, I lived in a small town with lots of friends I have known all my life. I am lonely, but I have no idea how to get settled in a new community and make friends other than my family.
Answer: First of all, welcome to the area! Moving is a big deal even when you have family in the area. Often our adult children are busy with their own lives and it can be hard to get as much quality time with them as you might like. When moving to a new area, we often have a variety of needs.
One need is to become familiar with the area and find the basic resources you need: the nearest grocery store, the post office, a physician, a dentist, a place to exercise and take classes–even finding someone you trust to do your hair can be a challenge. Your family members can certainly help you identify some of these resources, but you may have preferences that are different from theirs and that is perfectly fine.
Another aspect of relocating to be near family is working out how much time you might expect to spend with you adult children and grandchildren and what kind of time you might share with each other. Will you get together primarily on birthdays and holidays? Have dinner weekly (or every other week or once a month)and do a variety of recreational things with one another? Will you spend dedicated individual time with your grandchildren or perhaps take vacations together from time to time?
Often different generations have very different needs and ideas about these matters and it is important to establish open communication about these things as soon as it seems reasonable to do so following your move. This allows you to reach mutually agreeable understandings that prevent disappointment and resentments from building up on either side of the relationship.
In addition to connections with family, you might like having the company of other older adults who are facing similar challenges and have similar interests. Fortunately, there are several good options for finding those connections in this area. The City of Loveland operates the Chilson Senior Center, which offer a wide variety of activities and opportunities for socialization. Call (970) 962-2783 for information and a listing of services. Of course, there are numerous other community resources, not limited to seniors, that may wish to explore: open space parks, music events, hike and bike trails, coffee shops and the art museum and galleries, just to name a few.
Finally, you may also wish to find support and/or social groups that allow you to get to know other older adults in the area who may be potential friends. I have recently started such a group in Loveland. If this type of support group might be of interest to you, please email me or call me using the contact information listed at the end of this article. Other groups of this type may also be available through the Chilson Center and other community agencies.
Question: Dr. Beth, I just turned 66 and finally decided to retire from my job. I have worked all my adult life and I’m really worried about retiring. I have been in manufacturing and held a variety of positions over the years, finally getting into management. While my job was stressful, I made good money and also really liked the challenges. I have met all my guy friends through work. Most of them are a little younger than me so they will still be working after I leave. I’m afraid I’m not going to know who I am since work has been almost my whole identity for several decades and I am worried that I am going to be bored and lonely. Any tips of managing this change?
Answer: Retiring is a huge step in a person’s life. It is a goal many people work for and look forward to their whole adult lives, but the transition can be very stressful. This is especially true for someone that is used to getting their feeling of purpose and their social contact primarily through their job. Work is a place where we spend the majority of our time. No matter how ready we feel, we can’t leave it without some feelings of sadness mixed with the happiness and relief from responsibility.
Even if you have raised a family and have a spouse at home, the home situation that existed when you were working will no doubt be different during retirement. Most retiring people have grown children that they may or may not see very often. Spouses are used to having a lot of time apart. Even though you may have wanted more time with your spouse, too much time together can bring unexpected strain into your relationship.
You are probably correct in thinking that you will miss the male social contact you had on your job and some of those friendships are likely to fall away. Those friendships were an easy part of your day-to-day life and often work was the biggest thing you had in common with those friends. Keeping friendships with the guys that are still working takes effort and intention on your part and those friendships are less likely to last unless you also have other things in common. Be prepared that you may need to do most of the initiating in the beginning. Post- work friendships can be a big help in easing the emotional aspect of the transition.
There is also the issue of what to do with your time. This is a big one. Many hard-working people had to let other interests drop as their work lives became more and more demanding. To move forward successfully you will need to re-engage with past hobbies and interests or find new ones.
People also have trouble shifting their mindset from getting a regular paycheck and saving for retirement to actually being retired and feeling OK about spending money they have worked so hard to save. A good financial planner can be a trusted resource to help you manage your financial situation in retirement.
A few tips for the newly retired: It is important not to let yourself get too socially isolated. Be careful not to place all of your social needs onto your spouse. Physical activity, time out of the house, and joining one or two groups—perhaps even volunteering for an organization you believe in—all of these activities will help you in the transition. Without the built-in structure of working for an organization, you will need to develop skills in creating your own structure. A blend of scheduled activities and unscheduled free time is usually better than having only free time on your hands. Some people even opt to continue working part-time to ease the transition. Give yourself a year or two to become comfortable with your new status as a retired person. It’s not going to happen overnight, but retirement can be a wonderful time of freedom and self-discovery. I hope you enjoy the journey.