Living on Purpose

A sense of purpose helps sustain people in old age, new studies show.
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I think this is one of the sad effects of fewer people going to church. I'm not retired yet, but I am an empty-nester, and church has helped me make that transition. There are so many things to do there, from social justice work to helping members who are ill to serving on committees that help the church run (so it can do social justice work and take care of its members). Older members of our congregation teach classes and knit baby blankets for new mothers at a public hospital. You don't have to be limited by your theology. I'm Unitarian Universalist. We have atheists, Buddhists, Pagans, you name it.
3 2018-11-27 09:07:13 - Paula

You’ve under-estimated retirees.What makes you think that older people
are putty in the hands of marketers?None of the elderly people I know fit into your description.My aunt and uncle did purchase a home in such a community.
They worked SEVEN days a week in a retail furniture store for years.They’re
exhausted and entitled to some leisure.They are dedicated to their children
and grandchildren,who are more than happy to travel to Sunny Florida to visit
them.They spend just under 6 months a year in N.Y, when they spend a good deal of time taking care of their grandchildren.. In order to remain Florida residency;Florida has no State taxes and has far lower taxes than New York State.
My grandmother was an artist who lived in Manhattan.She was teaching art classes at the 92nd Street Y-as a volunteer,until the day she died.My 80 year old mother is a docent in a museum in Manhattan and volunteers at least 4 days a week.You’re underestimating seniors.Their not as gullible as you think.

1 2017-11-09 04:13:59 - DJS

Have you read Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankel? His experience during WWII in a German concentration camp led him to believe that survivors of that horror were people who found meaning, or purpose, in their lives. This is an important book and predates this recent research, of course, by many decades.

14 2017-08-21 17:17:44 - Mary

Dear Ms. Ley:

JASA (Jewish Assn Services Aged) around whom Ms. Span wrote part of this article, is not suffering from memory loss (which you brush off as some kind of a joke), but of overstaffed, bureaucratized bloated non profits who deliver little to seniors in the way of what they really could use and need, and whose salaries and benefits gobble up desperately needed program funds.

Appear to care? Are appearances what I need?

No...had a lifetime of that.

Thumbs up you say...what on earth does that mean?

2 2017-07-01 23:32:39 - molly

The homeowner would have to worry about the volunteer suing him if said volunteer trip and fell in his home,or was bitten by the dog.etc.

Why would organizations for Seniors be required to find volunteer jobs for the elderly? My mother is 80.She’s a docent at a museum in Manhattan
and volunteers extensively.
She’s not stuffing envelopes either.She’s been the (unpaid )international Chairperson for this charity.She’s spoke all over the world.Perhaps this is
because she didn’t wait until she was a senior to start her volunteering.

1 2017-06-19 00:55:41 - DJS

Good point, Hope, about the "people who love to be around other people." There are those. And there are others who do NOT want any of that "social stuff." My mom, at almost 88, will be moving into a post-hospital rehab center after taking a fall and being stabilized. The next real logical step after that is a move out of her house and into assisted living. And she is dreading it.
With every fiber of the 85 pounds of flesh that is her. Her autonomy and independence mean EVERYTHING to her. And she has never been a very sociable person. Not a joiner, not a do-er. At 88, she focuses on her ailments, watches some TV, goes to the doctor and rattles around in her house. That's it. She isn't -- hasn't been -- interested in being around others or socializing with them. Not to hang out, discuss, eat with. None of that. This next chapter in her life will be very interesting and I'm hoping, counting on, some professional guidance and help at the rehab center and in assisted living for her and us, her children. on how to negotiate this new living situation. She could come around and love it. Or she will hate it and that's not gonna be good or pleasant for anyone.

3 2017-05-21 07:00:46 - Berkeley Bee

Rabble Rousing. Yes, I believe Ms. Span is onto something here...except why, when speaking of seniors, does our society have to "cute it up?"

This is, in the real world, called political/social activism.
Mobilizing...seniors know all about it. It's what we did for years when we marched, rode Freedom buses, protested and even got ourselves arrested.

Why, just yesterday, when a so-called senior center in my neighborhood of the Lower East Side in NY (the Educational Alliance which has yet to find a viable identity in the midst of profound demographic shifts), I became what Ms. Span calls a "rabble rouser." What I call getting out there and fighting for one's own dignity and rights...and other's, too.

I had to call the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division and lodge a complaint when this used-to-be esteemed community center loudly proclaimed that poverty level families would have low cost access to gym/cardio facilities....but not seniors below poverty line.

I am raising hell.

Seniors have been pigeon-holed into socially accepted, kind of "be nice and stay invisible" roles. This deadening to the soul kind of life is championed by the AARP.

They would rather not have us too present in their "state of the art" gym facilities. We sag too much.

Throw off the little purple and pink handcuffs, seniors and get out there.

104 2017-05-10 20:00:27 - molly

As a 73 year old, my purpose is to pursue more self respect by sedulously following the recommendations of my Better Self. I do this in the areas of diet, exercise and blogging. I find that acting in accord with your ideals makes you happier and provides a more meaningful life. Harry Murray had it right when he said: "The final goal of personality is to create a philosophy of life and become the incarnation of it. "

5 2017-03-28 02:00:02 - Mark Sanford

Thank you, Marina. Your book recommendation is exactly what I was looking for and commenting on in my reply up higher on this thread.

0 2017-03-22 18:21:30 - Berkeley Bee

Of course they do, if they have a laptop or smartphone or a communal Internet station, and want to be connected. I think older people often like to see themselves as having special challenges when, in fact, there are children, young adults and middleaged people who are faced with enormous setbacks and troubles, but keep on persevering. It's choice.

0 2017-02-19 01:30:48 - Betsy

And Grandma was Anne's talking newspaper after Anne had brought the newspaper to her.

3 2017-02-03 15:39:45 - carol goldstein

I'd add you should accumulate a stash of cash. Money gives you options - I'll do this, I'll do that.

1 2017-01-28 10:16:56 - ring0

I still don't understand why we tend to segregate our older populations from the rest of the world. Retirement communities, nursing, homes, assisted living - why aren't these types of facilities more integrated into the community? Why not combine a nursing school with a nursing home? Why not combine a day-care with an assisted living facility? Let our older citizens continue to make contributions to the community rather than isolating them from the rest of society.

32 2017-01-26 05:29:22 - Kathleen

Well, DJS, it's true memory can distort things. But as reported, the woman didn't even express any interest in her children's lives. She sounds like she was very depressed. It would make sense that her children wouldn't remember her doing anything, and if she did in fact feed them, bathe them, prepare meals etc., it sounds like they don't remember that either, possibly because it was done so listlessly, with little genuine engagement or concern, that it did not make them feel loved or truly cared for.

If they cannot think of even one single activity that their mother ever did for pleasure, it's pretty likely she was severely depressed. A depressed mother is NOT a loving mother, she's a mother who (not entirely willingly, but still) neglects her children in ways that cause lifelong damage.

So I think perhaps it is YOU who should try not to be so judgmental.

1 2016-12-27 11:04:14 - DW

check out a good rescue shelter and you will probably fall in love with somebody [dog],the 2nd visit if not the first. Most of these shelters have web sites, so you can get a sense of what is available. With any reputable shelter the dog will have had all its shots and have been neutered or spayed. Let your mom know that by rescuing the dog you've gotten you have opened the door for another dog to avoid euthanasia at a county shelter. [Most county shelters are not no-kill but they cooperate with rescue groups to take as many dogs as the rescue groups can handle.] Take one, save one.

Take care of yourself too and let yourself grieve and don't put your dog through too much medical intrusion. get strong pain pills for him and let nature [somewhat go its course or take him to a vet to send him on its way.]

Good luck in what you go through. I totally understand how your mothers love of and involvement with your basset has probably extended her life.

Also, maybe get an older dog, they're harder to adopt out so its a gift to adopt them. Also they are usually very loving.

Finally, your mom will probably say "oh, no more, that's my last dog. but give her a week or two [take her to the shelter if she can travel or just do your best to find the most happy, loving puppy and it will be fine!

15 2016-12-06 10:27:27 - Kathy

You may find you have no choice. There aren't a lot of employers interested in 90 year olds.

3 2016-12-01 04:35:13 - SS

Having good relationships with our adult children and our grandchildren helps,too. Both generations benefit.
Ruth Nemzoff, author of Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children and of
Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family

5 2016-11-30 03:48:47 - Ruth Nemzoff

I'd define "purpose" as an activity, whether mental or physical or emotional, that enhances the quality of life. My MIL resisted going to a retirement facility, only to discover that at 86 yrs of age, she was considered "young" by other residents, and has found tremendous satisfaction in helping older residents in small ways. Something as simple as knocking on the door and making sure her 102-yr old tablemate comes downstairs to eat a little bit and enjoy some social interaction, has made an incredible difference in the quality of her life. My MIL has dementia and is inevitably declining, but the satisfaction she has found has brightened her life, as well as those she helps.

9 2016-11-21 09:52:24 - Jeane
It is sometimes difficult for older Americans to retain a sense of purpose in a society that shunts them off to the side.
There are numerous programs for the young which will only accept people under 20. Everyone is looking for the next new star, and looking only among the young. It is assumed that older Americans have little to say and have already had the chance to say it.
As long as the older segment is refuted it will be hard for them to write the first novel, play or poem. It will be difficult to get into classes to develop new skills or to apply any skills. The playing field certainly isn't level.
Check to statistics. There is little opportunity for elder purpose.
9 2016-11-18 10:46:23 - jb

If your health is good volunteer for the whatever the British version of the Peace Corps is. Now that's a purpose. I was a bit younger when I went at age 53. At 65 I moved to Mexico for a few years. Now at age 79 I am slowing down. I was divorced at age 50 and learned quickly to do all the things I could not when I had a husband and 3 children and 3 dogs. I am also a life time college student and got my last degree at age 65 but there are so many interesting things to learn and classes provide interaction with other people. At 62 I studied teaching English as a Second Language. It took me to Barcelona and then I did it at home until very recently. So if you want a purpose go find it if you are mobile. If not find some community services that will provide you with transportation. As for me playing Bridge bores me but it is reason to be for tens of thousands. If you are depressed it is very hard to do these things so get some help first. Depression is game stopper and I have gone through that too and still do from time to time. Also I am lucky to have the most wonderful 45 pound dog in the world. England has much better health services than the US has so look around for help. In London it's not so difficult to find. You can do it. As George Burns (the comedian and actor) used to say - just make sure you get out of bed each morning.

4 2016-11-15 11:12:47 - Barbara Crowley

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