As a leading lifestyle gerontologist for the 50+ population, I’m often asked a myriad of different questions on my website. I thought I would share some of the questions that are most frequently asked with all of you. If you have any queries, feel free to submit them and I will post the answers on HuffPost50 on a regular basis.
Q. My husband just retired and he seems incredibly bored! Can you suggest something adventurous that we could do together outside of the regular “keep busy activities” that everyone always recommends?
A. This is a very common question — believe me, you’re not alone in wondering what to do with your spouse after they’ve retired. Why not try going on a volunteer vacation together?“Voluntourism” is one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry and it’s about seeing the world from a firsthand perspective, rather than as a passive tourist looking through a window. It’s very economical and it allows you to experience a country that you want to visit while working, eating and living with the local residents. Not only do you get to travel and see the world, but you will also be making a difference (“doing well by doing good”)! You can find the top volunteer vacations online at websites like www.road scholar.org, www.globalvolunteers.org and www.earthwatch.org. Safe Travels!
Q. I’m over 60 and sometimes when I go out I feel “out of style”… What exactly is ‘age appropriate’ clothing, and do I need to adopt a certain midlife fashion style?
A. There’s no reason to stop caring about fashion after a certain age. Instead of resigning yourself to so-called ‘age-appropriate’ clothing, why not start developing your own sense of style at 60 and beyond? Now is the time to explore fashion and learn more about style icons like Jackie Onassis, Jane Birkin or Audrey Hepburn. We frequently see woman over 60, such as actress Diane Keaton and model Lauren Hutton, continue to outclass younger starlets because they have remained consistently stylish with clothing that is not only perfect for their age, but also possesses a look that suits their personalities.
Q. I love to exercise, but sometimes, my arthritis gets the best of me! Can you recommend some low impact exercises that will help me stay fit?
A. There is no doubt that joint-jarring activities like aerobics and kickboxing are giving way to gentler pursuits for people, like you, who have a chronic condition. In your case, I suggest you look into pilates, yoga, tai chi, elliptical trainers and exercise bikes. I recently posted an article about engaging in these types of exercises. Whatever you choose, keep exercising regularly! With heart disease, cancer and strokes serving as the leading causes of death for mature adults, staying physically active not only helps to prevent many illnesses, it can improve the health of people who already have debilitating diseases or disabilities. Just a reminder, make sure you check with your physician before you begin any new exercise routine.
Q. I will be 62 this year and I’m working part-time, can I apply for Social Security benefits?
A. You can apply as early as 62 for these benefits, but the amount you receive each month will be less than if you wait until full retirement (also called “normal retirement age”). If you want to keep working while collecting Social Security, your payments may be reduced depending on the amount you earn from your job. Once you reach full retirement age, there is no limit on the amount you can earn from working while collecting Social Security benefits. For more information on estimating your potential benefit amounts using different retirement dates and levels of future earnings, visit www.socialsecurity.gov or call 800-772-1213.
Q. My aging mother-in-law still lives in the house that she grew up in. The house has very steep stairs, a small doorway and is not “senior-friendly.” My husband and I want to help her move to a retirement community, but she’s scared – how can we ease the transition for her?
A. Having just moved to a different home — I completely understand how she feels — moving (especially when you’re downsizing) is something that is very hard for all us and it can be even more difficult for someone who has lived in a particular neighborhood or house for a lifetime! But fear not, there are specially-trained “senior relocation specialists” who focus on helping older adults move with ease. They start with a pre-move consultation to help come up with a plan as to the best items to keep and those your aging loved one might consider leaving behind. The specialist makes it a very positive experience for the individual involved and makes sure they bring all of their sentimental belongings to their new home. The specialist then sets the older adult up in the new home and creates a look and feel as similar as possible to their previous home. This helps make the individual “feel at home.” If you go online and google “senior relocation specialists” you will find a helpful resource in your mother-in-laws area.
Q. I’ve noticed my Mom has gotten a bit forgetful lately. I told her that she didn’t need to worry too much and that it was just a natural part of aging. Am I right?
A. Age-related changes in cognition can sometimes make it harder to learn and remember certain things. Memory problems that aren’t usually considered to be a part of “normal aging” include: forgetting things much more often than you used to, having trouble learning new things, repeating phrases or stories in the same conversation and having trouble making routine choices or handling money. I would definitely suggest that you have your mother discuss her memory problems with her physician to make sure she is properly diagnosed. One decision that everyone, especially mature adults, should stick to is the promise to keep our minds sharp throughout our lives. Researchers call this lifelong process“cognitive vitality.”
Q. My Dad spends a lot of time alone, he calls me 24/7 and he constantly wants me to come visit. I’ve been thinking about getting him a pet — do you think this is a good idea?
A. Having a pet can offer a sense of well-being, encouragement and even a reason for living. Being responsible for another life often gives new meaning to the lives of those who are living alone or who have experienced a loss. Research indicates that caring for and providing a loving home to an animal companion will also encourage your father to remain active and stay healthy.
However, I strongly suggest that you don’t surprise your father with a pet. Instead, discuss the idea with him and see if he’s open to it, go pet shopping together so you can help him consider the costs, responsibilities and his lifestyle when making the decision! For more information about adopting a pet, visit the Humane Society of the United States at:www.hsus.org or call (202) 452-1100.
Q. I just visited my older sister who is recently widowed and she seems so different. She appears to have lost weight, she says she isn’t sleeping very well and she isn’t her usual happy and energetic self. Should I be concerned?
A. Obviously the grieving period after a loss is very individual and the transition to her new life may require significant downtime. With that being said, you should definitely take these changes seriously as the symptoms you have described could be signs of depression. Depression is a medical illness and no one should be ashamed of the associated symptoms it may present. Research indicates that seniors may be prone to depression as they have many losses in their lives – family, friends, etc. I would encourage her to talk about her feelings as this can help her understand why she is feeling this way. It is also important that she see a physician who can ascertain if she’s clinically depressed. For more information, visit the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation at: www.gmhfonline.org or call (301) 654-7850.