The Invisible Retirement Wrecker

Category: Health Issues

May 9, 2018 — Maybe it is just timing, but we seem to be having more and more interactions with people who are very lonely. A widower and good friend admitted that, after feeling sorry for himself, he broke one of his own rules and went out to a bar by himself for a beer and pizza. Just this weekend we ran into an old friend, also a widower, who was visibly very upset. He was near tears as he described how he can’t seem to meet anyone that he would like to spend time with. Even on this site last week we had a post from a Member expressing her helplessness after the sudden loss of her husband. Almost three quarters of Americans have feelings of loneliness, according to a survey by the Harris Poll on behalf of the American Osteopathic Association. As many as one-third say they have those feelings at lease once a week.

That long anticipated retirement – too often ruined by loneliness
We spend so much psychic energy planning for retirement. We carefully save money, think about where we are going to retire, and plan for all the fun things we will do to enjoy it. But for far too many people, loneliness ruins all that planning and anticipation. Men in particular have trouble. No longer working, they lose their major source of social contact. In most cases, we feel alone because we don’t have a partner. Either the partner has died, sometimes all too suddenly, or we are divorced, or for whatever reason, just haven’t found or want a partner. America’s senior population continues to increase, and a large number of us are single. According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, 55% of women and 28% of men over 65 state they were unmarried.

Sometimes we might feel lonely even if we have a partner. Maybe we can’t connect any more, or are feeling alienated, or we wake up one day and realize we don’t have any one that we care enough about to talk to. Studies have shown that having no one to share experiences and daily life with can be harmful to our mental and our physical well-being.

Photo by Nihat from Pexels

Zero new friends
Retirement should be the opportunity to spend more time with loved ones, travel to places we have dreamed of, and have all kinds of opportunities for new experiences and friends. Ironically though, this is also a time where people find their social network begins to shrink. In a recent proprietary study by Shea Homes®, surveying over 1,000 home shoppers above the age of 50 nationwide, 37 percent say they have made zero new friends over the past year. In addition, 46 percent stated their social network has dwindled due to friends moving from their neighborhood and over 60 percent would like to live in a community where they know their neighbors.

The Washington Post reported on research that shows that a “lack of social connection and the feeling of loneliness and isolation is as damaging to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day”. It has also been implicated as a risk factor for maladies such as cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and obesity. It’s even a factor for something as simple as the common cold and back spasms. Another study from the AARP study showed that people who are are very socially isolated influence spend $130 per month more in Medicare than others.

So I am lonely, what can I do about it?
Dr. Jennifer Caudle, an assistant professor of family medicine at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, in Stratford, New Jersey had some interesting ideas on this subject. Those, along with some other suggestions, are presented below:

To limit loneliness, Dr. Caudle recommends some simple steps to help increase real social engagement:

Consider a digital cleanse. Social networks can offer real connections, but the curated platforms may over-emphasize the success of others, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy. If you are feeling inadequate or overwhelmed, cut back or eliminate your online activity for a while.

Exercise with others. Participating in a running club, exercise class, or team sport can have dual benefits, creating opportunities to meet new people while also improving physical health. Many sports stores, churches and community groups offer free weekly activities including fun walks and yoga. Plus, exercising as little as 10 minutes a day or 1 hour a week has been shown to increase happiness

Buy local. Developing a routine that includes visiting a local shopkeeper, coffee shop, farmers’ market or gym builds roots in the community. Creating relationships with local vendors can lead to a sense of shared history and camaraderie.

Step out of your comfort zone. Introducing yourself to nearby neighbors or engaging with people in the building elevator—while initially uncomfortable—can begin the process of developing community and has the added bonus of alleviating loneliness for others.

Move to a community with more neighbors. The contrast between living in a suburban neighborhood by yourself and an active community is amazing. In the former you might be lucky to wave to a neighbor, while in a 55+, independent, or condo community you will probably interact with neighbors all day. You will quickly have your pick of people that you might want to spend more time with.

Get a pet. The first friends we made in Key West came from walking the dog. Pets are automatic conversation starters – the next thing you know you are part of a new social network.

Make an effort to reconnect with people from your past that you really enjoyed. Whether it is a school chum, relative, army buddy, neighbor, or work colleague; restarting that connection could be a really good thing.

Travel. There are many travel companies that specialize in trips for single people. Or perhaps you have an old, or a new friend that would be fun to travel with. A new adventure offers a shared experience that frequently leads to new friendships.

Look for a new activity. Every community has groups that sponsor hikes, bike trips, hobbies, book clubs, bridge or card nights. The people who you will meet have more common interests than you will expect.

Take a class. Why not learn Spanish, computer skills, gardening, cooking, etc. Guaranteed you’ll have fun and meet some nice folks.

Bottom line
Everyone in retirement should be looking for ways to make new friends, because no one knows how your life might change. Your spouse could die, divorce you, or have a health condition that makes you a full-time caregiver. Men, who tend to rely on their wives to manage their social lives, have to work even harder to make friends. Practice your skills at meeting new people and your life will be richer, no matter what twists of fate await you.

For further reading
Retired Mens’ Greatest Health Risk (many great Comments)
5 Warning Signs You Aren’t Mentally Prepared for Retirement
The Loneliness of the Elderly (NY Times)
Loneliness Is a Disease That Can Be Treated (Washington Post)
Many Americans Are Lonely (CBS News)

Comments? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.




Posted by Admin on May 8th, 2018

21 Comments »

  1. I have been working part-time at my Church which is also a historical property. I give tours and greet arrivals, help to organize groups, etc. I find that many of the elderly who come on bus trips are couples…A single person could feel excluded from the mainstream, and this on contributes to the loneliness, even when one is on a vacation. Many people can be reluctant to share room arrangements with a stranger when on a trip. So going on a trip alone can be little help, usually people like to share their adventures.( I realize there are a few people who do not mind traveling alone, but I have not found that to be the norm.)

    Family dynamics also play a role in the loneliness issue–one cannot choose their family and sometimes the stress of family members who can be less than kind or even emotionally abusive can make life difficult if one is retired and chooses rightly so, not to interact with such people. Often these victims do not know who they can trust to let into their lives. I have observed this as I also work with volunteers, many of whom have lost a spouse. They come to the church to have an activity that gets them out of the house. They make friends through their volunteer work, but it ends when they leave to go home. We try to stay in touch with those who are serving the church in any way, but it is probably not enough to alleviate a person who is lonely.

    by Jennifer — May 9, 2018

  2. Two issues about the list: First: Though included in many of these areas sited, “volunteering” deserves its own section. Many worthy organizations depend quite heavily on volunteers. Because volunteers tend to share a common goal, it will allow a person to find like-minded people who share common goals and interests. Second: I think that a digital cleanse may not be a good idea. It is certainly worth moving away from sites that overly emphasize competitiveness (especially in sports and exercise) but here in Florida, Meetup, local governments, and Facebook provide a myriad of opportunities for activities, such as camera clubs, hiking clubs and local clean-ups, just to name a few. They provide a large number of seniors with local activities. No question that folks should set limits on how much time they spend in front of a screen.

    by Lynn — May 9, 2018

  3. Meetup.com has groups for everyone’s interests. You go to that site and sign up for free (usually) and people set up social activities that you can say “yes” or “no” to on a daily basis. I went on a hike yesterday and will go on one today with hiking or walking meetups for example.Baby Boomers are the most active social group on meetups. Value acquaintances at this stage of life and you will feel less lonely also.A friend from high school and her husband just happened to move 5 minutes away from my home and I am thrilled because we now have each other’s backs as we age. Staying social is a plus in retirement to make it work, but you have to get out of the house to do so and away from TV and computer screens. We also have 3 senior centers within 10 miles of where a live and a great library system with free classes, programs, and concerts weekly.

    by Luanne — May 9, 2018

  4. This could actually be a money making opportunity. If someone with vision could create a daycare facility for adults. I would hope they would come up with a better name like Silver Fox Fun/Learning Center. Not a place to dump a sick individual for the day but healthy adults wanting to learn things. Like there could be a wood working shop for those who want to learn to use the specialized equipment and make tables, bowls, furniture, etc. Then there could be all kinds of other crafts like jewelry making, sewing, cooking classes, lectures on cultures, travel, countries. Book clubs, card clubs, classic movies and discussions after words. Bird clubs, hiking clubs, knitting clubs, crochet clubs, Yoga, light exercise, drawing/art, photography, on and on…

    A café to just hang out and have a bite to eat.

    This would be a great place for seniors to go everyday and something to look forward to. Be with people their own ages and participate in fun things. I think this is the missing link. We need to have things under one roof that we can go to.

    by Louise — May 9, 2018

  5. It’s hard but you need to get out there. I can recommend getting involved in the non-profit world, all I approached were very welcoming. You meet lots of new, like minded people, make friends, have some fun and do some good. Pick those that interest you and that you agree with their mission.

    by Troutbum — May 9, 2018

  6. Sometimes people also have to evaluate themselves. Maybe they can’t make friends because they have some serious personality flaws that make people not want to be around them. Some people like to talk about their ailments and every detail about the doctors visits and pills they are taking. Sometimes this is all they talk about. Some people have a way to say negative things about someone supposedly in a humorous way but it is actual hurtful. Some people are negative about everything. Some complain just to complain. Some are horrible gossips. When you are friends with these people, there comes a time when you have had enough of the drama and Debbie Downerism that you just abandon the friendship. People need to broaden their horizons and read books, learn about history, read newspapers to keep current on what is going on in the world. Learn to have conversations about historic persons and events, interesting places they have never been but would like to someday, and things such as inventions, Kentucky Derby, the beauty of the horses, how the pioneers survived, space travel. There is so much subject matter out there to learn to be an interesting person. Not that you can never mention your illness but no one wants to hear depressing stuff 24/7. If you have done interesting things in your life, tell your story and include all the delicious details. Also, then there are the other people who don’t want to listen to interesting stories. You have to find your right audience. I have an acquaintance who has a hobby and that is all this person thinks about and has nothing else to talk about and will rarely show any enthusiasm for what I am interested in. It is a one way street.

    by Louise — May 9, 2018

  7. I also want to mention failed relationships. What made the relationship fall apart? Do you think it is it always THE OTHER PERSON? Maybe not. Dig deep into your thoughts on what made the relationship fail. Maybe finding the reason is that part of the failure was your fault, start working on improving those character flaws.

    We all have to work on ourselves to be able to find friends.

    by Louise — May 9, 2018

  8. I think too much emphasis is placed on finding a partner. Many compromises are usually required, especially by women. All of these compromises and accomodations, in my mind, do not enhance happiness. I am single, and am lonely at times, but not full of the resentments that I see in many of my married friends who try to mold themselves around a partner. Loneliness is much more complex than having a “partner.” There are plenty of single people that have long lives without partners. Baby boomer men are too conventional and have rigid gender expectations that don’t suit me. I am lonely at times, as a single person, but it isn’t devastating, as I have activities and interests and don’t feel sorry for myself.

    by Marilyn — May 9, 2018

  9. I have tried to spend more time with the next generations younger in my family, but they rarely have time. They love me but are so busy taxiing their children nonstop 24/7 to unending activities and preparing for the next activity that there seems to be no time left in the children’s calendars for visits from relatives. This is true during the summer as well as the school year.

    by Mary Brady — May 9, 2018

  10. Sometimes when I am in the grocery store I strike up a conversation with someone. One day I was at the check out and there was a lady in front of me and she had the obvious ingredients in her basket for a pizza or two. I made a comment to her and said Looks like you have going to have pizza. She turned around with a big smile and we had a short conversation how she was making it for her family that evening which was a Friday night. I told her years ago my Mom and I used to make home made pizza’s too and that is such a good memory or mine. It was just a short moment in time but maybe my comments made an impact on her and I am still remembering the conversation. Not all conversations have to turn into a friendship but you never know!

    by Louise — May 9, 2018

  11. Louise, so many good ideas. And I just signed up for Meetup.com! Thank you, Luanne!

    I currently live alone and am physically isolated in a rural area, and I decided to move closer to people. I created a list of all my interests to pursue, KNOWING that I’ll meet people and maybe make friends. I am a good listener and show interest in others (I know I talk a lot about myself on here, but I really am a good listener). I have no problem going to the symphony alone or to the farmer’s market on my own, or a movie, or a restaurant, or whatever, and strike up conversations with people all the time. They don’t take me home for lunch that day, but who knows where it will lead. I treat sales clerks and the mechanic as if they will be my next best friend. Finding friends is not a need, but a want for me. Happily I recently connected with several high school friends who are still like-minded, and we’re having phone chats and penciling in times when we can meet up (all living in different states). Keeping in touch is important. While working, I was usually too tired and preoccupied to stay in touch or do things with friends; luckily, they stayed in touch with me. Now I am changing to stay in touch with others. I think social media is a good way to do that. One other thing is that it is important for me to stay friends with people across all age groups, generations and cultures. I have close friends of different ethnicities and ranging from age 11 to the 90s. I do not limit myself to any one friend prototype and I try not to judge people on physical features or cultural roots. If I did, my friend pool would be extremely small. Good luck!

    by Elaine C. — May 9, 2018

  12. Finding a partner later in life is not easy for many reasons. The first thing I think about is people being set in their ways and that can be good if you find a like minded person. Sometimes one partner finds joy in finding a partner that helps get them motivated to do different things. However, a partner that is stuck in a rut can wear down a social butterfly. In a way it is no different than when we were teenagers but now we carry a lot of baggage. Sometimes it is ex’s, adult children that resent the relationship, certain medical issues that keep people from travelling. Money problems, Addictions. A lot of us have pets and sometimes we meet people who don’t care for them.

    A lot of finding friends and partners is in our hands. We have to get out there and out of our comfort zone. It is easy to sit home and complain but who is going to come knocking on your door? Probably no one. Get out there!

    When you meet someone ask them questions and let them talk, get to know them over a cup of coffee. One thing can lead to another.

    When I worked I had my work friends. But once I left, my work friends stayed behind unfortunately. Seems the work friendships didn’t evolve into personal friendships. Funny how life works!

    by Louise — May 10, 2018

  13. I love Louise’s comment. I often speak to strangers in the market, at Starbuck’s, walking, any place. I don’t have any expectations about forming a relationship, but every once in a while there is potential for something more than a conversation in passing. Being a criminal defense attorney and a feminist in the baby boomer generation was my life. Men comfortable with feminist values were few and far between. This is a choice I made. So, I never married, never had kids and have had my share of lonely times. I have often used those times to go deeper into myself and my values. I know that I was different from the typical, traditional female in the baby boomer generation. I accept that and feel that the men I have met and tried to connect with required too many accommodations and compromises to suit me. I like myself the way I am and being a lone ranger has been and will continue to be an interesting journey. I have no health issues, a wonderful, new modern home, money in the bank and I can now devote most of my time to making art and playing my piano and my violin. I am footloose and fancy free, too much so to have a dog. I don’t want a dog to be alone in my home when I am out most of the time! Best wishes to all! Enjoy your own journey.

    by Marilyn — May 10, 2018

  14. Marilyn, I can tell you from personal experience that there are worse things than being alone. Being in a relationship with a person who is incompatible is a great example. I am divorced since 2001 and I can do as I want, when I want, and go where I want. I can and do often talk to men who I am around at social functions and at work, but I have no desire to have it go beyond a nice social conversation. I am working on developing myself and have been working with tour groups this spring which really gets me over 10,000 steps per day and one day over 12.000! I am tired at the end of the day, but I am getting fit and having a great time doing it. I have met many people young and old along the way and I love my senior groups who come through our historic church. I come home to relax and pursue any other interests, usually online, that I wish. Life is what you make it.

    by Jennifer — May 11, 2018

  15. You know, they always have these “surveys” that say people in relationships live longer. I wonder if they have any surveys comparing single people to those in less-than ideal relationships? I have never heard of this survey! I think there is some social engineering going on with a lot of these so called “surveys”. Which is why I truly believe the factor of being alone does not always equal loneliness and society wants to see people in neat little couples. I eat organic and there are so many “surveys” about people who eat animal products having higher health risks, yet another survey I have never heard about is a survey that compares the health of people that eat organic animal products with people that eat any old animal products, especially those that eat fast food! I am just saying we are all subject to misinformation and half-truths. Yes, I would like to find a truly compatible partner, but I know that at 71 the likelihood is slim. I don’t mean a perfect partner, I mean one that doesn’t require me to do much more compromising than it seems most relationships with men in my generation require. I am not interested in younger men. I have tried that and I feel like a mother, not a partner in those situations. Society wants women to be so thin, have their face remanufactured to eliminate signs of age and feel lucky just to “catch” a man! Not a recipe for healthy self-esteem!

    by Marilyn — May 12, 2018

  16. Surveys! I don’t believe most of them! One day eggs are bad for you, next coffee is bad, red wine is good, then the next day they tell you eggs are good, coffee is good, too much wine is bad. Meat is bad.

    Funny, my one grandpa lived to be 110 years old and he grew tobacco and chewed tobacco his whole life and never got cancer. He ate mostly pork, ham, chicken meat, squirrel, rabbit, butter, lard, beans, garden veggies. He never had a heart attack and was hospitalized maybe at age 100 but bounced back to live in a nursing home for 10 years. He still had a full head of hair, was not bedridden and had his mind too. His wife (grandma) lived to age 91 and I have another grandma who lived to age 91 too.

    Everybody has an opinion on everything and is an expert. Go with what makes sense.

    by Louise — May 12, 2018

  17. Marilyn, I’d always thought that statistic (people in relationships tending to live longer than singles) might largely reflect the clear benefit of two people keeping their eyes on each other.

    Even a platonic roommate can assess another person’s health decline and insist the person get to a doctor (soon!) or tip off the family. In a crisis a live-in human can call 911, describe the precipitating events to emergency responders, provide background information, etc.

    Many of us have known single-living seniors who suffered sudden crises like a broken hip, severe heart attack or stroke but couldn’t get to a phone, therefore they lay on their floors for days until someone discovered their predicament.

    by JCarol — May 13, 2018

  18. Well, JCarol, they have an answer for that that might be more reliable than having a partner! Subscribe to life alert and wear an emergency necklace always. Your partner might be gone somewhere when you have an emergency, but your necklace can always be there!

    by Marilyn — May 13, 2018

  19. Good one Marilyn! LOL!

    by Louise — May 13, 2018

  20. Marilyn, my post was to point out some of what might explain those statistics, not to advocate a particular position.

    Nothing is foolproof – not housemates and not life alerts. I have a friend who lives alone and whose health is iffy. His Life Alert was on the bathroom counter when he fell in his kitchen and was too injured to move. He was stuck there for a couple of days before someone checked on him. Another factor is that one must be conscious and cognizant that an emergency is actually occurring.

    by JCarol — May 13, 2018

  21. JCarol, your comments are true. If some breaks an arm that is dominant (right or left) they might not be able to push the life alert button even if on their neck. Some people also tend to panic in an emergency and forget to push the life alert button, depending on how much pain they may be in. No scenario is perfect, but we can only hope to reach the majority of people who need help.

    by Jennifer — May 13, 2018

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