Oct. 29, 2001 -- Yetta H. Appel, DSW, has been through
treatment for colon cancer, a broken leg, and cataract surgery. She nursed her
husband, Hy, through Parkinson's disease until his death. None of these recent
events kept her from celebrating her 78th birthday in Lithuania, during a trip
to honor people who'd aided Jews during the Holocaust.
"Because I was a social worker for many years, I've
developed a knack for relating to people," she says. "I try to reach
out to people on my block. I recognize what's meaningful to them; I remember
their birthdays. In response, they include me in their lives. As we age, it's
important to stay interested in others."
Where to Begin?
It's time to start thinking of yourself as a caregiver when the following types of events occur:
A major health problem, or a collection of smaller ones, is starting to cramp your mother's style.
Financial problems (overdrawn checks, unpaid bills, huge credit balances) start cropping up.
Grandpa doesn't get out as much as he used to and seems less interested in what's going on around him.
Home maintenance is slipping: things that break around your parent's house...
Until reaching mandatory retirement at age 70, Appel was a
professor of social work at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.
All of us grow older every day. But people like Appel seem to
have a knack for graceful aging. What is their secret?
Maintain Social Connections
It's important to stay engaged with others, says Jessie C.
Gruman, PhD, executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Health in
"When someone retires from the workforce, and their
children move away, they may not have the social stimulation that comes
routinely with employment and an active family life," Gruman tells WebMD.
"It's important to recognize this potential problem and to take steps to
stay socially and mentally engaged. Read the newspaper. Read books. Put
yourself in a position where you're continually challenged."
Maintaining social connections has an important effect on
quality of life, agrees Laura Mosqueda, MD, director of geriatrics and
associate professor of family medicine at the University of California in
Irvine. "People can reach out to form new relationships by volunteering, or
pursuing special interests and hobbies, or exploring activities at local senior
centers," she tells WebMD.
It's important to recognize that depression is not a normal
part of aging. "It's normal to grieve after a loss, but it's not normal to
feel sad all the time," Mosqueda says. "In older adults depression may
manifest as irritability, memory loss, or social withdrawal. Clinical
depression is an illness that can and should be treated."
Gruman predicts that we're on the cusp of a dramatic change in
our expectations about the aging process. "The baby boomers have no
intention of going gentle into that good night. They expect and hope to stay
extremely active until one day they wake up dead," she says. In the past, a
gradual decline in activity was the "culturally accepted norm," Gruman
adds -- but the baby boomers aren't likely to accept this. She expects this
computer-adapted generation to find new ways to overcome physical limitations
and social isolation.