Roger-Sandy

By Sandra Cohen & Roger Cormier

We overheard a woman telling a friend she had literally taken a leap of faith off a platform. The friend commented that it also took faith to mount that platform because it was shaky. The literal leap may have been a bungee jump or a ride along a cable above a jungle canopy. However, we found ourselves thinking about figurative leaps of faith that may or may not be physical or visible.

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The common meaning of “leap of faith” is believing in a truth without evidence. What struck us about the leaper above is that she believed and took a risk that at the end of the bungee or cable ride her adrenaline rush would pay off in a safe and very memorable outcome.

Whatever your age and stage of life, you probably have taken leaps of faith. In fact, such leaps are what enable us to grow older rather than just get older. Whether or not your leaps were physical and dramatic, they were by definition risky because the desired outcomes were not assured. In fact, the last state could have been worse than the first.

The shaky platform referred to above struck us as much as the woman’s leap. It seems that whenever we take a leap of faith, we do so from the platforms of our lives, which always are a little shaky. Even a fairly stable life platform does not prevent our legs from shaking when we feel invited or even compelled to leap into the unknown.

As we move into 2016, it may be the right time to consider our next leap of faith. It may have to do with our work, relationships with others or with ourselves, our health, travel, encounters with nature, or a long held dream or a brand new interest.

If you have not taken a leap of faith in a while, ask yourself why. Recall the feelings and outcomes of a previous happy leap.

Choose a leap that you feel optimistic and excited about.

Gauge how much resolve you feel and how much encouragement and support you need. Get feedback and backing from someone who is familiar with the shakiness of your platform and will celebrate with you when you land.

If you feel more like a procrastinator than a risk taker, accept the side of you that may feel like postponing your leap, but affirm the side that wants to move ahead and broaden your world.

Take one leap at a time. Get familiar with your changed world before taking your next leap.

Whatever your age and current attitude and outlook, as you entertain a possible leap of faith, remember the exhortation: Do what you have to do, with what you have, in the time you have, in the place you are.

Happy leap and happy landing!

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“Don’t get all weird about getting older! Our age is merely the number of years the world has been enjoying us!!” (from a “Maxine” cartoon)

People often forward funny cartoons and stories via email to family and friends about people who are getting older – as in active senior citizens or frail elders. That is partly because it is easier to laugh about our aging than to just dread it.

We have been writing about growing older since the other side of senior citizen status. For us, probably the biggest change is that we retired five years ago and have been enjoying international living and travel with no serious health problems ever since.

Having created and run home care and geriatric care management companies, we are familiar with the impact of frail physical health and memory loss on aging individuals and their families. This perhaps is what most people fear as they move toward later life. It not only is painful and frightening to the affected senior, but it often dominates and diminishes the lives of primary family caregivers.

Another dreaded event is the loss of one’s treasured life partner. After deeply sharing life for decades, it is difficult to even imagine living without the partner. Adjusting to such a loss takes persevering courage, time, and patient support from people close to a grieving partner.

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We have always used the expression “growing” rather than “getting” older. That is because we believe it is critical to live our later lives, just as our earlier lives, with emphasis on positive activities and attitudes rather than passive fixation on what we might lose or fear. Fortunately, we have been blessed to have outstanding role models in this regard. We know many people who, in spite of diminished physical capacities and sometimes tragic loss, have continued to explore the world through travel, creative hobbies, volunteer service and dedication to their family and friends.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, a friend of ours (Tom Stella, corporate chaplain for a health care organization in Colorado) emailed “A Pledge for Grateful Living written by Benedictine brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB, in which he encourages us to overcome those aspects of life that hold us back from living not only gratefully, but generously, creatively, non-violently, and courageously. When our lives are characterized by the virtues he espouses, our living becomes a thanks giving.”

Tom concludes his Thanksgiving message by encouraging us to “live with abandon, taste all of life, savor the sweet and the sour. Bon appetite!”

Roger-Sandy

Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

As we grow older, we hope to grow wiser. One of life’s lessons, that two heads (or hearts or souls) are better than one, remains important in later life. These examples suggest the many wise ways we can grow by putting our heads together at any age:

-Life partners: Why do we tend to match up for life with someone who is so different from us? After infatuation comes the hard work of building a relationship with some-one whose personality and idiosyncrasies, and perhaps to some extent values, often conflict with our own. What a relief it is when we discover that compromising with or even adopting some of our partner’s perspective can add to the quality of our life. This can be helpful in countless ways from hanging pictures on a wall and choosing vacation destinations to handling adversity and opening ourselves to life’s simple joys and deepest mysteries.

"Just married"

“Just married”

-Family: An old saying reminds us that we can’t pick our family. We are born into it. From sibling rivalry to differences in chosen values and lifestyle, most of us are closer to some family members than others. Whether we’re best friends or have contact only at family events, we can learn from each other in matters of cuisine, culture, career, child rearing, politics, hobbies, retirement planning and more.

In families, there are ties that bind. Families often come together out of common love for an older relative to make difficult elder care decisions. Blending diverse perspectives and concerns often leads to mutual enlightenment, a truer picture of the elder’s best interests and more successful decisions.

-Friends: There is no deadline for forming and nurturing friendships. Many older adults have lifetime soul mates and continue to make friends at advanced ages. How do your friends complement your interests and needs? How often do you visit or communicate by phone, e-mail or mail? How much untapped potential is there for encouraging, advising and entertaining each other?

Friends come and go throughout our lives. Many people in their 80s and 90s have lost, in many cases outlived, most of their friends as well as families. Yet they sometimes welcome new friendships as if there were no tomorrow. As we often hear, all we really have is our present moment.

Memories by definition are from our past, and anticipation reminds us of our uncertain future. Friends can share some of our memories and aspirations, but more importantly, they can engage us today. They can help fill us up, go the extra mile or rest in the shade. They can help make us whole and receive what we have to give. The same is true for family and life partners, as well as people we work with or serve. Two sets of heads, hearts and souls are better than one.

Roger-SandyBy Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

What if during these challenging economic times you could travel anywhere you wanted for about half the normal cost? Countless seniors and baby boomers are doing just that thanks to home or hospitality exchanges.

They do so by using websites such as Homeexchange.com, Intervac Home Exchange and Global Home Exchange, which usually charge a modest fee to list homes. Even before listing your home, you can scan the sites to get a feel for it. Once you’ve listed your home, you can contact — or be contacted by — potential exchange partners to trade homes for a mutually agreed-upon period of time.

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Home swaps also often include such amenities as the use of a car or computer, or access to an area health club or community pool. Because you’re not in a hotel room, you can further save money by eating some meals “at home.”

A hospitality exchange (not offered by all companies) is similar, except homeowners host each other in their homes at designated times.

What if you don’t own a home? Explore partnering with relatives or friends willing to list and exchange their homes. Most exchange homes have two or more bedrooms, and people often team up for such travel.

How can you trust total strangers to stay in your home? More than 250,000 people a year make successful exchanges. The logic and experience is that if someone turns over their home to you, they will treat your home the way they expect you to treat theirs. Many people have done exchanges regularly over the years and report no significant problems.

Exchanges usually are made well in advance of planned travel. Before you propose or accept a particular exchange, you can research and select what appear to be your best options. Prospective exchange partners usually share practical information about everything from public transportation to local shopping to what to do and see nearby. In the process, they get to know and feel comfortable with each other. In non-simultaneous exchanges, you might meet the local partner who may be staying at a second property during your visit. In either case, exchangers often become friendly and sometimes even treat each other as family.

Locations that rank high as places people want to visit have a competitive advantage. Exchangers feature local and nearby attractions in their listings. When you reach your destination, you’ll hardly have time to pinch yourself to make sure you are really there and haven’t broken your bank. You will be too busy settling in, exploring and enjoying what once had been only a dream.

Roger-Sandy

By Sandra J. Cohen and Roger Cormier

In the words of Desmond Tutu, “Without forgiveness, there is no future.” Why and how do we forgive and free ourselves of pain from our past?

Studies have found that people who forgive are happier and healthier. Yet forgiving can be one of the most gnawing and difficult challenges in our lives. A Gallup poll found that while 94 percent of respondents feel it is important to forgive, 84 percent said they need help to do so.

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It’s easy for most of us to forgive someone who accidentally bumps into us on a crowded bus. It is hard to imagine forgiving someone who has abused, betrayed or left someone bereft of support during vulnerable times. The amount of damage, pain, humiliation and feeling of indignation and powerlessness that such behavior causes naturally adds to the innate difficulty of practicing forgiveness.

Here are some quotes that offer some helpful insight into the process.

Alan Paton: “When a deep injury is done us, we never recover until we forgive.” Regardless whether forgiveness benefits the person being forgiven, and without respect to an offender’s remorse or changed behavior, the forgiver can find healing, release and a freer present and future.

Lewis B. Smedes: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Another factor that makes it hard to get off the starting block toward forgiveness is the previous degree of intimacy, trust and perceived loyalty in a relationship.

William Blake: “It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” Violation of such bonds can level us and leave us feeling painfully vulnerable for a long time. But forgiveness is not necessarily synonymous with toleration. If the person shows remorse or attempt at improved behavior, it may be time to forgive the other person and then terminate the relationship.

Forgiveness can release both the offender and the offended to grow in mutual respect and caring. Close, longtime spouses, family or friends often reach the point where a gentle, forgiving reminder is enough to abort or prevent yet another annoying or hurtful behavior.

It is just as healthy and freeing — and sometimes harder — to forgive ourselves, when needed, than to forgive someone else. Chances are that something in our mind, heart, soul, behavior hungers for such a tender look from our forgiving selves. Maybe today we are ready to gaze upon ourselves and/or someone else with such tender forgiveness.

Resources: http://www.theforgivenessproject.com (inspiring stories of forgiveness) and “Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness” by Dr. Fred Luskin (available in hardback, paperback and as an e-book).

Roger-SandySandy Cohen and Roger Cormier

As we get older, we realize we have less time on this earth. We think about how we want to spend our remaining and unknown amount of time. Many of us decide to make adventure travel a top priority because we want to experience other parts and cultures of our country and world. Then the question is where, how, when and with whom. Aside from budget limits and other time commitments, the choices are abundant.

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A longstanding service called Road Scholar (www.roadscholar.org), originally known as Elder Hostel, continues to offer seniors many travel and learning experiences in the U.S. and abroad. Road Scholar, which markets to adults, not just senior adults, is currently featuring such adventures as a the Wild Beauty of Kenya, a Spiritual and Cultural Journey Through India, and the Natural and Man-Made Marvels of Panama and Costa Rica.

Overseas Adventure Travel (www.oattravel.com) caters to seniors in general and has special bookings for single seniors. They offer land adventures to countries and regions such as Israel, Africa, Peru, Vietnam and India and small ship adventures to regions accessed by rivers and seas like the Nile, Yangtze, Aegean, Adriatic and Antarctic.

Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com), of guidebook and television fame, offers “back door” trips in Europe from Scandinavia to Turkey. Not necessarily billed as adventure travel, they nonetheless include sites and experiences off the beaten and comfortable path. Although many tour members are retired, they include Baby Boomers, young adults and families with children of college or high school age.

We often wonder why seniors would want to journey to exotic and even wild places with only seniors. The same question can be raised about why older people choose to live in seniors-only communities or spend their non-family leisure time with people exclusively in their age range. At one level, one can understand that some people want to be among people whom they perceive to have much in common with them. It’s  great to have choices.

However, when it comes to adventurous, exploring travel, our own most memorable mates include a couple in their 80’s eating up the wonder and wildness of an African safari with people decades younger than themselves. They were in the thick of the action from beginning to end. They did not just observe but communicated with Masai villagers and their children.

It is great fun to learn how other people of varying tenures on earth respond to the sights and sounds of wild animals and fiery sunsets in nature reserves. We know other older people who go on tours or set up their own travel adventures irrespective of the age range of fellow travelers or completely on their own.

However you select your broadening travel experiences and mates, your underlying motivation probably is the satisfaction you experience and the memories you treasure. It often leads to enriched understanding and feelings of solidarity with people met on tour, wondrous natural settings and people of different cultures. Some are inspired to get involved in movements for environmental justice and world peace, sometimes to the point of volunteering in the Peace Corps or other humanitarian programs.

One occasionally is fortunate enough to make friends with an adventure travel mate or two. Those relationships spring from a common spirit and build upon a treasured experience. Such a blessing is precious whether you have 50 or only 10 more years on earth.

Roger-Sandy

Sandy Cohen and Roger Cormier

As we grow older and want to make the most of our boomer and senior years, we can take a fresh look at the various parts of our lives. Many of us retire and then volunteer, travel and read more and/or delve into lifelong or recently emerging passions like spirituality, art, cooking and forms of exercise and relaxation. Such decisions may address the “what, when and where” of our daily lives but not necessarily the “with whom.”

We are fortunate if we have friends with much shared history and mutual support. As we transition from our careers to retirement, we can make new, special friends who can further enrich our lives.

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But then there are people who have tended to take advantage of our loyalty without having done their share of initiating communication with and showing genuine interest in us. We can allow ourselves to feel hurt and resentful that such relationships have been mostly about them, and rarely about us. We also can consider whether to continue investing in them out of unreflective loyalty, or to withdraw our time and energy from them in order to invest more in mutually enlivening friendships.

It is up to us to discern whether such personal histories have any potential for redemption. Can we imagine directly communicating our concerns and receiving a response that shows promise of true friendship going forward? If not, maybe it is time for us to redirect our energy to mutually initiating, vibrant and caring relationships?

It has always been our choice. However, as we grow older, we can give ourselves permission to invest less in those who take rather than give. Looking forward, we can treasure more than ever our precious time and sharing with real friends.

Roger-Sandy

 By Sandy Cohen, B.A., R.N. and Roger Cormier, M.A., M.Th.

 Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) can look forward to a long and vibrant retirement. However, as the saying goes, “There are two ways to look at everything.” Boomers expect to live long without serious limitation on their activities. While it’s true their life expectancy is rosy, the prospects of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other disabling conditions associated with advanced age threaten the good life they foresee.

A survey by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago found that half of Boomers expect to make it past age 80 without serious decline in their lives. 79 percent feel they won’t suffer any serious limitations until after they reach 70. Such optimism has a basis in actuarial data. Male Boomers have median life expectancies into their eighties and female Boomers into their upper nineties. Many current retirees continue to live full, active lives with no declines in their upper decades. Undoubtedly that will be the case for a large percentage of Boomers.

But what about those who reach their seventies, eighties and nineties at great cost to their health and independence? Twenty percent of those who live through their 65-74 decade and half of those over 85 will suffer from Alzheimer’s. At best, current medicines only mitigate the debilitating and life-threatening effects of dementia, physical frailty, diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions.

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 Many Boomers are experiencing the sad decline and suffering of advanced old age among their own relatives and other people they know. They see the cost of long-term care wiping out the limited savings of people they know in just a few years. No fate is more universally dreaded than outliving one’s peers and being forced to live in an understaffed nursing home on government assistance.

Boomers can increase the likelihood that their resources and health will support a vibrant, meaningful old age. For example, they can systematically save for retirement, work part-time during retirement, and build healthy exercise, nutrition and social involvement into their pre-retirement and retirement years. But then there is the luck of the draw. For example, Boomers can engage in certain health practices that are associated with lower incidences of Alzheimer’s, but they can’t control their age, heredity, genes and gender, which are associated with the dreaded disease.

Boomers and others who anticipate a vibrant retirement and a long life are well served by role models among the current elderly retirees. These are the people who saved as much as possible, who continue to look after their health, who remain connected to family and friends, who gratefully enjoy new as well as lifelong activities during each year that is given to them, and who accept and cope with declines in their health as best they can.

Most Boomers, as well as people in other age groups, hope they will live long, healthy, happy lives and die suddenly or after only a short illness. However, people increasingly are declining over a substantial period of time before their final demise. Just as our younger years are filled with opportunity, fulfillment, risk and suffering, our older years present new, enriching experiences and difficult losses. Whatever their individual futures hold, Boomers are the first generation who know they can live for a century. As they say, that can be a mixed blessing.

Roger-Sandy

Sandy Cohen, B.A., R.N. and Roger Cormier, M.A., M.Th.

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On a Sunday morning, people were walking or running around a beautiful, sunlit reservoir in the San Francisco Bay Area. One person was heard saying to her companion, “I don’t like how I’m living. I’m not interested in anything.” Do those words fit an older person in your life?

At times in our lives, we feel depressed because we’ve suffered losses or failed to reach our goals. Or we’re succeeding on the outside but wondering “Is that all there is?!” on the inside. Or we’re fighting a battle against losses associated with aging. Some combination of physical, emotional and spiritual factors is contributing to our feeling of depression.

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Elders who have suffered losses often find themselves in this situation. They lose interest in their life, including the world outside of them. How can they gain a zest for life? How can you help them get out of a depressing rut?

The woman complaining to her companion can provide some clues. First, she wasn’t blaming herself or the outside world. She recognized that she didn’t like the way her life was going and she was concerned at her lack of interest in anything. But she literally was taking some first steps to do something about it. She could have stayed home and wallowed in self-pity, but she was out circling a potentially healing natural setting. She also was confiding in someone who cares about her.

That’s a recipe for transformation. Don’t blame yourself or others or circumstances. Let caring persons in, whether they be family, friends or people in the helping professions like a psychotherapist, pastor, senior center director or support group. For someone who is depressed, such a recipe is a lot easier to verbalize than to enact. If you know someone in such a state, how can you help?

Take a couple of simple cues from the early morning walker’s confidante. First, she was literally walking the walk of her dissatisfied companion. Spending time with a depressed older person communicates your regard for them. Second, she was listening, just listening. Don’t offer opinions or encouraging words before really letting in and acknowledging your elder’s grief. Such untimely actions can convey that you’re more interested in lightening them up for your sake than truly being with them in their pain.

When your “walking partner” shows any sign of new interest in their life, gently reinforce it. For example, if they ask about people or activities in your life, invite them to join you for a social occasion. If they should invite your opinion and you have one, share it sensitively without “shoulds.” If they seem seriously depressed with no sign of improvement, help them arrange an appointment with their primary care doctor, who may prescribe medication or make a referral to a psychiatrist or other specialist or treatment program.

Two books that offer families insight about loss, dependence and understanding in late life are “Counting on Kindness: The Dilemmas of Dependency” by Wendy Lustbader and “Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders” by Mary Pipher.

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By Sandra Cohen and Roger Cormier

  Many people, starting in their fifties, feel challenged by not just whether or not or when to retire, but with the very concept of retirement.

Starting in the twentieth century, Americans began to have the luxury of retirement, meaning working for one company for a very long time and then stopping work completely. For the majority of that century many Americans had employer and government income and medical coverage to fall back on, but the average retiree lived only a few years after retiring at 65.

That’s changing fast. The average retirement today is more than 20 years, because many are retiring earlier and living much longer. While some people don’t choose to retire until their seventies, many are completely retiring, retiring in stages, or cycling between full, part-time and no employment in whatever order they choose. Leisure is becoming more a choice than an automatic occurrence at a certain age.

Ken Dychtwald, internationally recognized aging specialist and founder of the Age Wave in the San Francisco Bay Area, found in a survey that Baby Boomers want to cycle between work and leisure (48%), never work for pay again (17%), work part time (16%), start a business (13%) or work full time (6%). Keeping mentally and physically active and connecting with others drives the 83 percent who want to work even more than having health benefits or more money.

If you are in the second half of your life, you may be asking yourself not so much whether you want to work but how you want to balance work and leisure. Work for you may mean some combination of paid employment, volunteering and hobbies. Leisure may mean travel and learning as well as time with family and friends and entertainment.

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This picture can sound rosy but, like all things in life, we’re faced with mixed blessings. As we live longer, more of us face chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. By the middle of this century fourteen million Americans are expected to suffer from Alzheimer’s and tens of millions of older adults, including debt-ridden Boomers, may live in poverty. Right now millions of retirees spend as much as 40 or more hours a week just watching television.

Medical breakthroughs, resolution of the impending Social Security and Medicare crises and other impossible to predict changes can improve the outlook for a vibrant, secure and choice-filled second half of life. However, in these changing, challenging times, each of us needs to discern what we want, what is realistic and how to achieve our work and leisure dreams as individuals and people in community.

If you discover and go for what will enliven you in your mature decades, you will need support from people who are close to you and from kindred spirits. Don’t just envision your future. Share it and commit yourself to working for change to make your and others’ “retirement” dreams come true. Here are some resources to help your envisioning and connecting:

“The Longevity Revolution: As Boomers Become Elders” by Theodore Roszak (Berkeley Hills Books, 2001), “Too Young To Retire: 101 Ways To Start the Rest of Your Life” by Marika and Howard Stone (Plume, 2004), and http://www.2young2retire.com.