I spent a recent weekend on the Rhode Island shore with a eight friends I have known for over 40 years and several of their spouses/significant others. We try to get together every two or three years and it is amazing how quickly we are able to reconnect and how reminiscences we have all been over many times before are still a pleasure to hear.
This weekend experience reminded me of the importance of relationships – with a spouse or significant other, with your children and family and with friends and neighbors – for happiness. I believe the importance of relationships in making us happy is too often overlooked when seniors contemplate a move from work to retirement, in relocating to a new location for all or part of the year, and in thinking about and executing a move to a seniors housing community.
Relationships In Retirement – One important aspect of moving from full time work to full time retirement is that many of our friends and social relationship revolve around our work. We all have business colleagues inside or outside our organizations that we interact with socially as well as professionally for lunches, dinners, conferences and meetings, charity events, golf and other activities. These relationships are hard to maintain when you no longer see these colleagues on a regular basis. If you want to maintain these relationships you, as the retiree, will have to work hard to maintain active contact with former colleagues.
Even if you make the effort to keep connected with former colleagues, many of these work-connected relationships will slip away when you retire because you simply won’t be moving in the same circles as former colleagues. To supplement these relationships, you need a plan of action to build alternative social relationships, particularly some that are intellectually stimulating.
Once you do retire, some of the most significant challenges you encounter in your social relationships may involve your spouse, significant other, children and other family members. The relationship with your spouse, if you are married, may be the most important post-retirement relationship you have. But the nature of your relationship with you spouse may change dramatically as one or both of you has more time at home and you negotiate new responsibilities on household chores, financial management, planning vacations and social activities. It is important to anticipate and discuss these changes in advance and to maintain an active dialogue as you settle in to your post-retirement lifestyle.
Relationships with children are another important aspect of happiness for retirees but can also create challenges. Children may live far away, may want more of your time for childcare than you want to give or may not want your advice or help now that you have more time to offer it. For many of us baby boomers our retirement may coincide with our children marrying, getting traction in their careers, establishing families and generally feeling more independent from parents and less in need of parental advice. It is important for the parent/retiree to be sensitive to these changes in roles and to adapt to changing conditions. It is also important to let your children know if you believe they are claiming more of your time for childcare or other responsibilities than you want to give.
Relationships As We Age – Another aspect of relationships that I believe is very important for happiness and underappreciated as we age is the loss of connectivity to others as your mobility and that of friends is reduced, you or friends relocate to new locations or a spouse or other close friends die. Many seniors face a gradual narrowing of social relationships and human interaction for the reasons just noted. Most of the literature that discusses a senior moving to senior housing, including a July 10, 2015 New York Times article entitled “Team Effort In Making Decisions on Elder Housing” focus on a senior’s cognitive and physical abilities, as well as financial considerations, in determining when a move from a home to seniors housing is appropriate. I believe an equal or more important reason to consider seniors housing, and one that I believe is a good predictor of future health, is a senior’s social network and level of social interaction. If a senior has lost a spouse, has a shrinking network of social relationships and has very little interaction with peers, family or friends when living at their home or apartment, I believe a move to seniors housing should be actively considered as a way of putting a senior in a position to re-establish meaningful social relationships and interactions. It may be appropriate to adopt for seniors the same rule I recently saw advocated for children – if they are spending more than two hours a day in front of a screen, be it TV, PC, videogame or tablet it may be time to examine their level of social interaction consider intervention.
I believe there are also practical advantages to discussing a senior’s potential need for seniors housing in terms of social interaction, rather than cognitive or physical limitations. In the discussion of social interaction, there is a presumption and a focus on a senior being alert, active and in need of human interaction rather than a focus on declining mental and physical abilities. A move to a senior housing community to make new friends and increase social interaction is a much more positive discussion than a move to prevent falls or keep a senior from harming themselves through mental lapses. It is also a discussion that can and should happen sooner in a senior’s life when they will gain much more out of a move to a seniors housing facility and before a life incident forces consideration of a move under crisis conditions.
In a future blog, I will discuss the challenges to fitting in and establishing positive social interaction after a move to seniors housing based on some recent industry research.