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May 5, 2015

Retirement Shouldn’t Be a Disappearing Act

SAC-FB-memes-LegacyOne of this month’s Successful Aging lessons is “Stay Involved.” It makes sense that it’s offered as part of our theme of “Legacy”—as the lesson says, “Reaching a certain age or retiring from work is no reason to stop advocating for causes that are important to us. In fact, the extra time plus the benefit of years of experience can make us that much more powerful in effecting change.”  Remembering that everyone leaves a legacy, which is no more (or less) than “how we live plus what we give,” the involvement provides one opportunity to be intentional about the content of that legacy consists.

So what does it mean to “stay involved” anyway? The answers to that question are myriad—it could mean a game of scrabble or basketball, volunteering for a favorite cause, part-time work, writing a memoir, providing childcare or visiting friends in need…the list goes on and on.

The great news is, staying involved in our communities doesn’t just contribute to the legacies we leave after we’re gone. It also provides very real and immediate benefits.  A critical LGBT aging challenge is isolation; another is contending with a shrinking network of support—as we age, we often see attrition making our support networks smaller and more fragile just when we need them most.  Staying involved reduces the likelihood of painful isolation and increases the chances of maintaining or even growing a viable support network.

In fact, continued connections to our friends, families and neighbors providereal benefits of their own, in terms of health and well being.  A growing body of research suggests that older adults who are engaged in social and community activities maintain mental and physical health longer than other older adults.  According to researchers, older adults who participate in what they believe are meaningful activities, like volunteering in their communities, say they feel healthier and happier.  Researchers think that over the long term the participants may have decreased their risk for disability, dependency, and dementia.

In fact, staying involved is so key to Successful Aging, that it’s actually part of how we define the term! Indirectly, staying involved helps to “maintain or improve physical and mental function“—a key part of aging successfully. And aging successfully also includes regularly “engaging in rewarding relationships and activities.” And that, after all, is what staying connected to one’s community is about!

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