What do you do when your world starts shrinking?

The first thing I saw as I walked into the Xmas-in-July celebration at Mum’s retirement village was the special area set aside as the parking lot for everyone’s walking frames.  All neatly lined up and labelled.  Valet parking for the elderly.

I sat with Mum through the 3 course lunch, the interminable draw for lucky door prizes (all of the 150-odd guests got one eventually – I won a can of deodorant), and the enthusiastic if mediocre Johnny Cash tribute show.  And my inevitable thought was: “In 25 years or less this could be my life.”

So what is the big fear about that?  The residents of the village were having a damn fine time, enjoying the meal and the company and the show, and good on them for that.  But sadly, for most of them that would be as good as it gets these days.  It’s the gradual loss of really meaningful things to do that is so scary.  The loss of physical capabilities, even though your brain may still be ticking over effectively.  The loss of opportunity to garner new experiences, build new memories, stoke the creative fires.

It’s like the borders of your world are gradually shrinking, till they don’t extend much beyond a small radius outside your retirement village.

I’m worried now.  What can be done about it, to postpone that evil day?  I look at my older role models, and a few things stand out. Here’s the advice I am giving to myself:

  • Keep working as long as possible, in some capacity and whether paid or voluntary.  The people who looked like they were having the best time at Xmas-in-July were the ones wearing the badges saying “Village social committee member”, even though (or because) they were running around drawing tickets, delivering prizes or rousting desserts out of the kitchen.
  • Stay as fit, active and mobile as possible – at 95 my father-in-law Ted still walks a couple of kilometres every morning or climbs on his exercise bike if the weather is too bad.
  • Keep embracing the new technologies, so that there is the smallest possible digital divide between you and what the rest of the world is doing, seeing and hearing.  As your borders shrink, technology can keep some windows ajar, if you maintain the capability to open them.  I guess that means you can’t let developments get too far ahead of you because it then gets harder and harder to catch up – a bit like me and Twitter, to be frank.
  • Stay interested in what is happening beyond your borders – being abreast of current events gives you something to talk about and helps minimise S.O.S. syndrome – same old story.
  • Read books – I always reckon I am too busy to do all the reading I would like, so if more time becomes available as years go on, there is something to fill it immediately.
  • Hang out with younger people (which admittedly gets harder in a retirement village I guess).

And get some mag wheels for my walking frame.

David White

  1. Great post.

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