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What will you do once you’re fully vaccinated?

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

From buying red sports cars to strolling through supermarkets, there is a range of available activities becoming possible.

What will you do once you’re fully vaccinated? Here’s what some older adults did – Daily News By Helen Dennis | | PUBLISHED: April 4, 2021

I am on day 17 post-second vaccine and feeling cautiously liberated at the age of 81. I am just curious what my contemporaries are doing as we slowly are getting the Monopoly card “getting out of jail free.” H.N.

Dear H .N.,

Great you got the vaccine. We may be cautiously liberated but not totally free since we still need to comply with CDC guidelines even those of us who are fully vaccinated. Yet, there is a sense of new freedom. Unfortunately, those living in a senior residence may not experience that feeling so readily.  The vaccine makes us feel safer yet we are not invincible. We still need to be concerned given a new variant which is considered easier to catch, more deadly and is spreading quickly in the U.S. 

Yet this is a new time when we once again can hug our children and grandchildren, select our own strawberries and tomatoes, go out for coffee and comfortably visit the beach. It’s a time we can embrace the celebration of Passover and Easter with those also fully vaccinated. The good news is that 46 percent of those 65 years and older have received two doses of the vaccine while 71 percent have received at least one dose according to CDC data. So, we are getting there.

Here is what some older adults in our communities are doing during the first week or two after full vaccination: 

A woman age 80 was overwhelmed with her choices. She finally decided to get new lenses at Lens Crafters after interviewing them by phone to review their implemented CDC guidelines. They passed the test. She then went to the bird store to buy a relatively squirrel-proof bird feeder and some birdseed. Since she hadn’t been to Ralph’s in a year, she went there for groceries and slowly strolled up and down each aisle. Enjoying an ice cream cone is on her next “to be accomplished” list.

Another, age 82, said the big difference for her was socializing. She called it partying, sitting for an outdoor lunch with a friend then moving on to dinner with her kids, celebrating her son’s birthday.  She said, “It felt so good.” 

A married couple, ages 77 and 75 have travel plans to Palm Springs for a change of scenery, to Telluride to visit their children and to an exhibit at LACMA. Add to that, they are enjoying lots of hugs. They are somewhat frustrated that the gym’s pool has not yet opened; they consider this a small frustration.

Then there was more grocery shopping for a couple in their 80’s. The wife noted that shopping at Costco was a joy. She said that “I wasn’t worrying about being six feet away from another human being. We stopped to finally get our glasses adjusted and I picked berries off the shelf like a normal person. Just being there made us happy,” she added.  “I feel I have a good portion of my freedom back and haven’t felt that way for a year.” She indicated she will feel even better when her grandchildren will be vaccinated.  

An 88-year-old widow just bought a new red car and will be going into the showroom to sign the final papers. “A lot of this is trust.” She added, “I feel less anxious but am not yet ready to go into a restaurant or any place with crowds.” 

Another woman in her 70’s, fully vaccinated, went for the first time to the outdoor garden department at Home Depot, got doughnuts at a store and picked out groceries that were not from a computer list. Another indicated she felt empowered just planning a dinner party.  She also went into an office building and said, “I was surprised at my reaction; the environment felt so unfamiliar.”  

We are ready to feel normal and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Although normal may be redefined. What will not change is our need and our desire for human contact, friends, family, hugs and just being together. As Jennifer Steinhauer wrote in the New York Times on March 22, “we are emerging this spring with the daffodils, tilting (our) faces to the sunlight.”

Thank you H.N. for your good question of curiosity. Enjoy this new time. Stay safe, be well and be kind to yourself and others. 

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging, employment and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience.  Contact Helen with your questions and comments at  Visit Helen at and follow her on

Some positive trends in the way we view aging offer hopeful signs

Author: ashubin

By HELEN DENNIS | |PUBLISHED: November 29, 2020 at 7:28 a.m. | UPDATED: November 29, 2020 at 7:28 a.m.

Dear readers,

I recently was interviewed by geropsychologist and author Joseph Casciani on his radio show “Living to 100 Club,” heard on the Voice of America Network, Health and Wellness channel. The show is designed to help older adults live their best life and “turn aging on its head.”

Casciani sent me several questions to consider for the interview. As I reviewed the questions and the notes I had written in preparation, I realized my answers were a perspective on aging that I may not have readily expressed in my columns. For this week, I thought I would share some of my views. Here are the questions and my answers in an edited form for this column.

Joseph Casciani: From your vantage point, what have you seen take place in how older adults are viewed?

Helen Dennis: We have several positive indicators. Let’s take the political scene. President Donald Trump is age 74; President-elect Joe Biden is 78 as is Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is 80 years old and Senator Chuck Grassley is 87.

Then there is Hollywood: Maggie Smith is 85, Robert DeNiro made his latest film “The Comeback Trail” at age 77. Helen Mirren is 75, Diane Keaton is 74 and Barbara Streisand is 78 years old. Al Pacino starred in his latest film “Hunters” at age 80.

Then there are books with positive titles such as “The Upside of Aging” by Paul Irving, “The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity” by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott and “This Chair Rocks” by Ashton Applewhite. We have movements that affirm the value of older adults such as Gen to Gen which has launched a campaign to “mobilize 1 million adults 50+ to stand up for — and with — young people today.”

Another example is the Encore Network composed of 124 coalition leaders from 32 states and 11 countries who view longer lives as an asset. Yet despite our progress, ageism still exists. In an AARP workplace survey, two-thirds of those 45 years and older had experienced or seen age discrimination in the work setting. And among this two-thirds group reporting aging bias, 91 percent believe such discrimination is common.

J.C. What are the greatest benefits of this shift in attitude?

H.D. The benefits are many. Today, older adults have more opportunities, and that means more equal opportunities. One reason is a change in mindset. Many older adults do not see their age as a limiting factor to their dreams and activities. They have engaged in encore careers, gone back to school, become entrepreneurs and even athletes. Of equal or greater importance is the relationship between having a positive attitude about aging and longevity. Beca Levy of Yale found in her research that those who had a positive view of aging lived on average seven-and-a-half years longer compared to those who did not have such an attitude.

J.C. Has the anti-aging mentality as seen in products, books, miracle drugs and the media given us the impression that aging is not good and we need to avoid it. Has this helped or hurt the positive shift toward aging? 

H.D. I believe the anti-aging movement goes against the positive view of aging and has explicit ageism as part of its rationale. The movement assumes that aging is not a natural or normal process. Rather it is to be denied and covered up instead of being embraced. The dread of aging may be an obstacle to important decisions such as planning for retirement and the end of life. …We do know that we can influence how we age and the rate we age by the lifestyle we choose.

Joseph CascianiMany older adults don’t see aging as a positive experience. Rather, they see aging as a stage of decline, despair and helplessness. What would you say to such an individual?

Helen Dennis: I would aim for a course correction and begin with some basics of Aging 101. We know that aging is a declining process; that’s the bad news. We lose muscle mass and lung capacity; the immune system does not work as well; it takes longer to recover from stress; digestion time changes; and skin loses some of its elasticity. Here is the good news and what I would emphasize. We can slow down this process by our lifestyle choices. In a study of fraternal and identical twins, researchers found that 70 percent of physical aging is due to lifestyle; the remaining 30 percent is due to genetics. 

Rather than feeling like a victim, we can seize the opportunity to age well by embracing and implementing exercise, good nutrition, having a sense of purpose and more. And purpose is important. It has been well-documented that having a sense of purpose leads to better cognitive functioning, greater physical agility and increased longevity. Furthermore, some things get better with age. We have the potential to deepen relationships, improve physical strength and increase what is called crystallized intelligence. This type of intelligence refers to everything we have learned in our lifetime, our skills, abilities and knowledge that lead to wisdom. My message to that person is that we have the power to influence how we age. Of course, a little luck always helps.  

J.C.: What needs to be done to continue the shift towards positive aging?

H.D.: Here are just a few suggestions. 

Call out ageism: We need to first examine our own attitudes and beliefs. The noted late geriatrician Dr. Robert N. Butler wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Why Survive? Being Old I America,” “There is a deep and profound prejudice against the elderly which is found to some degree in each of us.” The World Health Organization published an Ageing Attitude Quiz. Check it out at

I retired and realized I have too few friends and too much stuff.

Author: ashubin

By HELEN DENNIS | |PUBLISHED: March 21, 2019 at 11:06 a.m. | UPDATED: March 21, 2019 at 11:07 a.m.

Q. I recently retired for the second time as a health-care business owner. Here is what is hitting me: Many friends have become ill, some have passed away, and neighbors are moving into retirement communities or areas close to their children. In wanting to downsize, I am going through papers, photos of vacations and even old boyfriends – so many memories of my past. Add to that my daughter tells me she is not interested in my things, that they are my memories, not hers. I find this all depressing and am surprised at my reaction. It’s not about money. I am not sure how to handle this. S.T.

Dear S.T.

It sounds as though you are hitting a perfect storm transition. Indeed, finances are critical but are only part of the story. The issues you describe are more subjective and ever-changing, and they don’t lend themselves to a spreadsheet.

Let’s take one item at a time.

Getting rid of the papers: Reviewing papers from a career, vacations and yes even notes from old boyfriends can elicit wonderful memories and yet at the same time be painful, knowing the past is a memory that cannot be repeated. Best-selling author Marie Kondo, author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” (Ten Speed Press) recommends a “rule of thumb – discard everything.” She softens her approach by suggesting to dispose of papers that do not fit into one of the following categories: currently in use, needed for a limited period of time or must be kept indefinitely. She does not include love letters, diaries or papers that have sentimental value. Sorting these papers can slow you down according to Kondo and should be done later. Once you decide what to keep, Kondo suggests two categories: papers to be saved and papers that need to be dealt with at a later time. When it comes to photos, scanning is an option. The Kondo method is just one example of many approaches.

Friends move away: Neighbors and neighborhoods change as residents age, need more support or just want to be closer to family — usually children and grandchildren. These events go into the loss column. Such changes require us to be perhaps a bit more assertive and take a little more initiative to stay connected with people whom we enjoy. Connections can occur through faith-based activities and interest groups focusing on movies, books, theater or just walking. Also, consider having some younger folks over for coffee to fill in a generation gap. It may take a little work but is worth it.

Friends die: This is a difficult one with no easy answer. We cannot substitute for that special friend; he or she is unique as is the relationship. Perhaps the best we can do is mourn the loss, keep the good memories and move on to stay connected to what I call good people.

My kids don’t want my stuff: PBS Next Avenue published “Your Top 10 Objects Your Kids Don’t Want” by Elizabeth Stewart. The list includes the following: Books; paper ephemera (considered family snapshots, old greeting and postcards); steamer trunks and sewing machines; porcelain figurine collections; silver-plated objects; heavy dark antique furniture; Persian rugs; linens; crystal wine services and sterling silver flatware.

This younger generation that doesn’t want “our stuff’ has been referred to as the Ikea generation by Mary Kay Buysse, executive director of the National Association of Senior Move Managers (as quoted in PBS Next Avenue). Their lifestyle is considered minimal, they aren’t emotionally connected to things as in previous generations and they are mobile. The last thing they want to do is to lug heavy stuff across the country as they move to new opportunities, notes Buysse.

Successful Aging: If I believe my friend is driving with dementia, should I speak up?

Author: ashubin

By HELEN DENNIS | |PUBLISHED: November 8, 2018 at 5:49 a.m. | UPDATED: November 8, 2018 at 5:49 a.m

Q. I recently traveled with a friend to Alaska and noticed she seemed a bit confused. Shortly after arriving home, we made some social engagements; she couldn’t keep the dates, times or locations straight, even after I reviewed them with her about four times. My friend is being evaluated by a neurologist. My guess is for dementia. Her children are aware there is a problem, yet they say nothing to her about her driving. Is it appropriate for me to mention my concern to her children? I don’t want to be intrusive. E.R.

Dear E.R.

You are facing a difficult decision. I would strongly recommend mentioning the concern to your friend’s children. The worst outcome is that you will be the recipient of some anger or annoyance. If you do nothing and your friend has a terrible accident, you might have to live with that outcome for many years. My vote is to take a chance and be intrusive. Actually, I would rephrase “intrusive” as “caring and responsible.”

Hopefully, the cause of your friend’s confusion is not due to a form of dementia. Just for clarity, dementia is defined as a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning. Alzheimer’s disease is the most cause of dementia.

Several years ago, The Hartford Financial Services Group and the MIT AgeLab developed a guide to help people with dementia and their families prolong independence while encouraging safe driving. Much of the following information is based on this valuable guide.

We know the brain receives information through sight and hearing. It prioritizes information, recalls past experiences, anticipates likely scenarios, analyzes options, plans ahead, uses good judgment, synchronizes movements and juggles more than one task at a time. When driving, these tasks must be accomplished with adequate speed.

Depending on the individual, one or more parts of the brain responsible for these functions may be impaired.

Many individuals function well during the early stages of dementia. They are socially engaged, manage their daily activities and drive safely. However, those with irreversible dementia will eventually become unsafe to drive because of the degenerative, progressive nature of the brain disease. The big question is at what point in time does the individual become an unsafe driver?

All of us experience some changes as we age that affect our vision, reaction time and hearing. These changes vary with each of us ranging from just a bit to changes that are very noticeable. Most of us can accurately assess and regulate our driving ability and compensate for change. We do this by avoiding certain roads, eliminating night driving and being aware if we are too tired to drive. That’s not the case for someone with dementia, a condition that is gradual and unpredictable. Eventually, dementia victims lose the capacity to determine for themselves if they are safe drivers.

Trying to make excuses or rationalizing for the changes is common. Here are several such remarks:·         “Just because I got lost doesn’t mean I can’t drive.”·         “I always look where I am going.”·         “I’ve driven many years and haven’t had an accident.”·         “The dents in the car are from years ago.”·         “There’s nothing wrong with me.”

Finding a balance is important. A family member or caregiver may choose not to intervene to avoid hurting the person’s feelings. In contrast, one can overreact to common driving errors. Just because a person goes through a red light, fails to stop at a stop sign or has trouble parking does not mean the individual is an unsafe driver.

A single occurrence should not require a person to stop driving. That person may always have been a bad driver. However, such incidents may send a signal to observe and assess if they occur repeatedly.

Here are some tips to help older adults – with or without – a cognitive disorder, accommodate their changing skills as suggested by the guide.

•  Drive shorter distances.

•Drive on familiar roads.

•  Avoid difficult, unprotected left turns.

• Avoid driving at night, in heavy traffic, or during bad weather.

Thank you, E.R. for your important question. In all likelihood, most of us will be confronted with “giving up the keys” at some point as we live a long life. Given the importance of this subject, next week’s column will identify several signs of unsafe driving and alternative sources for transportation.

Working After 50

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

I would like to share some thoughts as a result from participating in the AARP conference Work@50+ recently held at the Long Beach Convention Center. The attendance was exceptional  – 1,000 people with at least three quarters of them looking for work.

It’s one thing to read the unemployment figures to be well informed. It’s another to stand on a podium and see 1000 faces of individuals, most seeking employment. The group was diverse and highly engaged; their desire, motivation and intensity were palpable. These one thousand individuals were treated as guests with no conference fee, no parking fee, unlimited coffee and lunch too.

Read more »

Living a Self-Fulfilling Prophesy

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Sometimes we become what we believe, particularly when it comes to aging. Studies have shown that older people who believe in negative stereotypes about aging tend to fulfill them.

Dr. Walter Bortz, II, a noted Stanford geriatrician writes about aging as a self-fulfilling prophesy. As part of an initial assessment of his older patients, he asks, “Who do you think you are going to be when you are 80, 90 or 100?” He reports that patients often reply that they do not believe they will be around at those ages or they may be living in a “forlorn nursing home with an oxygen tube up my nostril, while endlessly contemplating the Styrofoam squares in the ceiling.”

Read more »

Include Social Security in retirement planning

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: I am 55 years old and thinking about my retirement. Given my projected income, I will have to depend on Social Security to some extent. What are the basic facts and will it be there for me? My friends doubt it.

– J.D.

Dear J.D.:

This topic is a hot one that won’t go away.

First, a bit of history. Social Security was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 as a social insurance program for workers at age 65.
Read more »

Learning to date after losing a spouse

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: My father is 80 years old and lost his wife of 60 years about six months ago. He moved to a retirement community with lots of available women. The problem is that his first try at dating has backfired. He is distraught over what he perceives as a failure. I think he moved too fast, wanting to live with this woman after dating for only a few weeks. I would like to gently advise him without preaching. I might add, my mother did everything for him and was a full-time homemaker. Do you have any suggestions?

– M.C.

Dear M.C.:

Loneliness after losing a spouse is real. Your father may dread being alone and yearns not only for your mother, but for company.
Read more »

Some new aspects and trends about retirement

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Dear Readers:

Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the Daily Breeze’s fourth annual Successful Aging Expo. It was a great success.

Health and fitness were strong themes, as were financial, social, residential and educational opportunities. It was great to see nonprofit organizations represented.
Read more »

Playing and laughing aren’t just for kids

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: I recently had coffee with two good friends. The three of us are in our late 60s and recently retired from substantial positions. My friends described their activities with comments about their value – or lack of value. For example, one friend said, “I’m going to a popular television show with my daughter … and of course this is of no particular social value.” The other mentioned, “This sounds silly but I’m playing Frisbee with my granddaughter and having a great time and feel a bit guilty.”

What’s our problem with just having a good time and playing?

– H.A.

Dear H.A.:

Your question comes at a perfect time. This month is Older Americans Month. The theme is “Never Too Old to Play.”
Read more »