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Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question.  I am a 75-year old man and until recently have been successful as a serial entrepreneur.  Fast cars (Ferraris) have been my passion as well as expensive watches, fine food and wine.  All have been affordable, but now so much has changed.  My wife who was the love of my life died; I have since remarried. Recently I was diagnosed with asthma; my children do not stay in touch and my latest business is not doing well. I never saved for retirement because I didn’t think I would live this long. To economize I’ve sold the Ferrari, a few of my watches and now am looking for a house that will cost less than the $3,000 a month we currently are paying.  Is this what old age is about?  Many thanks.  A.S.

Dear A.S.

It’s hard to write the script for later life.

What you have identified are painful losses – of financial security, a loved one, health, children and a life style that is down a few notches – not to mention your Ferrari.

Perhaps your biggest surprise is that you have lived to age 75.  According to the National Center for Health statistics, there is a good chance, on average, that you will have at least another 10 years of life ahead of you.

To give your challenges some structure, let’s talk about each loss and some action steps that might lessen the impact.

Inadequate income. A study by Gregory R. Samanez-Larkin and colleagues published in the “Nature Neuroscience Journal” found that older adults are less responsive to anticipated financial loss compared to younger adults.  This could lead to taking greater financial risks that may not be in the best interest of the older person.  In other words, you are not alone in your dilemma.

Possibilities: Clearly cutting expenses is what you are already doing.  Although the job market is tight, looking for some type of employment for you and your wife might help.

Loss of a loved one. Widowhood is painful.  Today, there are actually more widows than widowers; the average age of a widow is quite young at 56 years.  Although you are remarried, the loss of the love of your life remains.

Possibilities:  Cherish the memories, remember her birthday and consider doing good deeds in her honor.

Health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent, 80 percent of those 65 and older have one chronic illness.  And about 50 percent have at least two.

Possibilities:   Get good medical care and lead a healthy lifestyle of physical exercise to the extent possible, mental engagement, healthy eating, stress management and having a sense of purpose.  How to implement these possibilities is another conversation.

Children. It’s hard to determine why children distance themselves from parents. Generations seem too have different reasons for conflict.   According to a study published in the “Gerontologist” by Edward J. Clarke and colleagues, older parents’ conflicts with their adult children centered on their children’s habits and lifestyle choices; children’s conflicts with their parents were about parents’ communication and ways of interacting.

Possibilities:  Perhaps an honest dialogue would help.  You might ask your children if there is a problem, if you have done something to offend them. Let them know you want to be closer and suggest some ways that might occur.  Birthdays and holidays are wonderful excuses to be connected.

The lost Ferrari. It’s difficult to give up a passion for luxury items.  Yet at times it’s necessary.

Possibilities.  It might be useful to think about what is important at this life stage.  Who are the people that mean the most to you?  Are connected?  Have you initiated conversations or invitations?

Consider taking each of your losses and identify one or two actions to lessen the impact.  Keep track of your progress.  The goal is have a sense of control and direction over the external forces that are having an impact on your life.  And give yourself credit for taking positive action.

Your question “is this what old age is about?”  Not necessarily.  Each person’s life course is different.  What is consistent is our capacity to change and adapt.  Today’s environment seems to require it.

To determine if you are eligible for federal, state and local benefits, go to the National Council on Aging’s BenefitsCheckUp website at  Also consider joining a support group at Beach Cities Health District at 310-374-3426, Ext. 149.

S.A., Thank you for your good question and best wishes on the journey to revise some aspects of your life that will increase your chances of leading that “good old age.”

Copyright 2011 Helen Dennis. All rights reserved.

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