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900 columns and 19 years later, Successful Aging readers are still teaching me new things

Dear readers. 

Each fall I write an anniversary column that reflects some of what I have learned from our readers during this past year. It’s been 19 years and over 900 columns later that I find there is still more to write.

A reader asked, “How do you keep coming up with the subjects?” Nineteen years ago, I made a promise to our readers that no one will remember. That is, behind every question, there is a real person. The questions come from emails, letters and just listening to people’s stories. Additionally, aging is far-reaching, intersecting almost every aspect of our society from the pandemic, employment and health to business, entertainment and testosterone.

This year, I received a record number of emails compared to previous years. 

Preparation is extensive. For one year, each question and comment from our readers is saved, printed and sorted according to categories. I reread each one; those with the most responses typically are included in the column, although a single communication may be included if it is a suggested resource.

Here are just some of the many topics with a couple of examples for each:

Coping with the pandemic: Some manage well by adopting the attitude that “nothing lasts forever.” They are buying supplies that will last for two months and staying home with limited excursions, accepting the fact that this is what must be done. Another suggested we need to toughen up and are just a group of spoiled whiners. A 95-year-old woman, cut off from her hospital work as a baby cuddler with a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), feels the loss of purpose and human contact. Since being at home, she has crocheted 53 preemie blankets that are waiting to be delivered. Others expressed gratitude for financial security and health and are relieved that that don’t have to worry about children at home virtually learning or not having to worry about losing their job. One reader is coping by embracing the philosophy of famed UCLA coach John Wooden: “Drink deeply from good books.” A reader reminded me of an omission in my suggestion of coping mechanisms: That is spirituality, an important addition.

Feeling lonely during the pandemic: In response to the early lockdown, a reader reported he felt imprisoned and was in danger of going “stir crazy” in his home, likening it to solitary confinement. After being married for 58 years and a widow for six years, he goes out to eat just to have people around him. He closed with “humans are wired for contact, not cages.” Another woman outlined reasons it was impossible to cope because churches don’t permit attendance, movies are gone, no travel or museums and no hugs. 

Humor during the pandemic: The column on humor was a big hit and shared among friends. Perhaps it was time for some levity. As an advocate for humor, one reader embraced the Mark Twain quote: “The human race has only one really effective weapon—that is laughter.” One woman told the story of her father who had bypass surgery. His doctor told him the best way to recover was to laugh. Her uncle kept her father laughing who lived for another eight years. Another placed the humor column in her resource file. The same woman equated the humor column of equal importance to the funnies. (That might have been a promotion.) A Ph.D. student wanted a list of references that I used for the column for his dissertation work. A male reader whose 88-year old wife is bedridden shared his sense of humor with a few new definitions of pandemic terms:

  • social distancing: deodorant shortage impact;

  • curve flattening: liposuction;

  • TMI: too much isolation;

  • face masks: teeth whitening alternative;

  • curbside pickup: the world’s oldest profession.

Terms for older adults: Emails on this subject were not pandemic related. “Sweetie” was not a popular term. An older woman was insulted when a bank teller and restaurant server used that term to address her. In one column, I suggested that “greedy geezer” was not a fitting term for older adults. A reader disagreed and thought policies on college education, housing benefits and Prop 13 were examples of “unlimited greed” at the expense of younger people. (This could lead to a larger conversation.). The term “elderly” also was unpopular. Instead, readers preferred “elder” and “elderhood.” The column on the use of the term “elderly” and “elder” received almost 400 views on LinkedIn and was distributed to board members of a non-profit organization.”

There is more to share. Stay tuned for next week. 

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 


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