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More reader insight as Successful Aging celebrates 900 columns and 19 years

Dear readers.

This week is a continuation of my 19th annual anniversary column describing what I have learned from our readers this past year. 

Ageism and insensitivity: One reader intends to call out those who demean older adults, speaking on behalf of the “beautiful, talented and intelligent (older people) who have contributed so much to what America stands for today.” A 77-year old reader disagreed with my description of ageism as a public health crisis, urging older people to stop whining. An older reader was stunned when a checkout clerk at a grocery store gave her unsolicited advice. The clerk wanted to know why she was buying a particular magazine. The reader responded the magazine had an article about getting a good night’s sleep. The clerk replied, “You (just) need to get more exercise, YOUNG LADY” and urged her to do yardwork, even though this 81-year old woman was using a walker. Another reader indicated that her sister in her 80s experienced age discrimination when she wanted to adopt a five-year-old dog. According to the reader, she filled out 25 animal-shelter applications and was turned down because of her age. 

Keeping busy: When preparing for retirement, a friend asked a reader to describe his retirement program. His response, “I’ve had a program since first grade. Now is my time to do as I please…and that’s what I do every day.” Another noted she was retired from the financial services industry for 15 years and when others ask what she does, she replies, “As little as possible,” realizing that leisure is a gift. Another found it strange that four years after her husband’s death she still is being asked if she is keeping busy. 

Fall prevention: We have several good suggestions. Pay attention to pets who can get underfoot.  Participate in a balance class or engage with a physical therapist specializing in the same. Pay attention to throw rugs and the cement car barriers on parking lots. A retired LAPD officer comments that we often are reluctant to concede we can no longer perform routine functions such as climbing on the roof to clean gutters or to install Christmas lights or using a step ladder. He adds, many older adults are too proud to admit they can no longer perform routine chores around their house, feeling their autonomy is eroded. He notes, “There is little chance of falling off the roof if you don’t go there in the first place.”   

Adult children and caregiving: It was suggested that I missed a point about caregiving. That is, how those in their late 60s and beyond are taking care of parents living in their 90s and 100s while taking care of their own health issues. “We can’t (afford to) retire and they are robbing us of our golden years,” notes a reader. Along the same line, many wrote about the unaffordable cost of assisted living residences. 


Some odds and ends: “Who said hair salons are not essential businesses?” writes a “gray” reader. A radiology assistant in Cameroon wanted to know how to establish more services for the well-being of older adults. For dental work, a reader who lives solely on Social Security suggests using services of a free dental clinic. In response to a column that recommended exercise, a reader quoted Winston Churchill: “I get my exercise as a pallbearer for those of my friends who believed in regular running and calisthenics.”  Another thanked me for keeping politics out of my column. (I leave that for others.) Assisted living residences need to be more age-friendly, comments another reader. They need to create more room around beds for walkers, install auto faucets in bathrooms, lower closet clothes rails, have walk-in tubs and replace door handles similar to those in Europe.   

I was pleased to learn that many of my columns are used in discussion groups; the column on friendship was used by a group meeting in a Unitarian church in Yarmouth, Cape Cod. Others are referenced in organizational newsletters, online and filed for “further use.” 

So, dear readers, thank you once again for sharing your challenges, victories and wisdom. The resources, experiences and advice you offer are greatly valued. We all are learners in shaping these years. To the best of my ability, I will continue to provide you with the most recent information, research and perspectives on aging. And occasionally a bit of opinion and personal experience will be thrown in for good measure. 

To each of you – stay safe, be well and find joy in these challenging times—with best wishes for successful aging.   

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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