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Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Aging...

Gerontologists call it "the phenomenon of the ageless self"--the feeling that we remain the same person on the inside no matter how old we may be. Then the first Social Security check arrives, and suddenly there's no denying that the "golden years" are upon us. But getting older doesn't have to take us unawares. Here are 10 things that experts--and alumni who are in or approaching their senior years--think everyone should know about growing older.

Bonus! Twenty tips on aging from alumni who are older and wiser.

1. Old age will happen.

We will get old, if we're lucky. Accepting that indisputable fact may help you become proactive and more willing to plan while you can. Many people find it difficult to foresee a time when physical or mental capabilities will dwindle, and this can actually be a healthy sign, says gerontologist Raelene Shippee-Rice, associate professor of nursing at UNH, since it probably indicates that a person is aging well. Try to strike a balance, she suggests. "Enjoy where you are in life, but take time to plan for the future."

Planning can range from making long-range financial assessments to basic issues, such as thinking ahead when buying a new home or remodeling a current one. For example, is the new home in a community where you will want to live 10, 15 or more years from now? If not, will you be willing to move again? When remodeling a current home, including a first-floor bedroom, an easily accessible bathroom or improved lighting around stairs may save costly upgrades in years to come.

2. A supportive community is important.

"Most of the successful-aging literature concentrates on individual behavior--diet, exercise, engaging the mind and so forth," says Jan Nisbet, director of UNH's Institute on Disability, "but part of successful aging is a supportive community." That includes affordable and accessible transportation and housing, recreational opportunities for seniors and a history of community support and service.

In some parts of the country, lower-cost senior living facilities are being built, a trend that may continue as the Baby Boomer population--65 million strong--ages. Finding medical professionals trained to care for their special needs may be a problem, however. "In southern New Hampshire," points out Raymond Goodman, professor and chair of hospitality management, "there is a lack of physicians to care for the elderly. Medicare payments are so low that many doctors limit the number of elderly patients they take."

This is all food for thought for seniors considering a move to a warmer climate or closer to children. Taking time to research the availability of public transportation, recreational opportunities, appropriate housing and health-care professionals with geriatric training may pay off long-term. Web sites providing helpful information include a community assessment quiz and an article on dream towns on the AARP site at (search for "assessment quiz" and "dream towns"), and a web site at that helps readers set priorities when researching a new community.

3. Keep doing what you love.

Active all his life, Bob Brakey '59 still hikes and skis at 68, although he has cut back somewhat because of sciatica in his hip. Traveling and scuba diving in places like Mexico, Belize, Indonesia and the Maldives, interests he shares with his wife, Sheryl, have proven to be good alternatives. During the past 15 years, they have traveled to more than 70 countries, including spending 1994-96 in the Peace Corps in Chile.

Runners with creaky knees may turn to brisk walking or swimming, while world travelers may join groups like Elderhostel to avoid the potential hassles of solo travel. The first and largest educational travel organization for adults 55 and older, Elderhostel was founded in 1975 at UNH; today it offers almost 8,000 programs in about 80 countries. For information: or ( 800) 454-5768.

4. Staying home may not be possible.

"There's a Yankee mentality about wanting to stay in one's own home as long as possible," says Denise Cadorette '80, executive director of the Inn at SpruceWood in Durham. But older seniors--who average 83 to 85 when they come to the inn--often say they wish they had moved sooner. "Their overall quality of life improves," she says.

Many experts suggest having a plan ready to implement if moving becomes advisable. "It's important to put yourself in the position of making your own choices," recommends UNH hospitality management professor Raymond Goodman, who serves as the volunteer board chair at RiverWoods at Exeter, N.H. "Actuarially, we know that many people begin to experience health problems in their late 70s, so age 70 is a good time to make a definite plan as to where you will live when the time comes."

Continuing-care communities like the Inn at SpruceWood and RiverWoods offer varying levels of care; depending on the facility these may include independent and assisted living, a nursing home and units for residents with dementia. Among their advantages is that if one spouse eventually needs a higher level of care, his or her partner can continue living independently and the couple can visit and dine together daily.

With nursing home care approaching $7,000 a month or more, lower-income seniors who are counting on children for financial assistance or housing should have a frank talk with them. The tradition of women caring for aging parents is often no longer feasible because of distance or the fact that so many women now work outside the home.

Seniors physically able to remain at home sometimes find that finances become a problem. Lester Rollins '47 and his wife, Christene Buck Rollins '47, bought nursing home insurance when they approached retirement age. "A long spell in a nursing home would wipe out our capital, which we want to leave to our children," says Rollins.

Some long-term care insurance will pay for in-home caregivers, making it possible to postpone or avoid a nursing home. "If you can fit long-term care insurance into your budget without skimping on basic living costs, it can be a real asset," says attorney Bradford Cook '70, managing partner and president of Sheehan, Phinney, Bass and Green in Manchester, N.H. "By age 50, it's a good idea to consult with an insurance agent about whether this type of insurance fits your needs."

Another option, a reverse mortgage, does not have to be repaid as long as an owner lives in the home; It provides cash while decreasing home equity. For details, see The mortgage has many pros and cons, says Cook, and every person's situation should be looked at individually.

Runners with creaky knees may turn to brisk walking or swimming, while world travelers may join groups like Elderhostel to avoid the potential hassles of solo travel. The first and largest educational travel organization for adults 55 and older, Elderhostel was founded in 1975 at UNH; today it offers almost 8,000 programs in about 80 countries. For information: or ( 800) 454-5768.

5. Be realistic about retirement.

People leaving the workforce today may spend 20 or 30 years in retirement. But unlike workers in previous generations, many retirees are not cushioned by pension plans and lifetime medical benefits.

Attorney Cook offers this advice to young workers planning for the future: "Get into the habit of saving from the first paycheck." Virtually any disciplined investment is likely over time to be successful, he says. And he suggests that if an employer matches funds deposited into a 401(k) account or similar plan, to take advantage of this benefit. "Those who don't are blowing a huge opportunity."

Cook advises those who have finished educating their children to save or invest each year at least as much as they spent annually to educate their kids. "In other words," he says, "invest in your own future."

While there are no magic numbers for how much anyone will need for a comfortable retirement, books like The Number, by Lee Eisenberg, can help with planning, and financial advisors can help set realistic goals. See also online and look for "Retirement Planner."

Rob Kelly '60 says that while he and his wife planned financially for retirement, they and many of their peers have been surprised to find themselves part of the "sandwich generation," providing emotional support for aging parents while simultaneously giving financial and practical aid to their children.

"If we had known that our 'golden years' were going to be such a drain, I think we would have spent more 'capital' on ourselves during our earlier years," he says.

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