Men face significant challenges are they age, partly because of what society expects of them when they’re young.
We may be weird through our teenage years (been true since time began.) But we men crush it from our 30s through our George Clooney years. Yet, in the twilight of our days, we smash face first into a wall.
Despite prognostications to the contrary by Hanna Rosin, Maureen Dowd and others, we have not yet seen “The End of Men.” Men, particularly older men, still dominate industry, politics, sports (ownership ranks anyways) and even fashion.
But older men face serious challenges. Older men are less likely to seek help or ask for support than older women. Older men have less contact with their children, family and friends than older women. Older men have smaller social networks as well.
No, I’m not talking about Facebook friends; everyone is on Snapchat now anyways. But the risk is that men live in more socially isolated settings than older women and are therefore more likely to have their independence threatened. But men can thrive and stay independent if they follow some simple steps.
- Stay connected with friends and family
To stay independent, you’ve got to stay connected. Looking through your family’s Facebook feed doesn’t actually count as staying in touch. And since the 65+ population is underrepresented on Tinder, it’s best to stick with the ones that brought you this far.
I’m not saying to call your family every day—very few of us are manly enough for that. Rather, I’m saying it’s important to stay in touch with friends, family, acquaintances and connections. Men sometimes let pride get in the way and wait for family and friends to call them first. Don’t let ego interfere with your most important relationships; reach out and touch someone.
And if talking is too much, then consider setting up a group chat. You can keep the family in touch without having to maintain the conversation alone. One text goes to everyone you want to talk to. Use FaceTime to talk face-to-face with video chat.
But even better than video meetings are real live ones. Connect with the people near you. It’s nice to have neighbors, not strangers. So depending on where you live, you can consider an app like Nextdoor. The app helps you take the neighborhood watch online. Get news, announcements and discussions from and about the people in your neighborhood. Or go analog and join the actual neighborhood watch. It takes a village and all.
- Stay active and fit
From a functional standpoint, older guys have to watch their weight. You don’t need to be Fight Club lean, but because your muscle atrophies as you age, you need to be able to support your body. To stay independent, you’ve got to stay physically fit. Washboard abs and a 300-pound bench may be less relevant in your life at this point. But too much extra body weight and a lack of general physical preparedness will chip away at your health and reduce your ability to be independent.
Your big area of focus should be to make sure to get your quad work in. No, you don’t need to hit the leg press machine, but stand up and sit down frequently. Not being able to get out of a chair or go up the stairs is the number one reason people lose their independence.
Walk regularly, work with an exercise band or do whatever keeps you at your Jack LaLanne slimmest and trimmest. If you can keep Father Time at bay, you can keep your independence. Seems worth a little sweat, right?
- Stay financially secure
To stay independent requires money. When you run out of cash, you run out of options. “Cash rules everything around me,” as the Wu-Tang Clan implied on the 1993 classic song from Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).
Keep your options open and your pockets flush by implementing zero-base budgeting. Cut everything and start from the bottom up. Do you need that or are you paying because you’ve been paying?
Cut your recurring bills. Are you really using your cable service, or is Netflix more your jam? Even better, over the air antennas are free. Check your magazine subscriptions, gym membership and cell phone bills. Chop away at anything you aren’t using. Put that money to better use.
Visit the local library or bookstore (free). Walk outside (free). Walk in the mall on rainy days (free). If you get creative, you can stretch your coin much further.
My parent’s neighbor took my zero-base budgeting suggestion and now he doesn’t even have trash service anymore. He walks the trash to the community center and drops it off there. He’s combined the “Stay active and fit” tip with the “Stay financially secure” tip. Now that’s an independent baller!
- Stay realistic and flexible
To stay independent, you’ve got to stay realistic. We all have a picture in our heads of what retirement looks like. Mine involves golf, scotch, frequent hiking trips, and keeping my 2000 Ford Explorer parked outside my house in Palo Alto. But while most people want to stay in their homes for as long as possible, that may not be a reality for me or for you. One day you may have to accept help and move in with family or into assisted living. It happens to most of us at some point, if we are so lucky.
Keep the words of Navy Admiral Jim Stockdale in mind. Stockdale was held captive during the Vietnam War. He said, “You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties and at the same time, you must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Learn from the Admiral. Retain faith that you’ll get what you want, but keep a sober eye toward your reality.
- Stay mentally sound
To stay independent, you’ve got to stay mentally sharp. Read more or play Sudoku. Level up your brain with challenging puzzles. Increase your concentration power, creativity and strategic thinking. In the words of Tyrion Lannister, “A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.”
Surprisingly, dance classes for older guys are one of the best things you can do for your brain. Plus, it’s a great place to meet people. Older singles can meet other singles. Married older folks can put some sizzle back in. As you learn new moves, your brain forms new neural connections.
Staying mentally engaged helps prevent dementia and keeps you occupied. Consider volunteering or playing tour guide at your local tourist attractions. You’ll have to think on your feet to answer all of the questions the kids throw your way. And you’ll get to share all of the local history knowledge you’ve collected over the years.
- Stay safe and augment
To stay independent, you’ve got to stay safe. Life comes with dangers; we all know that. Make sure you have a routine and neighbors who know (and like) you enough to check on you occasionally.
Inside the home, there are other risks. Physical fitness issues or fear of falling can limit independence. Personal emergency response systems—help buttons—with fall detection are the perfect remedy. They can offer peace of mind for you and for your worrywart children in case of falls. A system should cost you around $30 a month but will keep you safe and independent at home.
If a reactive emergency prevention isn’t your method of choice, then you can consider getting daily check-in calls for you or the senior in your life. You get all of the reassurance with none of the hassle.
For independent men, the next level up would be to get an in-home caregiver on a part-time or full-time basis. The costs will increase to $30 per hour, but you get hands-on help and the opportunity to stay the king of your own castle.
At some point, even the best fortress can no longer be a safe, secure home. Remember that independence is a state of mind and consider an independent living or assisted living situation.
To stay independent, you’ve got to stay connected, in shape, financially and mentally secure, and physically safe. Join the conversation below and add your tips for an independent older man.
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