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What happens to the Successful Aging column after publication? (Getty Images)
What happens to the Successful Aging column after publication? (Getty Images)

What happens to after they are published? I know they make appearances in newsletters, websites and newspapers, and they’re also used as readings for university students, aging council meetings and more.

So do they have an afterlife from the original publication date? If so, what is it?

I recently received an answer to that question from Janet Egan, a retired social worker and probation officer with training experience who teaches a four-week course at her local senior center. The title of the course is “Navigating the Next Chapter – Making the Most of Life.” Most of her 12 students are women between the ages of 60 and 90.

Egan selected 50 Successful Aging columns to help shape her class curriculum as well as offering them as a resource to her students.

Here’s how it works: Egan sorts the columns into categories such as Purpose, Relocation, Retirement, Fitness, Loss, Friendships and Ageism. She then selects several columns, lays them out on a table and asks her students to select one and prepare a presentation to the class that includes a summary and their own thoughts.

Students take their homework assignments seriously. An example is their response to the column I wrote on based on the report, “Longevity and the New Journey of Retirement.” (June 22, 2022).

Here are the four types of retirees with student and facilitator responses.

Purposeful pathfinder: Egan identifies with this type. According to the report, these folks have the greatest sense of purpose and the highest level of activity. She finds purpose in teaching the course, family and loves travel and pickleball.

Relaxed traditionalist: Most in the class identified with this model. Many were babysitting which often was an expectation. Yet for some, it was a role that some did not always choose.

Regretful strugglers: Several in the class had an unplanned or accelerated retirement. Some felt they were pushed out or left because of health conditions. The retirement decision was beyond their control.

Challenged yet hopeful: Despite their need for paid employment, many remain hopeful.

“Sigh” was the immediate response to . Yet after completing their assignment to identify five areas of their home which they decluttered, the students were excited and had a positive feeling about what they had accomplished.

In discussion of the topic of health and fitness, students realize their importance and considered taking fitness classes at the center or walking on their own. In discussing the topic of failing health, the discussion centered around unequal access to healthcare and the importance of speaking up if feeling ignored, possibly because of their age.

Egan says she continues to learn from her students and is impressed with their wisdom, strength, bravery and kindness to one another. She notes they have a new sense of themselves and realize this life stage one of a joyous time; that they are valuable and can make the best possible life for themselves with the resources they have.

“I’ve never been an older adult, so I am learning how to by teaching others,” she adds.

Egan is using a wonderful education model for older adults. Everyone in the room is a learner, everyone is a teacher, and all embrace respect, shared learning, caring and connection.

For me, the No. 1 takeaway from this story is the importance of taking the initiative. Egan is a recent widow, retired just a few years and took the initiative to volunteer to teach a class to older adults at the senior center. She took the first step, extending herself to find a new sense of purpose. She did not wait for someone to discover her. Note this is the first time she has worked with older adults. The students deserve equal credit, taking the initiative to attend the class, being open to new ideas and topics that initially might be uncomfortable and even challenging for the sake of a better today and tomorrow.

Thank you, Janet, for sharing your experience and those of your students. Kudos to all of you for setting a model of possibilities. Stay well everyone and be kind to yourself and others.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity

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