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Program gives older adults a playbook for healthy aging
Jun 25

The Janesville Gazette

JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) _ When we are young, goals seem straightforward.

Get an education. Find a meaningful career. Nurture lifelong relationships.

As we age, the road ahead might not seem as clear, especially after retirement.

``On the day you retire, it's like, `Gee, I'm done. Now what do I do?''' Barb Hefti said.

The Janesville woman is finding insight and guidance in a new course offered by the Rock County Council on Aging.

``You have to make the best of your life,'' Hefti told The Janesville Gazette. ``It doesn't just come to you. You have to amplify your thinking. You have to grow and blossom.''

The free Aging Mastery Program is meant to help people consider what growing older means and to challenge old preconceptions.

Paula Schutt, director of the council on aging, said the self-directed, in-home course encourages people to embrace their gift of longevity by spending more time each day doing things that are good for them and others.

``Life expectancy has increased,'' Schutt said. ``People who are 50 and 60 today are living such different lives than people did years ago. Some need guidance on what to do with the extra time. The course gives you something to reflect on.''

Finding new purpose

Schutt suggests that people ages 50 and older can benefit from the course's practical tips for aging well.

Six topics are covered in detail, including how to find purpose as well as health and well-being.

``The (aging mastery) kit is a way to go through the pieces of your life and ask, `How can I make my life richer and more valuable?''' Schutt said. ``Once you hit 50, it is a good time to start reflecting.''

She suggested that now, when many older people are staying home because of the coronavirus, is a good time to embrace the program.

Schutt first offered the course in Beloit when she worked at the Beloit Senior Center. Before the pandemic, she planned to partner with area libraries and present the course over 10 weeks.

Now that won't happen until it is safe.

``In the meantime, we have this marvelous kit that will give people a good introduction to the class,'' Schutt said.

She is passionate about the program because she knows it improves people's lives.

Some older people suffer from depression after retiring.

``I would equate retirement to the empty nest syndrome,'' Schutt explained. ``When you are actively raising kids, you have a purpose. I know as a mother, it hit me hard when the kids were gone. I didn't feel I had purpose. Retirement is the same thing.''

So many people identify with what they do.

``Once you don't have the job and those work friends, it can become empty very quickly,'' Schutt said. ``All of a sudden, there is no purpose. It's a real change of life, and you need to work your way through it. Everyone needs purpose in every stage of their lives.''

A new chapter

Hefti was eager to learn from the playbook provided with the Aging Mastery Program.

``You have another life when you become a senior,'' the 71-year-old former teacher said. ``The book helps you focus on positive things and to get yourself into a healthy routine.''

She praised the course for tips on how to:

_ Decrease isolation and reduce depression.

_ Increase brain activity.

_ Set small goals that can make big differences.

``For a while, the coronavirus was getting me down,'' Hefti said. ``All of a sudden, life kind of stopped. I wasn't getting much done. Now, I am getting things accomplished.''

Hefti has had health issues but refuses to be grumpy and negative.

``I learned not to take my life for granted when I was diagnosed with MS,'' she said. ``I became a person who appreciated a good day of feeling well and accomplishing something. It's all part of the book.''

Mary Shepherd of Beloit also is reading through the program.

``I find the playbook offers great suggestions and offers things to my life I have not thought about,'' Shepherd said. ``I reread a lot of things and mark pages that pertain to me. It has really helped.''

The 73-year-old said she doesn't want to be ``a little old lady in the house watching TV.''

She was in the day care business for more than 40 years when she retired.

So far, the class has helped her open herself to new experiences.

``I was kind of closed,'' Shepherd said. ``Now, I want to try new things. You never know when you might find something you really like.''

By The Associated Press, Copyright 2019