You don't have to be rich to have a will. Think about all the things that are important to you – your books, your art, your pets…. If you die without a will, state law dictates where they'll go, and your legal relatives will be given first priority. You can't assume your spouse or partner will be considered next-of-kin. Depending on your marital status and the state you're in, your belongings might become the property of a distant family member after your death. Ideally, you should review the will with an attorney to make sure you've avoided any discriminatory laws in your state. At the very least, get it notarized so there won't be any dispute over your signature. And don't stick it in a drawer and forget about it until you've given copies to your attorney, partner, and/or best friend. Learn more about how to create a will or trust.
Protect your healthcare wishes, especially in an emergency, by creating a set of legal documents. These documents have different names in different states – healthcare proxies, powers of attorney for healthcare, medical powers of attorney, living wills – but they have the same purpose. They ensure that everyone is aware of your healthcare preferences and dictate who will make your healthcare decisions in case you can’t make them for yourself. Give your doctor a copy. Make sure that the person you’ve named knows you’ve designated them. Even if you’re married or in a similar legal relationship (and wish to designate your spouse), you should still create a document that designates them. That way, even if you find yourself in emergency care in a state that doesn’t recognize your relationship, he or she can still act on your behalf. You can also create a Visitation Directive that tells healthcare providers who you want to allow (or not allow) to visit you in a hospital or long-term care setting. Learn more about the legal documents that can protect you and your family
Take control of your finances. Ideally, you should work with a professional financial planner to get you on the right path. Use a fee-only planner who charges a flat hourly rate and doesn't take commissions. If you need a starting place, consider a tangible goal for your money to accomplish. Do you want to create a fund for your nephew's college education? Is there a trip you want to take with your partner? Once you have specific goals, start putting money aside. The sooner you start saving, the easier it will be to realize your goals and prepare for retirement. Download a tool kit for financial planning.
Planning for retirement starts with picturing your future. These days there are so many paths to retirement – you might continue to work part-time, start a new career, or travel the world. You could sell your house, move closer to loved ones, buy a condo in Paris. The more clearly you can visualize your future, the more you can calculate how much money you’ll need to live it. The AARP Retirement Calculator can help you see how much money you’ll need in different situations and timeframes.
Everyone receives Medicare at age 65, but if you’re considering retirement, you need to set aside money to subsidize it. Medicare covers less than half of health care costs for enrollees, and out-of-pocket expenses could include long-term care and supplemental insurance. Before you make any official changes to your employment or relationship status, do some research so you understand how they could affect your coverage. You don’t want to be surprised by a sudden spike in out-of-pocket medical bills. Learn more about what’s covered by Medicare.
How our bodies age depends in part on genetics, but our lifestyle choices have an even more powerful impact. A healthy diet and exercise go a long way in staving off age-related illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, and even Alzheimer’s. Doctors also believe that routine medical tests and screenings are a critical way to improve life expectancy.Because the risk of cancer and other serious conditions rises as we age, starting at 50 we all need annual physicals. Women also need mammogram and bone-density screenings – something that happens in disproportionately low numbers in the gay and bi community. Men need prostate exams, and because gay men are at higher risk for certain types of cancers, it’s critical to discuss your sexuality with your doctor. Review a list of health screenings recommended after age 40.
Forget the fountain of youth—sex might be the new anti-aging secret. Researchers in Scotland have found a biological link between sex and the aging process. During sex, the body secretes DHEA, a hormone that boosts energy and strength and is used to slow the progression of Alzheimer's. DHEA production declines as we age, but having sex may be one way to prevent that decline. For men, sex also stimulates the production of testosterone, considered by many to be an "anti-aging tonic" for its powers to ward off diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. By the way, just because you're over 50 doesn't make you immune to sexually transmitted diseases. Make sure you know what you need to about your partner (and vice-versa) before you proceed, even if you're in a long-term relationship. Discuss your risk factors with your doctor. Get tested for HIV and STDs, especially when you start a relationship, and insist that your partner do so, as well. Learn more about how to stay happy, healthy and satisfied.
Not only does a good night's sleep leave us feeling rested and revived, it's also essential to our physical and emotional health. As we age, our bodies produce lower levels of melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep cycle by chemically causing drowsiness and lowering our body temperatures. Lower melatonin levels are what cause you to wake up more often during the night. If you're having a hard time getting the sleep you need, start taking daily walks. A new study at Northwestern University found that regular aerobic exercise resulted in the most dramatic improvement in the test subjects' quality of sleep. Subjects also reported fewer depressive symptoms, more energy, and less sleepiness during the day. Read more about the study's findings.
There are hundreds of reasons to exercise at any age, but for older adults the benefits are astounding. Exercise lowers your blood pressure, increases strength, boosts your metabolism, and even improves the health of your brain. Weight training, in particular, shouldn’t be limited to the “buff & beautiful.” Lifting weights builds lean muscle, one of the best ways to stave off the weight gain that’s so common later in life. It’s also a great way to keep our bones strong. If you don’t have access to a weight room, a bottle of water or laundry detergent can work as a DIY barbell. Check out a few more tips for staying active.
As we age, we’re confronted with the painful experience of loss. We lose partners and loved ones who move away or leave us. People we’ve known for a long time die, reminding us of our own mortality. While many of us want to deny our grief in an attempt to avoid the pain, it’s much healthier to accept and work through it. If the sadness feels profound or unshakeable, don’t take it on alone. Groups such as SAGE provide grief and bereavement support to LGBT people and can help you find mental health professionals who specialize in loss and healing. Learning how to work through your grief will become essential in maintaining a sense of well being, mental health, and comfort with your place in the world. SAGE and its affiliates offer grief support in cities across the United States. Find the SAGE location closest to you.
One of the keys to living your best life as you age is to steer clear of regret. We need to take responsibility for our actions, but with a sense of compassion and forgiveness. Much of our past behavior has been motivated by a powerful combination of background and biology, guided by approval-seeking behaviors we learned as children. In order to evolve to a state of unconditional self-acceptance, we need to forgive ourselves for our mistakes, whether actual or perceived. If you’re haunted by something you did in the past, consider who you were at the time. What else was going on in your life, and what internal programming was looping in your brain? If you take into account what you were up against at the time, you may even realize that there’s nothing to forgive. Read more about self-acceptance and aging.
Many of us think of aging as something to fight. We don’t have role models for aging, only for postponing it, and a thriving industry is built around trying to hide the visual signs of aging. Conscious Aging is a concept born to counteract the attitude that aging is an affliction. It involves developing spiritual and emotional resources to adapt to aging. Instead of fighting aging, Conscious Aging focuses that energy toward improving the quality of life as we age. As Betty Friedan wrote, only those who accept aging “grow and become aware of new capacities ... [they] become more authentically themselves.” See a list of recommended books about conscious aging.
Nostalgia is a Greek word combining nostos (home) and algos (pain). It was coined by a 17th-century Swiss doctor, who believed that soldiers’ mental and physical illnesses were caused by their longing for home. Since then, nostalgia has been defined as a mixture of disparate sentiments: happy memories tinged with, and often overshadowed by, sadness or regret. British psychologist Constantine Sedikides at Southhampton University has devoted his career to redefining nostalgia. He believes that thinking fondly about the past, especially during times of transition, contributes to a more optimistic outlook on the future. His research shows that the positive memories conjured up by nostalgia remind us that we are valued and our lives have meaning. There’s still that hint of melancholy, but Sedikides believes that the net effect of nostalgia is a buoyed sense of self-worth and excitement for the future that, in turn, boosts our immune system. So if you’re feeling nostalgic, pull out some old photo albums or call an old friend and reminisce. The bitter-sweetness of remembering happy times will do you good. Read more about Dr. Sedikides’ findings.
The effects of Mindfulness and Meditation on aging are harder to quantify than exercise and a healthy diet, but scientists are beginning to link the benefits to improved memory and cognitive function, better sleep, and decreased feelings of loneliness. Mindful Meditation, defined as "the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment," has even been credited for decreasing the body's production of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. If Mindfulness is new to you, start small. You don't need to meditate for hours in silence and you don't even need to be seated. Begin by committing to staying present and self-aware for short periods of time as you do something routine, such as walking your dog or washing the dishes. Learn more about Mindful Meditation.
Simply going outside can increase life expectancy. When our skin is exposed to the sun, it triggers cells that produce vitamin D, which is essential for the health of our bones. As we age, vitamin D is especially important, as it treats many age-related diseases including depression, heart disease, and diabetes. Sunlight also regulates the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls our sleep cycles. Unfortunately many older adults, particularly in the LGBT community, feel isolated and unable to get outside on their own. If you’re a caregiver or work with older adults, help them get outside for at least 15 minutes a day. Learn more about the benefits of spending time outside.
Reaching retirement age doesn't mean it's time to turn off your brain and start playing shuffleboard. These days, more and more people are waiting longer to retire, continuing to work part-time, or even starting new careers. Staying professionally engaged can be critical for financial reasons, but it's also important for your health. When you stop working, you lose more than the paycheck—you also lose the social connections, structure, and mental stimulation. Regardless of your retirement goals, it's important to stay professionally connected and current. Keep your resume up to date and network with people on LinkedIn and through industry-related groups. If you're considering a job or career change, take advantage of local or online resources like SAGEWorks, which provides hands-on workshops, training, and personal coaching.
Engaging the mind in the pursuit of knowledge is an important way to stay involved and active as we age. In other words, it’s never “too late” to learn a new language or take a class. In fact, according to the latest brain research, continuing to learn new things can also have a significant impact on how well our brains age. Until the 1960s, researchers believed that brain plasticity, meaning the brain’s ability to change and adapt with new experiences, stopped after childhood. Neuroscientists have since determined that our brains continue to create neural pathways and alter existing ones throughout our whole lives. As Albert Einstein said, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” Learn more about how our brains change though learning.
Like our bodies, our brains decline as we age. The good news is that we generate new brain cells, and new connections between them, throughout our entire life. The more you challenge your brain, the more new nerve pathways you form. To give your brain a daily work-out, try "Neurobics," a technique popularized by the late Neurobiologist Lawrence Katz. Neurobics stimulates the brain by breaking routines and using your five senses in unexpected ways. Try brushing your teeth, stirring your coffee, or dialing your phone with your non-dominant hand. Have dinner with your partner or a friend in silence, using only visual cues to communicate. Each time you create new cells, it's like completing a class of mental aerobics. Learn more about Neurobics.
People who have fulfilling relationships are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer. Scientists have found that positive human interaction triggers the release of stress-reducing hormones, which help improve our gut function and coronary arteries, and boost our immune system. A study done in Sweden also concluded that dementia risk for men and women aged 75 and older was lowest in those with a satisfying network of friends and relatives. Take some time to evaluate the relationships in your life and identify which are most important. If you need to boost your relationship resources, make an effort to instigate and nurture new friendships. Learn more about how good company can help you live longer.
As we go through the journey of life, our choices, experiences, and how we conduct our lives create our personal legacies. Sharing the accumulated lessons of a lifetime isn’t easy, but if you don’t pass on your legacy, the wisdom you’ve gained through decades of learning will disappear. Only you can decide the best way to pass on your legacy, but you can start by asking yourself these questions: how have your values changed through the years; how do you hope to be remembered; who do you hope to pass your knowledge onto? Don’t let life pass you by without considering the legacy you’ll leave behind.
Storytelling may not seem like a basic survival need, but our brains naturally tell stories as a way to give structure and a sense of order to our lives. As we age, our stories are powerful reminders that our lives have had meaning and that we have something to pass down to the next generation. Storytelling workshops are a great way to motivate yourself to put your stories into words. They’re also a great venue for constructive feedback, support, and compassion. The SAGE Story program offers forums to help you find your voice and draw from your unique life experiences. Watch, read, or listen to SAGE Stories and share your own.
Giving back to your community and meeting new people are two great reasons to volunteer. Here's a third: it's good for your health. A recent study out of the UK's University of Exeter found that active involvement in volunteer work both improves the quality of your life and increases your life expectancy. The research showed that helping others leads to a greater sense of self-worth and confidence, and provides you with a sense of purpose. The social interaction can also slow your heart rate, reduce your blood pressure, and boost your immune system. Find a volunteer opportunity in your community.
Getting older doesn’t mean it’s time to pass the baton to the next generation – they might not be ready to receive it. Reaching a certain age or retiring from work is no reason to stop advocating for causes that are important to us. In fact, the extra time plus the benefit of years of experience can make us that much more powerful in effecting change. This is your chance to make your voice heard and to make a difference. If you’re interested in improving the quality of services and supports offered to the LGBT older-adult community, visit the SAGE website. You’ll find information on how to get involved, and resources for aging providers, LGBT organizations, and LGBT older adults.
The concept that giving to others makes you feel good about yourself isn’t revolutionary, but donating to a cause is good for you in many more ways. Intellectually, by researching different organizations you’d like to help, you’ll become better informed about issues that are important to you. On a spiritual level, offering your hard-earned money to help others can bring a sense of purpose, satisfaction, and inner-peace. And from a financial perspective, when you donate to a charitable organization, the amount you donate is tax deductible. If you’re interested in how to improve the lives of LGBT older people, donating to SAGE is a great way to help change the landscape on LGBT aging. See a list of the many ways you can support SAGE.
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