10 Ways Older People Withdraw from Life

10 Ways Older People Withdraw from Life

One of the greatest challenges in growing old is grappling with tendencies and pressures to withdraw into ever-tighter circles of restricted daily activities. There is no single word or phrase that captures this process, nor is there much research about it. But aging experts agree that withdrawing into an isolated lifestyle is a common practice that can create or worsen physical and emotional problems.

There are, to be sure, some positive reasons for a more limited lifestyle. Downsizing a home, for example, can be a positive experience that helps people get out from under a house that has become too big. Perhaps the home is also filled with possessions and memories that encourage living in the past and not the present.

Moving into a smaller home may be a relief physically. It also can save money. And it may open up opportunities to spend time on new pursuits. In this case, a limiting decision can be a good one.

There can also be inescapable consequences of aging that make it natural to reduce or end activities that have become challenging. Home maintenance, for example, may become physically taxing or even dangerous. Climbing ladders to clean gutters, paint ceilings, or change light fixtures may no longer be a wise thing to do. But in restricting these activities, people are also ending a part of their lives that has included regular trips to the hardware store, the satisfaction of designing and executing home improvement projects, and a range of other socializing activities.

“I would argue that as each of us gets older, we shrink our environment to get better control of it,” says Dr. Eric Tangalos, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic who specializes in Alzheimer’s Disease research and other aging issues. During our lives, he says, our behaviors reflect a shifting balance between the levels of autonomy and risk in our lives and our desire for safety and security.

“To be independent, we have an environment that is more risky,” Tangalos says. “As we age, we move across the spectrum toward one that is safer and more secure. To do this, we usually willingly give up some independence. When we end up not able to manage our affairs we are dependent on others. The equation plays out throughout our life and when we do it right, it is usually a harmonious balance.”

While the desire for control and independence are powerful drivers of behavior, it’s important that they not produce a solitary lifestyle that precludes new experiences, community activities, and interactions with friends and family.

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