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October 10 marks World Mental Health Day. While mental health problems affect people from all walks of life, we focus on the huge potential — rather than the pitfalls — of retirement age this year. What kind of senior citizen do you want to be?

Did you know that people over the age of 55 generally enjoy greater life satisfaction than those between the ages of 25 and 54? Greater life experience that allows you to see the bigger picture and not sweat over the small things probably plays a huge role in that, as does an increased feeling of financial security in many cases. 

What can make the biggest difference though? Once you are retired, you have a lot more of that most valuable commodity that tends to be in short supply among school children, working adults, and full-time parents alike — time, of course. How are you going to use yours?

Be A Part Of The Community

"Once you stop going, you'll never get up again — so just keep on going." Such was the priceless advice offered by a friend's mother, who is a 90-something Holocaust survivor. My friend's mom lives on her own and walks everywhere. The farmers' market is one of her most frequent destinations, because she also cooks all her meals from scratch. It doesn't stop there, because she also cooks for others in need. 

I am a 30-something homeschool mom and I also work part-time. I'm not nearly as together as my friend's mom, but I think my family runs nicely, thanks very much. Imagine my surprise when my friend's mom approached me at a dinner party recently and asked: "Are there any subjects you would rather not teach your children? Because I'd love to help you, if you like."

The Mental Health Foundation, too, linked a video that shows older women from Okinawa, Japan, supporting local preschoolers. Incidentally, folks from Okinawa have a very high life expectancy which many believe to be linked to their overall happiness.

The message is a powerful one: when you are a much-valued member of the community, it's much easier to see yourself in a positive light.

If your interactions with others are meaningful, loneliness becomes a foreign concept.

Being a part of the community can take many forms. Volunteer work is one powerful way in which anyone with time, energy and will power can offer contributions. Your activities may also be far less formal, but everything you do should start with the attitude that you are valuable to others, and others are valuable to you. Solitude is available to you if you crave it, but you do not need to be lonely.

Personal Growth

Allan Stewart graduated from Southern Cross University (Australia) with a Master of Clinical Science in 2012, when he was 97 years old. This made him the oldest university graduate around, but it wasn't his first achievement — Allan got his law degree at 91. Way before that, in 1936, he got a dentistry degree. 

This hugely inspiring man said: 

"There's a lot of surprise but I think the fact that I've done what I've done has been an encouragement to a lot of people, particularly older people and say baby boomers to do the same."

Indeed. Are you retired but still regretful about that education you didn't pursue? Allan Stewart and an increasing number of other senior citizens show you that now is the time. In some places, older people can even take non-credit courses at a reduced fee or for free. If that isn't within your reach for whatever reason, online flatforms such as Coursera now offer free university-level courses in all possible fields on the internet. 

Other people prefer to take up hobbies such as spinning and knitting, gardening, interior design, or take part in debate clubs. While activities don't have to be revolutionary to offer personal growth, let's not underestimate the value of hobbies. They can offer a social life, help you master really fascinating new skills, and if you like that can make other people really happy too (especially if they get a really gorgeous sweater out of it). 

What About Dementia? And Physical Limitations?

Dementia can be a truly frightening experience, particularly for people who realize what is happening to them and who dread the future. Dementia will usually interfere with a person's independent-living abilities at the end. "Dementiaville" (as it is colloquially called) is an experimental village for people suffering from dementia in the suburbs of Amsterdam, the Dutch capital.

It follows an assisted-living concept, but it's a far cry from the depressing nursing homes of the past. The place has different living quarters for people with different lifestyles — urban, working class, aristocratic and Indonesian. The place has a shop, a hair salon, a pub, and all kinds of other facilities, and the inhabitants live normal lives full of dignity and respect... but with the help they need.

This particular facility made headlines across the world, and is exactly what the future of elderly care should look like. 

Senior citizens with physical limitations still don't have to be stuck at home by themselves the whole time. Inviting other people over to their house (neighbors, book club people, or old friends from the past) is a great option.

If you are computer-proficient, the internet will open a whole new world up to you. Online forums are often true communities that can definitely offer social interaction and help you make real friends. If you want to engage in activities out of the home, don't rule out the possibility that someone will be very willing to pick you up. 

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