A couple of months ago, CBS News featured Steve Hartman “On the Road” in Salt Lake City talking to a group of senior citizens who meet regularly over morning coffee at Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli and “proceed to know it all,” according to Hartman. Led by Tony Caputo, the group claims to “solve the problems of the world.” But since that advice only stayed within the group, this past summer the members decided to take their coffee club to the local farmer’s market under the banner “Old Coots Giving Advice.” In smaller letters the sign reads, “It’s probably bad advice, but it’s free.”

The group has been surprised at how many young people ask advice in all seriousness — on having twins, to which one “Old Coot” answered, “Yeah, good luck;” how to raise a child without messing up his life, to which another answered, “You’re going to mess him up a little bit and that’s how they grow;” whether a woman should stay with an unfaithful husband, to which they replied in unison, “No, no, no.” They address everything from landscaping issues to life’s greatest mysteries, from which Hartman concluded: “Proving seniors really are America’s greatest, untapped natural resource.”

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For this column I asked some senior citizens, whom I would never call “Old Coots,” a question that might be posed by someone about to enter the dreaded designation of “senior citizen” by turning 65 years of age; namely, what is the secret to aging gracefully? Although the first person I asked did not want her name or age revealed, she had very practical advice for someone at age 64. She urged that person to “learn all there is to know about Medicare, supplemental insurance products, and how medical services work” as one turns 65. She also cautioned that person to get advice from a good insurance agent or elder law professional, particularly when there is a lack of understanding what is best for the individual.

While her advice centered on taking care of oneself first, she was not alone in that category. Joyce (age 84) also recommended that one should be alert to all the medical plans available as a first prerequisite for becoming a senior citizen. Her second recommendation centered on the need to “remain mentally and physically active.”

Betty (age 82) expanded on that idea by saying that new senior citizens should “enjoy your life and your retirement — through your friends, your community, in volunteering your services.” Because Betty believes that the individual can make growing older a positive or a negative experience, she urges the newly older to have a positive attitude about aging. After all, since “growing old gracefully is dependent on what you make of it,” that advice should perhaps be adopted well before turning 65!

At age 95 Elsie ticked off a stream of ideas for helping someone age gracefully. Her litany includes, “stay active, stay with people, take up hobbies, volunteer.” She continues, “Find something to do that you like; don’t let yourself get bored.” Elsie has done these various things her entire life and that is partly why she is enjoying her very senior years! Her other advice is equally telling: “Don’t watch the news — watch Andy Griffith!” She encourages people to “enjoy your family — or adopt one!” In the same vein she says, “If you still have a husband (or a wife), enjoy him (her) for as long as possible.” And her final word of advice: “Go to church — it gives inspiration and lets you sing!” Elsie is an inspiration for her smile, her volunteering in a health facility, the joy she brings to those around her. She is making much of her entire 95 years!

At 85, Bob is an inspiration for all of us in what he has overcome medically in just the last few years. He does not look or act 85 because he listened to his own advice and didn’t just retire and sit around; rather, he volunteered as a Master Gardener. As such he saw many health problems among older people that caused him to issue the ultimatum to himself before he had his own health issues: Plan Ahead!

Upon retirement many expect their health to remain as it was before retirement; hence, there is little motivation to plan ahead. He, like several others in this survey, thinks it is very prudent to have all one’s financial and medical records readily available with the names and phone numbers of advisors, doctors, health officials for family members. Bob has seen too many people who wind up in a catch-22 scenario — they don’t see the need when they turn 65 as they are feeling well, but then when their health is failing they cannot do what is necessary. He summarized the dilemma this way: “We live long enough now to suffer and to make others, generally our family, suffer with us.”

The song, “It’s Later Than You Think” inspired Bob to write a few of his own lyrics that end with those words:

“Old age still out there; it’s later than you think.”

“Plan ahead, maybe later; it’s later than you think.”

“Health forever, really feeling good; it’s later than you think.”

“When you suddenly can’t; it’s later than you think.”

“Do the prep now; it’s later than you think!”

The point of all this advice from seniors to those preparing to enter the ranks of senior citizenry is to prepare for the last of life just as one prepares for his or her working career. All that we were in the first 65 years will then blossom in our next 10, 20, 30-plus years if we keep moving, keep learning, keep re-inventing ourselves, keep helping others, keep on keeping on.

Hermine Saunders writes from Westminster. Her Prime column appears on the second Sunday of the month.

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