By: Jed Fudally
This is the first installment of a series of stories designed to provide a glimpse into the lives of older adults who are aging successfully. Each story will focus on a different topic of well-being and show how these individuals are excelling in each.
Photos by: Morgan Kaskowski
Our first story focuses on the importance of maintaining a strong social life as we age. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, some of the benefits of being a social older adult include a potentially reduced risk for heart problems, some cancers, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, dementia, other mental health issues as well as lower blood pressure.
My partner for this project is Morgan Kaskowski, a photography student in the Peck School of the Arts. While brainstorming possible candidates for this feature, Morgan suggested her grandmother and her grandmother’s card playing friends. So one afternoon, we decided to go pay them a visit.
As you could expect from any house filled with grandmothers, we were greeted with open arms when we met the card players.
Carol, Gloria, Marie, Mary Ann and Sharon are a group of friends on Milwaukee’s south side who get together every Thursday to spend their day playing card games, eating, and having fun. The group has been meeting every week for more than a year now.
“Do you want some broccoli cheese soup?” One of the ladies politely asked immediately as we walked into the house.
When we got there, the women were already seated around the kitchen table snacking on fruit and getting their games ready, with the exception of Sharon.
“Sharon doesn’t like to come until a little later in the afternoon,” Mary Ann says.
Gloria laughs and chimes in “She thinks we eat too much.”
Gloria’s home is a modest one story on the south side of Milwaukee. She hosts “Card Day” every Thursday at her home because of the constant care her husband requires.
Earl, Gloria’s husband, is in the end stages of Multiple Sclerosis and requires 24-hour care. While she‘s hired a home health caregiver, she still spends most of her time at home with him.
Gloria is one of 43.5 million Americans caring for someone 50+ years of age at home. Informal caregiving is an industry that goes largely unrecognized and is growing at a fast pace.
But, alas, back to the games.
We started our visit by playing a game of Quiddle. The game is fairly simple and mainly consists of spelling words out with the cards you are dealt for points.
Rather than sitting back and observing, they invited us in and dealt us our cards.
In the first round, I scored negative sixteen and Morgan didn’t do much better.
“Alright, alright, show me your cards!” Says Mary Ann.
“Isn’t she bossy!?” Carol chimes in.
There was no saving my hand.
Mary Ann is a fairly outspoken woman. She is widowed and loves to travel.
“I’ve been to Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Red Light District in Amsterdam. I went to Disneyland and threw up on a roller coaster. I probably won’t do that one again. I went to Germany, Switzerland, Portugal.”
She wants to make it to England, France and Hawaii before she “falls apart.”
After a few more rounds of Quiddler Sharon showed up.
Sharon is a retired nurse and she says she loves her smartphone. She kept her Samsung phone out for most of Quiddler and was frequently checking the validity of some of our words on the Merriam-Webster dictionary app.
“I really like it,” she goes “I think I’ve got the hang of it and I like having a big screen like this.”
Although, when she closed out of the dictionary app I noticed she had at least three or four Facebook icons on the same homescreen.
Soon enough, lunch time rolled around and the women ordered us a round of burgers from Coach’s Pub and Grill.
“Pill time, ladies,” Gloria exclaims.
Then she offered us some broccoli cheese soup, again.
“So what do you want to ask us, what do you need to know” says Carol. “We want this to be good, we’re gonna be in it you know.”
A little about Carol: she became a grandmother again during the games that day, she’s been married for 43 years, and she has lung cancer. Staying socially active is important to her and she claims she doesn’t really have any friends that don’t like to get out of the house.
“Gloria is the only one that has to stay home but that’s because of Earl’s condition.”
Marie is the last of the ladies. She’s a retired Kohl’s employee and she’s very quiet. Unless you try bending the rules in one of the games, that is.
Although she didn’t speak much, she was there.
Staying socially active is vital to successful aging and these ladies are a perfect example of how to do it.
“We’re all pretty social and we all have fairly social friends,” says Carol.
“We have no problem having fun.”