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Aging well means weaving the right network together. Here's how

Wise planning - and good friends - make all the difference in coping with the challenges of age, this writer learned after hip surgery.

As we age, it is wise to view devices such as canes not as signs of frailty, but as tools that can help us be more active.
As we age, it is wise to view devices such as canes not as signs of frailty, but as tools that can help us be more active.Read moreiStock

I turned 60 this year and got a new hip.  Not what I dreamed about for this special milestone birthday.  But I'm betting it'll be one of my best presents ever.  I have my life back again, and can't wait to do all I couldn't last year.

Besides, the surgery also led to an unexpected gift.  Geriatrician Bill Thomas says, "Aging is a team sport."  As a professional focused for more than 20 years on aging well, I've always believed those words.  Today, I understand them on a much deeper level.

My hip surgery pushed me to weave together support in a bigger and broader way.  I learned that there are three key ingredients.  They can spell success for anyone willing to foster and embrace these important forms of support in times of need.


"Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver and the other gold."  Remember this song from Girl Scouts?    I tapped into both for my people support after surgery.

"Gold" typically means family and close friends.  An old friend flew in to provide critical support the first tough week after surgery.  She set me up well, so I could continue on with my recovery. What a gift.

Next came the "silver," the newer friends and neighbors I've always been careful to cultivate wherever I've lived (four states, several cities, many neighborhoods).

Living in an apartment, this is even easier. Plus, I'm outside with my dog and saying hello to my neighbors 365 days a year.

So when my golden friend left, my neighbors stepped in to help with dog walks, trash runs, and check-in calls and visits.  Yes, good neighbors can be golden, too.


A year ago my doctor told me to get a cane to support my deteriorating hip. I bought one, but immediately stowed it away.

Now I realize that a cane isn't a sign of frailty.  It's a "sturdy friend" – like the walker, shower stool, tub grab bars, temporary toilet rails, dressing stick, grabber, and sock aid I was advised to get to aid my recovery.  I thought all this stuff would be excessive.  It wasn't.

Next time I need added physical support, I'll quickly seek out tools to help – and will freely use them.  And I'm so thankful that the growing aging population is sparking the development of more sophisticated devices to aid good later life living.


If you've never before tapped into the burgeoning on-demand service sector of our economy, now's the time to get started.

Amazon was my online shopping service before and after surgery (and saved me from painful, nearly impossible outings). It even provided easy and more affordable access to all the support tools I needed.

Amazon Fresh delivered groceries right to my second-floor apartment door.  A friend also sent a week of Hello Fresh meal boxes, so I got to experience this way of cooking. I'd readily use both again.

Uber provided my 40-minute rides to and from physical therapy until I was cleared to drive again.

All of these add-ons were so easy and comfortable to use.  Biggest surprise?  Uber.  It felt far more like riding with a new friend than using a transportation service. Each driver had a story to tell and we shared some truly great conversations.  Now I know why it's so popular.

Summing up

Weaving together a good support system can spell success for aging well for anyone anywhere.  Just remember:

  1. It's a team effort.

  2. Things change as we age, so cast a wide net and don't rely on just one way to get support.

  3. Every connection can count, so reach out to all around you (in big and small, deep and shallow ways).

  4. Stay in touch with those you care about far and wide.

  5. View support tools as friends, not frailty.

  6. Stay open to accepting and receiving support.

This is the first in a series of columns on "Rethinking Aging" from Sue Ronnenkamp, who writes, teaches, and innovates in order to shift the way we view and respond to aging.  Ronnenkamp, who lives in the Philadelphia area, has a master's degree in health-care administration and has worked in the aging field for more than 20 years.   See more at and on Facebook at AgeThrive.