In old age the need for comfort continues
by Aging in Place: Claudette Hollenbeck
Feb 09, 2017 | 2025 views | 0 0 comments | 123 123 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Every new mother knows the joy of a baby who learns early to self-soothe. The ones who do not are much harder to live with. The same skills are needed throughout life, and like so many other things, become very important again as we get older.

At 75 you might look a bit peculiar sucking your thumb or clutching your “blankie” like Linus Van Pelt everywhere you go. Still the need for self-comfort does not go away, you just have to find age-appropriate devices, because now there are a whole lot of new challenges.

As they say, “Getting old is not for sissies.” Knowing how to make yourself feel good in a sane and healthy manner is critical to getting through later life just as it was when we were in the crib, and in discomfort with a wet diaper and an empty tummy.

I am a big believer in dogs (or any pet, for that matter) as a soothing element in life. Research has certainly proved me right. I got the message years ago as a toddler. Now every time you pick up a newspaper or magazine there is an article about the wonders dogs can do as anti-anxiety agents, grief soothers, companions in Alzheimer’s units, and on and on. Studies show that just patting a dog’s head or holding a paw releases oxytocin in our brain and fills our pleasure centers.

Some people buy things as a way to get that quick shot of pleasure. It doesn’t have to be a new car (though it often is). It can be as simple as a pretty new dishcloth. That little purchase gives us, once again, a spurt of oxytocin to the brain and we feel soothed. Of course, it is only for a short time and constant buying is a hard way to feel good in the long run. Eating is another self-soother, but again, can be bad for the health when over-used. There are folks who go into a sort of Zen state when they are cleaning, dusting, vacuuming. It is very relaxing and soothing for them, almost a meditation.

Many folks “pastime.” That is, they get together with friends and play games – bridge, mahjong, tennis, Scrabble, anything that fills time and distracts. We are a social species and just the sense of doing something in a “pack” by itself is a feel-good thing. I know friends who journal or write short stories or paint in various mediums, not for sale, just for the pleasure of working something out. When done, hopefully, they like their handiwork and feel good.

Of course, the most well-known self-soothing is in substance abuse. Whether it is alcohol or marijuana or prescription pills, an awful lot of people make the choice to use. That, too, is a short-term balm and needs to be redone over and over and over, with addiction at the end of the road.

Making ways to soothe oneself is a necessity especially when every joint aches and your spinal stenosis means staying on your feet for any length of time is getting harder and harder. Some folks who have been very physically active and athletically involved in their youth find it distressing when they cannot keep up their old pace.

When we were babies in the crib we relied on someone else to come and feed us, clean us, and make us feel safe and better. Unless you are in a nursing home that kind of care is not readily available as an adult. It may be time to devote conscious attention to what makes your life feel warm, safe, contented, and complete and then get up out of the chair, and do it.
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