September - here in the Hudson Valley, the leaves are turning colors and the apple harvest is in full swing. It sort of reminds me of Elderhood - a transition, a ripening and harvesting of fruits.

This month I would like to share some research I have been doing about retirement and retirement planning.

1. When I say 'retirement planning' most people think of FINANCIAL PLANNING but according to a number of authors, financial planning is NOT the most important part of retirement planning. Really, that is what they say....

2. Social planning is more important. Research shows that our level of satisfaction in retirement is based more on the number of strong relationships and friendships we have than on how much money we have. Poorer people with many friends enjoy their retirement more than those with high incomes and few friendships.

The data crunchers say that those with at least 16 close friends are happiest in retirement, while those with fewer than 10 find retirement harder.

3. Most friends need to be younger than we are. Why? To buffer the effects of death rates.

Anyone with 75 close friends at age 35, will find that by the time they reach 65, at least 25% of their male friends and 15% of their female friends are dead. By the time we are 85, only 1 out of 5 of our male friends will be alive and and only two out of five of our women friends. If we do not make younger friends we can wind up with very, very few friends as we age. This is important - especially when we consider the research showing the importance of friends to satisfying retirement life.

My Aunt Amanda made taught me this. When she was in her 90's she shared that the one thing she would have done differently in her life was to have made younger friends. All her friends were dead and although she 'passed the time of day' with the woman next door and said hello to her children, it was not the same. "Go out of your way to make younger friends" was her advice.

So how can we do this? Younger adults are often very busy with work and family. They do not always have time to sit and chat....and besides they often find their friends at work. But it is important even for adults to consider friendships.

Any of us at any age can aim for the younger set: high school and college students, their teachers and coaches. Many schools have sports teams. Although the most popular sports usually have lots of fans, other sports like volley ball, swimming, lacrosse, archery or golf often lack supporters.

Pick a sport. Find the home game schedule and go cheer the team. Many of these games have no entrance fees. Games are often over by 9PM and after a season or two, you will not only recognize the players but they, the coaches and even their parents will recognize you - especially if you wear the same jacket or hat all the time.

You will find yourself chatting about the team and all sorts of things. Some elders have even found themselves invited to an 'away game' with no charge for a ride on the team bus.

If you are about to retire or are retired already, do check out your public library for activities: book discussions, Sunday afternoon talks or entertainments, movie night or even in some cases 'knitting clubs' - if you bring wool and needles and someone will teach you to knit.

Of course you can always get a dog or if you can not have one where you live, you can go to your local animal shelter and offer to walk a dog one or more days a week. My friend Eleanor confided that when she moved to NY, she found it hard to make new friends. Then one week her daughter asked her to take care of their dog. Bingo! "I never had so many people say hello or stop to chat as when I was walking that dog."

So many people have found the same thing. And if you are walking a dog from the animal shelter, you are doing an extra special thing. The dog gets some exercise AND human companionship - both of which will make him (or her) more adoptable.

Then too, you can use some of your 'elderhood freedom' to try something really different. Across the main road we now have a pool hall. One day I said to the guys standing outside, I'd love to learn pool. The said, come in any time. Takes nothing to watch! And I realized that this is probably true for the local ice skating rink, the rowing club that meets on the river once a week, the local opera chorus, summer theater group etc. I could just go watch...and maybe someday I might like to join in...or then again I might not. But in any case I am seeing new people, getting out of the house....and maybe making some new friends ALL of whom are younger than I.

It is said that as we age, we sometimes lose our ability to make friends easily (some of may never have had that ability at all.) Going to where small groups of people congregate on a regular basis and just being there....being willing to say "hello" or ask a few questions are easy ways to develop friend making skills. And the lovely thing is that as we age, we are often able to meet and greet people whose lives are very different from our own. Elderhood usually brings with it a 'larger tent' than we had at midlife.

Hmmmm. The new resaerch is showing that friends are really important as we age. Maybe you have other ideas about ways of making new friends. If so, why not hit 'reply' and share your ideas. I shall either put them on the web site...or include at least some in next month's letter.

This is one of the most important of the anti-aging topics...but few ever seem to talk about it. Thanks for reading this far...

Kate