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Keeping engaged is essential, these seniors advise

Friends of OASIS employee, Eleanor Anderson enjoys bringing her dog Lexi to work at Corona del Mar Senior Center.
Friends of OASIS front office full-time employee, Eleanor Anderson enjoys bringing her dog Lexi to work every day at the Corona del Mar Senior Center.
(Susan Hoffman)

Newport Beach resident Don Palmer says he’s busier at 87 than he was at 57.

Palmer’s wife Arline of 67 years can attest to that. “You’re always working. Why don’t you relax?” she tells Don.

His reply, “Work is relaxation, I’m doing something I like to do.” But keeping the cobwebs from taking over his brain is what drives him.

“I can’t walk good, I can’t see good, can’t hear good, but I can think real good,” said Palmer. “It’s because I’ve always been active and doing something like writing.” He is a perpetual Facebook communicator and texter and has written four self-published autobiographical books.

Palmer, who admitted he has lived in fear of getting Alzheimers, supports the Orange County chapter which has become a pet project.

“I lost five friends my age dealing with Alzheimers,” he said. “With Alzheimers, it’s like losing them twice, they stop knowing family and friends and then die.”

For his 87th birthday this April, Palmer asked for donations to Alzheimer’s Orange County on his Facebook page.

Don and Arline Palmer treasure the view of their Park Newport apartment, where they have lived for 30 years.
(Susan Hoffman)

Palmer, a self-described born salesman, began his sales career as a street kid in Chattanooga, Tenn. during the Great Depression selling newspapers and shining shoes. In 1958 at 24, he sold advertising for the Los Angeles Times at the first Orange County office at 6th and Spurgeon in Santa Ana. He later earned a living in religious broadcasting, getting programs to stations.

Palmer hasn’t allowed his mobility issues to stop him from doing the things he enjoys. He plans on attending an upcoming religious convention in Texas in June, saying “as long as I can get around, I’m goin’.” He is involved in the race horse business, socializes several days a week at the Newport Beach Yacht Club and hobnobs with neighbors in his Park Newport community.

“I love interacting with friends, it’s my greatest treasure in my life,” he said.

“Socializing is very underestimated and working means socializing,” said Mike Zimmerman, president of Friends of OASIS, the support arm of OASIS Senior Center in Corona del Mar.

“Aspects of socializing to seniors are invaluable,” Zimmerman said, noting that many of the senior center’s 5,000 members see the benefit of socializing, which they do by taking classes to learn a foreign language or by participating in other group activities.

Zimmerman, a Newport Beach resident, now 71, recalled selling his sales and marketing business because of changing trends when he was 68. Then he realized he desperately needed to find something to do.

Mike Zimmerman, president of Friends of OASIS board, shows up every day for work at the Corona del Mar Senior Center.
(Susan Hoffman)

“Volunteering at OASIS gives me more than I give it,” he said. “It’s given me a place to go as it does 5,000 plus other people.”

Zimmerman feels that people should be motivated to continue to work because finding alternatives to replace their jobs is not that easy.

In his new book, “Keep Sharp,” Sanjay Gupta, MD writes, “having a sense of purpose will also help keep the brain plastic and preserve cognitive reserve.” He explains that an increased risk of dementia is one of the consequences of early retirement.

Gupta cites the outcome of a French study that revealed that for each additional year of work, the risk of getting dementia is reduced by 3.2%. He writes, “The lesson: delay retirement as long as possible. And when you do retire, don’t quit on life. Find activities that are joyful and stimulating. Stay engaged.”

Retiring isn’t in Eleanor Anderson’s vocabulary. She loves her job because of the people connections she makes daily by phone and in person. At 82, Anderson has been a full-time employee since 2015 in the Friends of OASIS office.

“I figured since it was a senior center and I’m a senior, they can’t discriminate,” said Anderson. “I feel blessed that ever since my husband died last year, I can now bring my dog to work so I don’t have to worry about leaving her.”

Anderson, a Costa Mesa resident of 49 years has worked outside the home for most of her life.

Her first job was for an insurance company before she married and raised two children. Following her divorce, she went back to work, this time in sales at McDonnell Douglas Aircraft until she was laid off. She ultimately remarried and traveled before pursuing an education in human resource management and doing secretarial work during the summer in order to buy books for school with her own money.

Having a love of photography, she purchased a high quality Hasselblad camera and decided to open her own business. “I did wedding photography for the money and portraits for fun,” said Anderson. “I had a studio in the garage and would sit on the floor so I could engage the kids and then photo every move they made.”

Her photography business came to a halt following her breast cancer diagnosis in 2004, but not her desire to work. Instead she volunteered at the Hoag Hospital Breast Care Center following her treatment and went back to her camera to achieve personal satisfaction.

“It’s absolutely critical to keep your mind working by keeping abreast of what’s going on” said Anderson. “Everybody should stay in-tune.”

Working on the computer is part of Anderson’s job. She says she sometimes has to “kick its wheels” but when the IT guy comes by there’s always something to learn from him.

“If you’re not learning something every day, you’re taking up too much space,” she said.

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