Feature Archive

Need More Friends?

Finding social support.

WebMD Feature

Medically reviewed by Dr. Jeannie Brewer Aug. 21, 2000 -- When Evelyn Rinzler, 83, retired nearly 20 years ago, she said goodbye to her friends on the East Coast and headed for California, where her older son and grandchildren lived. A widow at 55, Rinzler prized her family ties. But weeks after she arrived and purchased a house, her son took a job in New York City, leaving Rinzler alone in a community where she knew no one.

Though no one keeps count of retirees who move long distances to live near their children, aging experts say it happens a lot. Many people see their children as their greatest comfort in old age. They want to see them frequently. And researchers are finding that such intimate social contact is crucial to health (see Life of the Party).

But adult children of retirees like Rinzler don't always make themselves available. They change jobs; they get transferred; they become preoccupied with careers and children of their own. So how can retired people decide whether they should transplant themselves to their children's backyards?

The answer, say experts on aging, is to figure out where you can establish the richest social network -- whether or not that network includes your children. "It's important for people to start thinking about this early," says Audrey Kavka, MD, a psychiatrist at the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute. "The question should not be, 'Should I live with my children or not?' but rather, 'What would be most fulfilling for me?' "