If you've been paying attention, you know what to do to promote a satisfying old age: Eat well, exercise, stay involved, give up smoking.
Into the pot, Dr. Joyce Brothers tosses another ingredient. "Nothing is as important as having a friend," Dr. Brothers told an audience gathered at the Buffalo Marriott Hotel earlier this week for a Choices conference sponsored by Coordinated Care.
Having a confidant is the defining difference between people who are happy in later life and those who aren't, one study showed.
"You need someone with whom to share your fears and your hopes," said Dr. Brothers, whose emerald green suit set off her trademark blond pageboy.
In her talk, "Facing Change as One Ages," she used humor to keep from being the dry academic.
Petite and trim in her late 60s, Dr. Brothers exercises and watches her diet to stay camera-ready, still involved in the work that has kept her in the public eye for more than 30 years. She was admittedly nervous about catching a plane -- on a day when weather was tossing planes off schedule -- to get to Los Angeles, where she's filming a CBS television show.
Speaking without notes for most of her one-hour talk, she hopped from one issue to another. For one, she mentioned the impossibility of preparing, emotionally, for a spouse's death.
In her book "Widowed," she vividly recounts the devastation she felt after the death of her husband, Milton, several years ago.
"When a death has occurred people think they are going crazy," she said. "They see the person at a bus stop and he disappears, or they'll hear his voice. They aren't losing their minds. This seeking behavior is perfectly normal."
If, however, mourning descends into depression, she advises that it's important to get help quickly.
As people age and friends or spouses die, they often lose the hugging and touching that they had throughout their lives.
"But this touch hunger doesn't go away," she said. If it's not happening naturally, she suggests having pedicures, manicures, hair appointments, massages.
Dr. Brothers reassured her audience that the ability to learn doesn't decrease with age. When tackling new material, she divides it into manageable segments. Then she reads it aloud, recites it aloud, writes it in note form.
"The more senses you apply, the more you retain," she said.
Also, she suggests that people pay attention to the time of day when they feel sharpest. For many, that's about 8 or 9 a.m.
"Each evening you decide what three things you need to get done, and do those first," she said. "That's when you balance your checkbook, deal with your accountant, even schedule dental work because your pain threshold is the highest."
During a brief question period, she was asked to discuss assisted suicide.
"I believe that we are captains of our souls and that if we wish to end our lives, we should be able to do so," she said, adding that strict forms of control need to be in place.
As she left, Dr. Brothers used an expression that she borrowed from her grandson: "I thank you from my bottom to my heart."