Gayla Kalp Jackson was nine months pregnant at age 29 when her husband left without warning — leaving her a penniless single mom with no job.
“There was also discrimination at that time and no one would hire a pregnant, and then new mother at that time,” recalled Jackson, 68, of Moorpark.
After her husband left, she moved to Thousand Oaks where her mother lived.
“In order to put food on the table, I worked five part-time jobs, nights and weekends, for the next three years while my mother took care of my baby as much as she could,” Jackson said. “I did not go on welfare.”
Over the years as a single mom, she not only worked but simultaneously went back to grad school twice: once to finish her doctorate in business and then to earn a master’s degree in psychology and a license in marriage and family psychotherapy. Four years ago, she married her current husband, Joe Jackson.
Since 2005, she has been a licensed marriage and family therapist working pro bono with troubled teens and their parents. She is also involved with the Ms. Senior California pageant, earning the California title in 2014 and using the platform to motivate baby boomers and their families to remain active.
Looking back on the challenges she overcame as she entered her senior years, Jackson said the most valuable lesson she learned is: Don’t be a victim!
“So many people love to wallow in their problems and sorrows; they try to find sympathy or excuses through doing this,” Jackson said. “All people have problems. All people have sorrows. All people have been wronged in their lives. If you keep going over these things, you will never go forward in your life. Get over it. Move on. Do something wonderful with your life.”
Jackson is among a number of older adults in the community who have had to face and overcome some of the most pressing issues facing seniors today, from still being able to contribute to society to staying active and enjoying life.
Other concerns include outliving their money, losing independence by not being able to drive, and losing their memories from dementia. Many also worry about which direction to go after retirement, housing, being a burden to their families and isolation.
One of the biggest causes of stress in retirement is the fear of outliving money, said Christine Sztukowski, investment adviser representative and an estate and financial planner with Independent Capital Management Inc. in Camarillo.
“To effectively manage your retirement savings, it is important to consider all the factors that may come into play,” said Sztukowski, noting there are three major factors to consider: longevity, health and inflation.
“The good news is, we are living longer — the bad news is we are living longer,” Sztukowski said. “Stretching our savings for 30-plus years can be difficult, as many of us will be living well into our 80s and 90s, and we all need to remember, that is good news.”
Inflation can be a significant adversary during retirement.
“As the cost of food, utilities and other essentials increases, those on a fixed income trying to preserve their savings may not be able to maintain their current lifestyle,” Sztukowski said.
Many of us have figured out that we may not have enough money to last us till we go into “the wild blue yonder,” Jackson said.
“There are numerous things you can do,” Jackson said. “There are many part-time jobs for seniors.”
For instance, Jackson’s 74-year-old cousin works as a school crossing guard, her 76-year-old neighbor is a reading tutor, and her 84-year-old friend prepares dinner for the elderly in their homes.
“Target and Costco hire greeters, grocery stores hire baggers, churches hire administrative help, funeral homes hire funeral day help, and wedding planners hire seniors to sit in the house of the bride during the ceremony so that no one comes in and steals their gifts,” Jackson said. “There are numerous jobs out there for seniors. They don’t take much physical work or lots of time.”
Seniors can also rent out a room in their home or apartment, Jackson noted.
“Apartment rentals are very high. Therefore, many college students and single people are choosing to rent out a room instead,” Jackson said. “You can make very good money doing this. Just be very thorough in the screening of your renter.”
Sztukowski said seniors should ask themselves the following questions: How much can I spend each year? Do I have enough to cover my expenses? How should my assets be invested?
“First and foremost, it is important to look at what makes you happy, what gives you satisfaction,” Sztukowski said.
Additionally, know where you spend your time and your money. “Ask yourself, is it in line with what makes me happy. Establishing an annual spending plan will help to bring satisfaction and minimize the risk of running out of money,” Sztukowski said.
At Vintage Senior Living in Simi Valley, older adults engage in a number of physical and mental activities, including daily exercise classes, creative writing workshops, acting classes and reading to children in local preschools.
“They also go out and publicly speak as a panel to different community groups about the reality of being this age, and what their life is really about,” said Florence Trapani, activities director at Vintage Simi Hills.
“Our residents have a number of ways to continue to contribute to society,” Trapani continued. “Residents are able to cope with the notion of being a burden to their family by having interaction with other residents, and talking about their feelings with each other.”
The way to keep active is to be active, Jackson said.
“Join organizations, clubs, do charity work. … You can be in a wheelchair and still read to kids at the library or go to meetings with interesting speakers,” Jackson said.
Regular exercise is also key.
“You don’t have to go to the gym — just keep moving,” Jackson said. “You can walk your dog every day, stand at your sink and do stretching and balancing exercises, walk up and down the stairs five times a day, or pick up a book in each hand and raise them up, out and over your head 10 times a day.”
No longer being able to drive is often equated with a feeling of loss of independence, said Andrea Gallagher, a certified senior adviser and president of Senior Concerns in Thousand Oaks.
“When a senior is driving, he or she determines when they run errands, go out to eat or visit with friends,” Gallagher said. “When a senior can no longer drive, they may feel their choices are limited because they are dependent on another to take them.”
One of the first ways for a senior to cope is to validate their feelings, which may include grief over their loss of independence, frustration, anger, resentment, embarrassment or guilt.
“Feelings are validated by bringing them up for discussion and acknowledging them,” Gallagher said.
The second step may be to find solutions that empower seniors to get to where they need or want to go. “It may be that friends and family are more than happy to help,” she said.
Gallagher further noted that there is a new program in Ventura County called the Mileage Reimbursement Program for Older Adults, which will reimburse a friend, neighbor or family for driving the senior. For information call 888-667-7003 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“If a senior is looking for transportation to a place of faith, often they have a group of volunteers willing to drive those that can’t, to services,” Gallagher said.
Dial-A-Ride is another option.
“It is affordable but may have limitations to where it can go,” said Gallagher, noting that public transportation such as buses and taxis are also an option. “Currently we do not have a volunteer time bank program for driving others in this community, but that is something that is being looked in to.”
Jackson said the local shuttles are a very good form of transportation for those who can afford it.
“If not, and you do not want to take the bus, talk to your neighbors and friends to find out their car schedules,” Jackson suggests. “You may be able to ride partway with them to their work and then take a bus home. You could also pay a neighbor to take you to wherever you want to go several times a week.”
Jackson also suggests calling local churches or senior organizations to inquire about volunteer drivers for the elderly.
“Or work out an arrangement with family and friends to drive you to errands and appointments certain days of the week and offer to pay or do something for them in return,” she said.
Currently, research is not conclusive that any interventions can prevent dementia, although organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association continue to fund studies exploring the influence of exercise, diet, social and mental stimulation and other factors, Gallagher said.
“Although some risk factors for dementia, such as how old you are or genetics, cannot be changed, other risk factors such as high blood pressure and lack of exercise usually can be changed to help reduce risk,” she said.
To help reduce the risk of a dementia diagnosis, “Live a healthy lifestyle by getting regular physical exercise and eating a heart healthy diet,” said Gallagher, further noting that a study by the Alzheimer’s Association showed 80 percent of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease also have cardiovascular disease. “Stay mentally stimulated by being socially connected and stimulating your brain with activities like bridge and brain fitness programs.”
You hear of “senior moments” — even from people in their 40s, Jackson said.
“Write things down. Don’t depend on your memory. If someone tells you something that you need to do or you see something that you want to remember, write it down,” Jackson said.
Keep items like keys, daily papers, books and eye glasses always in the same place, she advised.
“They used to say that seniors don’t remember as much because they have lived so long and have so many memories stored in their brain that when we see something we have to remember, our brains are so full of images that we forget much more easily,” Jackson said.
“The real truth is that as you get older, the brain shrinks and the ol’ synapses don’t fire like they used to,” Jackson said. “So … I am proud of my moments. It proves I have lived a full and very busy life. I would like to rename the ‘moments’ as ‘busy brain.’ If anyone gets annoyed at my loss of memory or confusion, I just tell them, ‘Come and talk to me when you are a senior.’ ”
Many seniors have kids and grandkids who have moved away, and many choose to relocate near them or move to a retirement community, said Steve Lehman, manager of the SCAN Health and Wellness Center in Ventura.
For those who are not involved in their children’s lives, a retirement community may be worth considering, he said.
“It will place you with others of a similar age with the need to reconnect,” Lehman said. “If everyone is without old-time friends, new connections come easier. Connection is what it is all about to avoid isolation.”
Affordable, accessible senior apartments have waiting lists of several years, said Laurie Dickinson, senior services manager at the Simi Valley Senior Center.
“Apartments are, many times, a great option because there is no maintenance required and seniors have an opportunity to socialize with other seniors,” Dickinson said. “Staying in their homes, even if they are paid off, can be problematic because the senior, many times, cannot maintain the home and they become homebound and isolated.”
The city of Thousand Oaks is currently exploring the possibility of establishing a Village to Village network. The “virtual neighborhood” is built on a self-governing, membership-based, grassroots organization that is formed to coordinate and consolidate services for the unique needs of seniors.
“The Council on Aging, commissioned by the Thousand Oaks City Council, focuses on what is best for seniors in our community,” said Dinah Frishling, of Newbury Park, volunteer team leader for the Council on Aging Senior Adult Master Plan.
“If a local village is deemed feasible … the project is turned over to a founders council who plan the implementation of the village, and a nonprofit organization supported by its members is born,” Frishling said.
Jackson suggests various ways to find lower-cost housing, including renting a mobile home, renting a room or sharing a house.
“If you are able to live with a relative, I strongly suggest that you always remember that, even if they are your children, you are a guest in their home,” Jackson said. “You will probably learn how much time to spend with the family and when they need alone time. Remember to keep your opinions to yourself. They are adults now and they don’t want your advice or criticism unless they ask for it.”
Adapting to change
Many of the issues seniors face share common themes. Perhaps the biggest is adapting to change, according to Rachel N. Casas, assistant professor at the Graduate School of Psychology at California Lutheran University.
“That’s a big one because change is hard for all of us. And that’s because change challenges two of our core human motivations and instincts,” Casas said.
Although seniors experience physical, cognitive and social role changes that are inherent to the aging process, they are not all negative.
“Media portrayals of aging aren’t typically the kindest in our culture, and they tend to emphasize deficits, impairments or decline,” Casas said. “However, some of the changes associated with aging are actually quite positive.”
For example, there is evidence that older adults are more flexible in some ways of thinking. They can see the “big picture” of things more easily than younger folks, which one might argue works in favor of our core motives to understand and feel in control because they can take broader perspectives on complex problems.
“There is also some evidence that seniors have a greater capacity to empathize with others, which could make it easier for them to connect with others and facilitate the core motive to belong,” Casas said.
And, finally, seniors simply have had much more practice with adapting to change.
“They have been doing it their entire lives,” Casas said. “The changes older adults face during the aging process are real and they can feel scary and uncomfortable and overwhelming but so do most other major developmental stages in life. It’s the nature of the changes that are different.”
On July 13, President Barack Obama spoke at the 2015 White House Conference on Aging, where he underscored an increasing urgency for the U.S. to care for older Americans as millions of baby boomers head into their golden years.
According to the Associated Press, Obama called on the nation to take proactive steps to address rising costs, protect Social Security, train more home health care workers and help seniors remain active contributors to their communities. President Obama also noted almost 10,000 Americans born in the aftermath of World War II turn 65 years old, creating a heavy load for the organizations and government agencies that help care for the elderly.
Howard Wennes, president emeritus at California Lutheran University, is a retired Lutheran pastor and former bishop who has been working at CLU for the last decade in a variety of roles, including interim president twice.
“Over the last 10 years I am part of a generation that is redefining retirement,” said Wennes, 76. “Sixty-five and older, or the so called retirement years, are full of many opportunities as this generation of retirement folks often still have health, energy, financial resources and now time to spend it on things that are most important to them.”
For instance, Wennes meets every other week with 10 men at University Village next to CLU.
“These are retired guys with a wealth of experiences and still have many interests,” Wennes said.
“People ask me if I am keeping busy. My standard reply is, I don’t do busy anymore — I do relational, inspirational and recreational,” Wennes added. “If activities fit into those three categories, I get involved.”
Since retiring at 62 years old from her career as an attorney, Barbara Minkoff is more active than ever as a 73-year-old volunteer who was named the 2015 Senior of the Year for serving as a positive role model by breaking stereotypes of older adults.
“People in their 60s or 70s don’t view themselves as ‘seniors’ anymore; we look at ourselves as active people,” said the Newbury Park grandmother, who celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary this year.
She was named Senior of the Year by the City of Thousand Oaks Council on Aging in early June.
“We are successful people who have retired and gone onto other careers, started our own business or given back to our community through volunteering,” she said.
Every day she wakes up looking forward to a number of involvements, including taking fitness classes four days a week at the YMCA. She is a volunteer tutor for the Conejo Valley Adult School Literacy Program, and also a court-appointed special advocate for foster children through CASA of Ventura County. She also provides legal services to low-income families through the Ventura County Bar Association’s pro bono program.
At this stage in her life, she said she is happier than ever.
“I look forward to whatever I’m going to be doing that day, whether I’m going to my book club or the literary center, or taking my grandson to the library,” Minkoff said.
Seniors are not fragile, she further emphasized.
“That’s the biggest misnomer when people talk about us; we’re very much stronger people at this age than other generations.”
By Alicia Doyle
At 67 years old — with two master’s degrees in education and psychology and a doctorate in business administration — Gayla Kalp Jackson has had three careers, starting as a professional actress that took her all over Europe with the American Theatre Company.
In her second career, she headed a successful international cable television management corporation and was named “Queen of Cable Television” by the National Cable Television Association.
Her third career was with the Glendale Police Department as a psychotherapist working with gangs and troubled teens. She is currently on a committee for a new restorative justice program for the Ventura County prison system. Jackson is also involved in teaching parenting classes and providing psychotherapy to troubled families.
In her latest accomplishments, she was crowned Ms. Senior California 2014-2015 in August of 2014 during a pageant in Westminster, California.
She competed against 13 other senior beauty contestants who came from all over the state to win the coveted crown. The contest involved an interview and an evening gown and talent competition, as well as reciting her philosophy of life.
Today, Jackson is involved with numerous local efforts. She provides pro bono therapy at the Ventura County Youth Authority, and helps women and impoverished children at the Assistance League of Conejo Valley.
She is an alumnus of the University of Southern California Trojan Club, and also belongs to the Daughters of the America Revolution, a lineage-based membership service organization. She is also a member of the National Charity League, California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and the National Psychotherapy Association.
In her spare time, Jackson’s hobbies include raising orchids, and traveling around the world and throughout the United States with her husband, Joe. Her newest hobby is competing in senior beauty pageants to encourage women of all ages.
Jackson, who got married four years ago into a blended family, has one daughter and three step daughters, one granddaughter and three step grandchildren.