Aging Successfully: The need to be needed

If you stop and think about it, we all have the need to be needed; the need to feel we are useful and can contribute to our world.

This need to feel needed is innate in every human. Young children beg to help long before they have the required skills or coordination. Older relatives want to help, sometimes getting in the way.

How many times have we reacted negatively when told we are not needed for a particular project or event? Our self-esteem often corresponds with our ability to lead productive lives, yet as our bodies slow down we feel less productive and thus less valuable.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Suggestions for younger seniors to feel useful while helping others to feel useful are to be a mentor, to be a good listener, and to ask for help. We cannot do everything, and asking for help allows others to feel important.

If you have an older senior in your life who cannot do much, and feels unwanted try asking for his or her help, and watch the change in attitude. I’ve watched older seniors change almost immediately when asked for help, like a wilted plant being watered. Three suggestions to include older seniors are:

• Helping with the grandchildren such as reading to a younger child

• Helping a family member with a project

• Asking for advice with a problem or a project, or asking about family history

Another idea is to give your elderly person something to be responsible for, even if it is feeding the fish.

After my mother passed on my father’s most validating projects were helping at his church, and helping me with our foster children. We had a sibling-set of three younger children who had been abused and I appreciated his help during the day while my husband worked.

Later, when my father moved into assisted living, he still found ways to be useful, to be needed. He encouraged staff, and joked with them. He also let staff know when there were issues with other residents. While the staff did not need his help with this it was understood helping made my father feel important.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention about 5 percent of the elderly population suffers from depression, and this number increases with elderly who need assistance in health care. If the older senior in your life suffers from Geriatric Depression his or her condition needs to be treated in order for him or her to be able to function, and to feel needed, thus to feel valuable.

We all are in this life together; let’s help each other to feel more needed and more validated. What are your ideas and suggestions? Let us know at

Richard McCammon (Dick) emailed me with another Senior-Friendly activity. (See the Aging Successfully column for last month, April 2019.) The Strait Stamp Society meets the first Thursday of each month in the Sequim Library from 6-8 p.m. This group is all about stamp collecting and is a friendly group. There is no fee, though donations are appreciated. For more information, go to or call the Sequim Library.