Tull program addresses aging and relationships

Wednesday, October 9, 2019 | 1:33 PM


Imagine heading out to a speed dating event where 15 eligible bachelors or bachelorettes are waiting to meet you.

Only, now you’re in your 70s or 80s.

You might have been married before and lost the love of your life, or you never found the right one.

More than 100 people gathered at The Tull Family Theater on Oct. 7 to learn about relationships and aging, whether caring for a longtime partner or embarking on a new romance at 70-plus.

“The Age of Love,” by filmmaker Steven Loring was shown. The documentary trailed senior citizens on their journey through speed dating, featuring laugh-out-loud moments and some tearjerkers.

A panel of experts answered questions about everything from what the ratio of male to female senior citizens are in Western Pennsylvania to how soon to move on after the loss of a loved one. They even broached sensitive topics like sex and STDs.

“We know that we have this high senior population,” said Carolina Thor, executive director of the theater. “We know some of the challenges that impact them, such as isolation and loneliness and that’s what today was about — an afternoon where they could watch that film that was really honest and they can have a conversation.”

Relationships and Aging was a free event offered to the public as part of the Allegheny Regional Asset District’s RADical Days, offered by organizations that receive funding.

After the theater’s first highly successful senior outreach program, Creativity and Aging, held in June, Thor said they received numerous requests for another similar program.

The goal is to listen to the theater’s strong base of senior citizens and provide programs that are “meaningful, helpful and at the same time entertaining to them,” Thor said.

Claudia Pryor, 76, a volunteer at the theater and a widow of 10 years who now lives in a 55-plus community, said she saw much of herself in the film.

“Some of them, I had to laugh at and others made me feel sad,” she said. “I think it was interesting how people didn’t base it on what they looked like, but they base it on the personality, which is how we feel at our age. You really want companionship at our age, because the loneliness does get overwhelming.”

The panel for Relationships and Aging was led by Allegheny Health Network geriatric physician Dr. Morgan Mihok and included Dr. Lianne Glaus Vighetti, a doctor of health care ethics specializing in geriatric social work with UPMC Senior Care at Shadyside; George Shannon, a Sewickley resident who suddenly became his ailing wife’s caregiver and co-authored a book about his experience; and Dr. Janie Harden Fritz, an expert in personal and professional interpersonal communication and a faculty member at Duquesne University.

Attendees wanted to know if there was a study done after the film to see what characteristics made a person stand out in the dating scene in their senior years.

Harden Fritz said a person’s humor and finding a way to respond to situations with resilience make them stand out.

Shannon said his main message is that, “There are things that happen in your life that you don’t get to choose. But you do get to choose your response. Don’t get down. Don’t get depressed.”

When Shannon’s wife became ill, it changed him. He became more attentive and they fell in love again.

The panel highlighted the importance of having a community of friends to talk with about all aspects of life, even in the senior years, and how that group often gets smaller as people realize their days are numbered. Many are more selective with whom they want to spend their time.

Whether it’s looking for something to do or a new friend, attendees suggested ways their peers could find people with similar interests, such as MeetUp.com.

Karen Giza, 59, of O’Hara Township, who took two buses and a subway to get to the program, said she would follow the advice.

“I’m trying to cope with aging,” she said. “It was interesting.”