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Do Extroverts Outlive Introverts?

quietMy Mom is calling me up to six times daily now and we have a varied conversation about the mail. On one call she will say in a disgusted voice “I’ve only gotten two letters about Dad’s passing” and then a half-hour later she’s adamant that “I’m not getting ANY mail.” Each time I direct her back to where I stacked all the letters I found dispersed throughout her apartment. Sometimes, it takes several attempts for her to find the drawer where we put the stacked the letters together. On each call, as patient as I can be, I work on finding out what specifically is troubling her as I previously discussed in the Question Behind the Question.

Today, when I asked her who she was expecting letters from she said she hasn’t gotten any letters from her girlfriends. I dug a little deeper and asked her which ones? She couldn’t answer. To my knowledge, my Mom hasn’t had a girlfriend in over ten years. Her closest friend suddenly died in a car accident. She was my Mom’s main confident.

I realize that some of this issue may be stemming from pure loneliness. My parents stopped attending parties about five years ago. On occasion, my Dad would go to big events on his own. Instead, they would extend dinner invitations for friends to join them at their club, but as many of their guests learned, it was an awkward meal and the dinner guests dwindled. Having just one alcoholic beverage on top of their mild to moderate dementia made dinner conversation very difficult.

My parents isolated themselves and hung out together. Now that my Dad is gone, my Mom is very lonely and is struggling to connect and make friends. I’m glad she is in a community, where at least there are activities that she can attend and be around other people.It will be hard to make a new friend with no short-term memory.

However, watching this pattern of my parents has made acutely aware of the need — as well as the research — to stay socially active as we age.

My husband and I are introverts. While my upbringing allows me to walk in a room full of people I don’t know without pause, being around people for extended periods of time drains me. At least I know I will never get bored — I can always find the next obstacle to overcome. Challenged. 

For you introverts, you will find Quiet a very interesting read.

10 comments on “Do Extroverts Outlive Introverts?

  1. Reblogged this on Going Gentle Into That Good Night and commented:
    Like Kay, I am also an introvert (on the extreme end of the spectrum). I very much enjoy one-on-one or small-group interactions with deep and meaningful conversations, but even those suck up a lot of energy and I need recharge time afterwards.

    Big groups of people, especially in non-business settings (for some reason, I can handle that better because it doesn’t require anything but me being a SME [subject matter expert], which doesn’t tax my energy reserves because what I need is automatically there and doesn’t require a great deal of effort] just overwhelm me – too much going on, too much noise, too much of everything. I get zapped quickly and easily and just want to find a quiet corner to regroup and be invisible in.

    I also highly recommend Susan Cain’s book. There were points reading this where I suddenly felt tears running down my face because I realized that she was accurately describing me and that it didn’t mean I was crazy, odd, weird, or any of the other negative descriptors that the western world, which places a high value on extroversion, while considering introversion to be undesirable and abnormal – and changeable (it is not!) – ascribes to introverts. Ironically, introverts understand extroverts (even if they drive us crazy), but extroverts, through no fault of their own other than temperament and personality, are pretty clueless about introverts. In their cluelessness, they can often be insensitive, offensive, and abrasive. Introverts will take all of that deeply to heart for life sometimes while extroverts (a) don’t even realize what they’ve done and (b) forget it as soon as they’ve done it and move on to the next energizing thing that catches their attention.

    This book will help both extroverts who want to understand introverts and will help introverts understand themselves better.

    To Kay’s question, I’d venture to say “yes” as long as they have an active social network and excluding all other health/life factors. Mama was more of an extrovert (although she had some introverted tendencies at times) and I’m glad she was able to have a big social network as long as she was able to handle it. However, too much of noise, people, activity as her vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease progressed as well as becoming even more hard-of-hearing made a lot of social activity way too overwhelming and confusing for her.

    As an introvert, will I have a shorter life? If so, no complaints from me. The quality of whatever life I have left and the character I develop with God’s help is all that’s important to me, not a bunch of Ecclesiastes 12 years.

  2. My mom always had a set of friends but she is reluctant to reach out even to her close friends now. I think she is ashamed of the memory problems and chooses to isolate herself in response– though that is just my interpretation. It’s sad when we know that social support helps people remain healthier.

    • Thanks for your note. I feel like so much of my world is “my interpretation” but sadly, I can’t ask her and get a reliable answer.; <

      People will stop me at her community (and it's big!) and tell me of recent interactions … it's usually people that don't really know her however. It feels like snooping to ask those around her that I know and that know her. Rock meet hard place, eh?

  3. I confess that reading your columns is hard for me. They bring back to life the struggles we had with Mum. The day may come when your mother cannot read any more. At that moment, I think it is kinder to remove letters or other materials that merely point up her confusion, but leave behind pictures, cartoons, drawings, photos. But then who knows? Each person’s reaction is different. We are all the blind leading the blind, here.

    • Thanks for your note. I apparently am dealing with an interesting case … many of those in the facility aren’t skilled enough to know how to manage the strength of my Mom’s still vibrant independence — or need for control. She knows the memory is fading, but doesn’t fully accept that it may mean she forgets that she got mail. I think the dementia is fighting with the grief and she really doesn’t have the tools to be able to effectively grieve in a manner that fits within the “normal” spectrum. But what is “normal” — getting fuzzier for me each year.

      • One of the things that I found most challenging was when Mum essentially forgot where in history she was, and had to “re-grieve” the death of my father, the loss of her living independence, (and country), again and again. In the end we simply resorted to lying. “Am I ever going home again?” “Oh, I am sure you will, when you’re holiday is over and you feel well again.” Why inflict unnecessary pain? Towards the very end, she mixed me up with my Dad. And she was sure she was in hospital for some sort of 9undefined) medical problem, but still living where she was fifty years previously. We simply agreed. What else can one do? This is the worst thing any child has to bear, and I long for the day they come up with a magic bullet to “save” our memories. The hard fact is that excellent lifelong medicine has extended our lives far beyond what the brain was designed to cope with. Brain meds need to catch up. Hang in there.

      • Thanks – as much as it may not be fun to relive, the agreement and understanding of similar issues helps quell the GUILT. We are totally outliving our brains — I suppose our brains outliving our bodies might be more torturous — not sure! Hope to NEVER find out.

  4. […] and numbed my ability to pick up on social cues so I could manage through each move. I was and am still very comfortable alone. Did I cultivate this ability so I could survive puberty in 4 different schools over 3 years? My […]

  5. Hi likewise I redirect any bills to myself and pay them thru ‘authority to operate’ as dad believes himself to be stone broke (he’s not) He has not referred to me as his daughter in over a year, I’m his friend or ‘little ducky’ or some such. I love dad unconditionally so I’m there for him 4-5 times per week and he has carers come in as well as mum and my sister. He can’t just go into a home as not only is a sensitive introvert (possibly even aspergers) he can get very violent and aggressive when he doesn’t have some control over his environment and people try to rush or push him…this is actually his baseline personality. They would have to subdue him and his life would never be the same. So we carry on keeping him at home with lots of help and he’s overall pretty and pretty much lives for his grandson (my son) visiting him and hanging out in the garden, playing cricket and walks etc.
    He can spend alot of time going over his calendar so when he gets stuck I find distraction such as talking about a friend or playing music, a great tool as well as getting him started on a task such as gardening or fixing something…

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