BY NORBERT RUG
Like many people my age, I have medical and mobility issues. This causes me to spend time alone. However I am among the fortunate few who lives with a partner. Donna, my wife, loves cooking for us and she is an excellent cook but it seems every time she does we have enough food for 3-4 meals so I try to take her out as much as possible. While we were out to breakfast one morning, I saw that of all the occupied tables, half of them had just one person eating at them. This made me sad.
Old age can bring about changes that contribute to a more isolated life. One of my biggest problems is my social circle shrinks more and more the older I get. My friends and family members move away or pass on and I left the workforce. I no longer have the daily interaction with coworkers. I know we all promise to stay in touch with those that retire before us, but who among us really does? I know I have lost touch with all of my work “friends”.
Whatever the cause of loneliness it can lead to depression and a serious decline in physical health and well being.
Even for those people who still live near to me, it may be difficult to see them due to limited mobility, particularly for seniors who cannot drive. Changes in one’s physical health due to age like hearing loss or impaired vision makes it seem like it is not worth the effort anymore. Embarrassment might also be a cause of isolation.
Seniors might suffer from incontinence, are on oxygen therapy or need to use a mobility aid like a cane or a walker to get around. These logistical challenges makes it difficult or uncomfortable to leave home, but people must overcome feeling embarrassed about these noticeable signs of aging.
Many elderly people feel like they have been “pushed to the side” and forgotten about. This is particularly true for families that have spread out across the country and have a hard time scheduling visits and even phone calls. It’s important to remember loneliness can affect anyone, of any age. Even when a senior is being assisted by a family member, there is frequently little attention given to having a deep and engaging conversation between the senior and the rest of their family.
Yes, I have experienced loneliness and it is depressing. I am a social person but I seldom see anyone other than my wife. Everyone seems to be too busy to worry about us. Few people come to visit us or help us out. My poor wife had to shovel the snow herself all this year. I have conversations with the bible thumpers that ring my bell. After a bit they look at each other and slowly start to back up.
However, I have seen a trend recently with small restaurants and a few fast food places offering communal tables. The most noticeable one I visited recently was a small store front eatery called Tina’s Place in Sanborn, New York. They had individual tables along either side and a long table up the middle seating at least a dozen people.
As we ate, I noticed there was a constant turn over at this table with seats filling up as soon as they were empty. It seemed that everyone knew everyone else at the table and many seniors along with people of all ages were seated at this table. The conversation from this table was lively and spirited and by the few snippets that I heard it covered a multitude of subjects. What an excellent way to maintain friendships and make a few new ones.
There are ways for people to combat loneliness. I grab every chance I can to begin a conversation with a stranger like the cashier at the store or the person sitting next to me in the doctor’s waiting room. My wife says I can hold a conversation with a mugger. Try asking people about themselves. People love talking about themselves.
If you’re feeling alone, it’s very tempting to think nobody wants to visit you. But often friends, and family don’t want to bother you. So make that call or send that text and invite them over. However, chatting with a friend or relative over the phone can be almost as good as being with them. My wife used to call her aged mother every day. It only took a few minutes and made her feel valued.
Older people are particularly susceptible to loneliness and social isolation and it can have serious effects on their health. Older people say that they sometimes go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbor or family member.
While several cultures value their elders, America is one of the countries in the world where their senior citizens are frequently ignored and forgotten. We put them in group homes and let strangers look after them. We must change this. Mom and Dad selflessly took care of you, it’s time to return that favor.
Norb is an independent journalist and blogger from Lockport, NY. You can follow his blog at WhyWNY.home.blog