I had just settled in last Sunday for the evening when I heard the distinct ding of a text message.
It was from my daughter, Alex, who was at a jazz bar in Manhattan with her boyfriend. Here is a portion of our conversation:
During the moments when Alex considered walking over to engage with this gentleman, he must have exited the bar. She surmised that he was there to enjoy the live piano music.
But that wasn’t the point. It hit me. She gets it. She feels it. She suffers from the same malady as do I. And then I considered whether it was nature or nurture or a combination of both that caused the depth of the emotion.
The answer is obvious, yet irrelevant. Certainly, Alex knows that her feeling deeply resonated with me.
How many times has she heard my diner story? I may have shared it in a prior posting, blog, or
conversation, but the very short story is ingrained in my brain and seared in my heart. I have a distinct childhood memory of observing an elderly man eating alone at the counter of our local diner. While my family patiently waited to be seated at a booth, I tugged at my mother, imploring her to invite this gentleman to join us. The mere sight of him dining alone made me sad. If emojis existed five decades ago, I would have selected the exact same one as had Alex.
Thinking back, my mother must have thought me crazy to consider inviting a perfect stranger to our table. It was a different era.
That was my first conscious encounter with senior loneliness. It obviously wouldn’t be my last. The experience provided a framework for what would become part of my passion and profession. There is no way I could have realized the long-standing impact and significant nature of that experience.
The brief exchange with Alex has consumed my thoughts. While social isolation and loneliness have always been issues, they certainly became exacerbated and highlighted by the Covid pandemic. When diagnosed with a condition or illness for which there are treatments, therapies, and medication, we seek out prescriptions. There is little to no stigma attached to physical conditions which are neither invited nor caused. Research scientists and pharmaceutical companies understandably expend billions of dollars seeking cures and medications for conditions both common and rare. And billions more are spent by patients seeking to treat, alleviate, or eradicate their conditions and illnesses.
However, there is no panacea for social isolation and loneliness. Both create serious public health risks and can hasten dementia. Researchers have equated the long-term effect of social isolation to smoking four packs of cigarettes daily. While individuals of all ages may suffer from social isolation, almost 25% of adults aged 65 and older are socially isolated. This age cohort is more likely to experience the loss of friends and family due to their relocation or passing. Many reside alone while dealing with one or more comorbidities. Those who attended senior programming and activities pre-Covid had to deal with the closure of in person programs due to the pandemic. And almost as soon as the physical doors reopened, they were again shuttered due to the Omicron variant.
Obviously, it is not enough merely to identify and discuss the issues. As a community, we need to
recognize and assist those who are the most vulnerable. This can be as simple as checking in with clients, relatives, and neighbors who are alone and may be craving social connections. We can provide information about resources and programs connecting older adults to support groups, activities, and services. Although resources exist, more programs are needed to identify and support isolated adults. And these programs need not only be categorized by age. Social interactions should also be appropriately intergenerational.
At Goidel Law Group, our Concierge Care Coordination® team is working on several ways to assist this vulnerable population. Please let us know if you would like to participate.
Nobody should feel sad and lonely.
At this point, maybe you are wondering how the text exchange with Alex ended.
Please remember this blog the next time you observe a senior sitting or dining alone. Consider smiling, sharing a greeting, or starting a conversation. It doesn’t hurt to be a softie.