All the Lonely People. In 1966 the Beatles sang about those lonely people. Today, though, their plight continues. Many seniors are lonely, oh so lonely.
“Isolation and loneliness constitute the greatest health hazard for the aging,” said Bruce Frankel in “The Loneliness Epidemic, a presentation to the Certified Senior Advisors in December 2017.
Some startling stats from Frankel’s presentation:
- “Lonely people have a 50 percent greater chance of early death than those who are socially connected.”
- “Loneliness increases the risk of stroke by 32 percent, dementia by 64.9 percent.”
- “42.6 percent of seniors suffer from chronic loneliness caused by factors including a loss of social confidence and loss of friends and social contacts as their world shrinks.”
Loneliness has been with us since the dawn of time. For me that sense of isolation and loneliness hit hard many years ago with a phone conversation with a woman named Dorothy.
“Alice, it’s so good to hear your voice.” Interesting. No one had ever used those words to describe my voice.
She continued: “Believe it or not, I haven’t heard a voice from anyone in person or on the phone in 45 days.”
Forty-five days? Dorothy was 75 years old. She had a son who lived two states away. Dorothy said, “He’s busy with work and with his family. I miss him, though.”
Forty-five days? For me, that was hard to believe. I’d met her several years before, but today her memory is still fresh in my mind. I picture Dorothy in younger years with her flashy silk moo moo dresses, her wig styled in golden curls, and sporting crimson lipstick. She had mentored me in writing and speaking, giving me books and doling out advice. We had attended a writer’s group together. I drove to her home, where we switched cars so I could drive her big boat of a car to the meeting. Fun memories. Lasting memories.
Now, though, things were different. Besides being a friend, I was a writer. I put on my writer’s hat and asked some questions.
- Was she eating well? Yes, between take-out and a hired cook, she was getting by.
- What about housecleaning? Someone did that once a week.
- Was she getting out? No. That was a biggie.
- Was she able to go to the doctor’s? A cab took her there
She had some health issues: diabetes, severe arthritis, and congestive heart failure. Driving was out of reach. She was lonely, very lonely.
We talked about small things: kids, pets and such. When I hung up I vowed not to let that many days lapse before I called her. I did phone her more often but not enough.
Dorothy was well taken care, in many ways, compared the many lonely people we see around us.
Still, forty-five days is too long. Now that so many years have passed, I understand Dorothy better. The sound of a voice, a familiar one, is key to helping keep loneliness at bay.