Reach out before folks find their golden years tarnished

May 12, 2013 

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ALGIMANTE STASIUNIENE — Getty Images/iStockphoto

Profiles of three North Carolinians who live alone and are in what are sometimes called the “golden years” show that the gold is there for those who have plenty of it in the bank. But for most of the three out of 10 folks in this state who live alone after age 65 life has some considerable challenges.

Health problems are an obvious and inevitable concern, of course. But what The News & Observer’s Thomas Goldsmith demonstrated among his three brave souls was that both a reality and a personal sense of isolation develop when one is past a certain age and alone.

And while society can’t adjust to increasing numbers of lonely elderly people overnight, it must try to do more, through churches, organizations that bring networks of friends together, assistance to families, public health-care and elder-care organizations to draw and accept these people into the larger community.

For even those elderly people who are more fortunate than most have some challenges that good neighbors and good friends can address.

Daniel Rodriguez, 87, has a pretty good situation compared to a lot of older people, in that he has family close by to check on him, fix meals, have visits, etc. He has a good dog for a walking companion. Those are all positives, of course.

But he can’t fill the loneliness from the loss of his wife, Rosa, who died in 2011. He worries that his daughters hereabouts do too much for him. Like many people his age, he doesn’t drive.

Rodriguez speaks, as many who have lived long lives do, of his faith, and even of moving on, should that be God’s will.

There is no one-size-fits-all fix for loneliness, which seems to be his major problem, but with interaction with other people in his age bracket (and Wake County has seniors’ programs at 919-872-7933) he might find enjoyment. He is blessed to have children devoted to him.

Clydie Pugh-Myers told Goldsmith about her life as a licensed practical nurse, when she was busy all the time with work, church activities or friends.

But now she lives alone in Durham and gets help from a home health nurse. Otherwise, she’s on her own with knee replacements, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other ailments of the elderly. She’s 84.

There’s not a lot of contact, especially not for someone who was so active in her younger years.

“It’s a tough life,” she says, “but God’s good.” She does worry that people from her church don’t visit as much as they might.

That’s another challenge. Those in middle-age have lives with plenty of reasons to be busy, from children and all the related chores they bring to jobs that are at their most demanding to community interests of their own. That they may not have the time to pay visits to elderly people they may know or may not know very well doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad people.

But it’s important to know that with baby boomers starting to retire (and many are divorced) there are going to be more people in need not just of services but of companionship, of visits, of support that can’t be bought or rented, of compassion.

Martha Driver, 85, is of Garner and appreciates her visits from Meals on Wheels (although Gov. Pat McCrory isn’t increasing the services in his budget, though the need is growing) and the fact that she has family around.

But illness has sapped her energy, and crises outside her world, such as the Newtown, Conn., shooting, bring her down. It isn’t easy, then, for her to have missed church over the last year.

As the next 10 years go by, there will more and more people in the situations of these individuals, and likely many more in even more trying circumstances. Neither the state, nor the nation, is prepared for the aging of the population, and it is long since time for them to move toward offering more community services, more government services, better communication among agencies and a raising of public awareness.

That medical science has made it possible for people to live at a higher level of quality in their retirement years, and even into very old age, ought to be something that’s embraced. Instead, while it is a blessing to many, it’s also a worry to others. An enlightened country’s goal, an enlightened state’s goal, should be to make the final years worth living.

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