When I was a child, my upstairs neighbor gave me a quarter whenever I carried her grocery bags to her apartment. I didn’t know how old she was – I just knew she was old. She often invited me to sit at her kitchen table and have a few of her home-baked rugelach. She would then tell me stories.
The rugelach were delicious and she was nice enough, so I listened. As I think back, she needed to talk to someone – even if it was a nine-year-old. Phone calls from her children weren’t enough to break the monotony of hours sitting alone, smoking and watching TV.
Things haven’t changed much for many older people. There are some with attentive families, transportation, and social lives. And then there are others who can’t get out of the house, spend most of their time alone, and no longer feel like part of the world.
In addition to the horrible feeling of being alone, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that social isolation in older adults is a public health crisis. It puts us at risk for cognitive decline, depression, heart disease and stroke. These are life-threatening consequences of not having regular, meaningful connections to other people.
We are social beings and when a spouse dies, children live far away, and friends become less available, our world shrinks. Who focuses on those who have no family to rely on? Or families who are caught in the sandwich – raising their own kids, working and juggling responsibilities to parents?
In this monthly column I will report on some of the resources working to improve quality of life for all members of the family – the caregivers and the aging folks. There are councils on aging, senior centers, AARP programs, synagogues, universities, and technology companies focused on solutions to help getting old be less challenging and more fun. I know there are more organizations – and I’d like to share with you what they are all about.
When it comes to getting old, I often think, what is it like to walk in “their shoes?” I am almost 61 and I’m anticipating wearing them within the next 20 years. I’d like to make sure the shoes are comfortable for all of us.
Even before it was age-appropriate, I was an avid reader and fan of The Boston Globe columnist Jean Dietz, who penned the paper’s “Senior Set” column. I may not have as long a run as Jean, but I hope to inspire conversation and action when it comes to figuring out how to age and live in the best way possible.
I appreciate the Jewish Journal’s commitment to keeping older people in the loop and informed on issues pertaining to us. Θ
Carolyn Schultz Eggert writes from Newton. She has been working to improve the lives of older people for 10 years through her business, Family Friends Boston. Previously she was a reporter for People magazine. Questions? Please email her at Carolyneggert@yahoo.com.