Well, no one is going to say that languishing in bed or a wheelchair at home or in a nursing facility is a situation we are all craving for our later life. But it extends much further than just those more extreme situations that surely everyone wants to avoid.
What about all the closet introverts like me who need to have someone else with more energy to goad us out of the house? I know I am not the only one whose first thought when some outing is proposed who secretly thinks, “Is this going to be worth the effort?”
Assessing the cost/benefit ratio of a trip to the movies with friends or a dinner out was not my first thought when I was younger, but sadly, it is now. I know there are other folks languishing at home, more or less contentedly just like me. But it isn’t good for us.
The Aging in Place Committee has been steadily working on getting seniors out and socializing now for several years. The men’s coffee hour at the bowling alley gets as many as 20 guys out at 8 am every Thursday. I’d love to be a fly on the wall to hear what they talk about. It is quite a mix of native Vermonters, second-home owners, even some “youngsters,” not yet on Medicare.
Then there are the various support groups we have started. I worked for 35 years as a social worker/family therapist and have always believed in the value of group settings. The free caregiver support group that Jennifer Fitzgerald and I have been running now for four and a half years meets every other Sunday at 4 pm at the West Dover Congregational Church. It’s a real-life marvel. People have come and gone from it over the years but the core group of roughly eight people has become one big extended family. They are there for each other in all sorts of ways. They genuinely have come to love each other and to take care of each other, both during the hour and a half meeting and during the week. It is a lovely thing to watch and restores my flagging faith in humanity.
We did a free lecture series last summer for 14 weeks, every Thursday afternoon at Memorial Hall, on subjects of interest to seniors but also the general public and we will be doing it again this summer. Jennifer, with her connections all over the state, is putting together the program again.
Joseph Cincotta and Julie Lineberger have designed a sort of “tiny house” on wheels for people with disabilities called a Wheelpad. It can be rolled up to a person’s own home, connected to the house, so that a person in a wheelchair can have his/her own bedroom and bathroom all fitted out to full disability standards right there at home. The disabled person can then be “home” with their own family instead of in a rehab facility or a nursing home, and enjoy all the socialization normal to family life. I understand that a very well-known and loved local family will shortly be the first to use this aid.
I don’t worry so much about the women like me who stay home all the time. Women seem to be able to putter around, read, knit, talk on the phone to other women, and not fall apart as readily as men who live alone. The suicide statistics are awful for elderly men. If you know a housebound older man, please make an effort to spend some time with him. If you can drive, make a home visit for a cup of coffee and a chat. There are formal programs for that kind of thing. I am a hospice volunteer and meet weekly with two women in their 90s who are not actively dying, but cannot get out any more. You can do the same thing for an older male friend without making a big deal about it. It will rouse you from your own armchair and be good for you, too!