“All the lonely people, where do they all come from?” The Beatles, 1966

Like many people my age, I have medical and mobility issues. This causes me to spend time alone. However I am among the fortunate few who lives with a partner. Donna, my wife, loves cooking for us and she is an excellent cook but it seems every time she does we have enough food for 3-4 meals so I try to take her out as much as possible. While we were out to breakfast one morning, I saw that of all the occupied tables, half of them had just one person eating at them. This made me sad.

Old age can bring about changes that contribute to a more isolated life. One of my biggest problems is my social circle shrinks more and more the older I get. My friends and family members move away or pass on and I left the workforce. I no longer have the daily interaction with coworkers. I know we all promise to stay in touch with those that retire before us, but who among us really does? I know I have lost touch with all of my work “friends”.

Whatever the cause of loneliness it can lead to depression and a serious decline in physical health and wellbeing.

Even for those people who still live near to me, it may be difficult to see them due to limited mobility, particularly for seniors who cannot drive. Changes in one’s physical health due to age like hearing loss or impaired vision makes it seem like it is not worth the effort anymore. Embarrassment might also be a cause of isolation.

Seniors might suffer from incontinence, are on oxygen therapy or need to use a mobility aid like a cane or a walker to get around. These logistical challenges makes it difficult or uncomfortable to leave home, but people must overcome feeling embarrassed about these noticeable signs of aging.

Many elderly people feel like they have been “pushed to the side” and forgotten about. This is particularly true for families that have spread out across the country and have a hard time scheduling visits and even phone calls. It’s important to remember loneliness can affect anyone, of any age. Even when a senior is being assisted by a family member, there is frequently little attention given to having a deep and engaging conversation between the senior and the rest of thier family.

Yes, I have experienced loneliness and it is depressing. I am a social person but I seldom see anyone other than my wife. Everyone seems to be too busy to worry about us. Few people come to visit us or help us out.  My poor wife had to shovel the snow herself all this year. I have conversations with the bible thumpers that ring my bell. After a bit they look at each other and slowly start to back up.

However, I have seen a trend recently with small restaurants and a few fast food places offering communal tables. The most noticeable one I visited recently was a small store front eatery called Tina’s Place in Sanborn, New York. They had individual tables along either side and a long table up the middle seating at least a dozen people.

As we ate, I noticed there was a constant turn over at this table with seats filling up as soon as they were empty. It seemed that everyone knew everyone else at the table and many seniors along with people of all ages were seated at this table. The conversation from this table was lively and spirited and by the few snippets that I heard it covered a multitude of subjects. What an excellent way to maintain friendships and make a few new ones.

There are ways for people to combat loneliness. I grab every chance I can to begin a conversation with a stranger like the cashier at the store or the person sitting next to me in the doctor’s waiting room. My wife says I can hold a conversation with a mugger. Try asking people about themselves. People love talking about themselves.

If you’re feeling alone, it’s very tempting to think nobody wants to visit you. But often friends, and family don’t want to bother you. So make that call or send that text and invite them over. However, chatting with a friend or relative over the phone can be almost as good as being with them. My wife used to call her aged mother every day. It only took a few minutes and made her feel valued.

Older people are particularly susceptible to loneliness and social isolation and it can have serious effects on their health. Older people say that they sometimes go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbor or family member.

While several cultures value their elders, America is one of the countries in the world where their senior citizens are frequently ignored and forgotten. We put them in group homes and let strangers look after them. We must change this. Mom and Dad selflessly took care of you, it’s time to return that favor.

Growing older

People my age are so much older than me.

When I think of old age, I to think of my maternal grandfather. When I was a kid, I considered this white-haired, 65-year-old man as old. I can still vividly remember his vegetable gardens at 101 Bickford Avenue, Buffalo and how he taught me how to trap yellow jackets.

He sold Watkins products and aprons to women around his own age. I recall going on sales calls with him in his dark blue 1948 dodge. This was a treat for me because I got to ride in the front seat of the “Blue Bird” as he called it and every client he had invited me in for milk and cookies. Instant grandmothers!

Now that I’m in my early 70’s, my concept of old age is substantially different than it used to be and I suspect I’m not alone. I am positive that everyone else is growing older and that person that I see in my mirror each morning is somehow aging at a slower pace. I frequently ask my wife how come everybody we know is getting older and we’re not, ala Dorian Grey.

If you’ve been pushing yourself for many years by working, raising a family or both, it feels strange to have time to yourself once you have retired and the kids have all flown the coop. One good thing about getting older is that you’ve been there, done that. Now you can take the time to impart what you’ve learned over the years. I try to do this by writing.

Baby boomers seem to be having a hard time admitting to the inevitability of growing older. Granted, we are all mortal, but I never imagined this referred to me. Sure, I am in my seventies and have been married for fifty years. Yeah, my children are in their forties and have grandchildren in their twenties. Indeed, I have been retired for four years and have been fighting cancer for ten. But those are only numbers to me, not an indicator of how old I feel.

When I take sum of my life, everything I’ve created, experienced and collected, I can count more positives than negatives. More than anything else I learn with each and every passing day the importance of appreciating what I have and choosing to be happy. Taking time to laugh with my family and friends becomes more important. Of all the good things about getting old, the best by far, according to older adults, is being able to spend more time with family members.

My 8 year old grandsons will yell “Papa run over here.” I have to explain, Papa doesn’t do run anymore.  There’s a lot that Papa doesn’t do anymore. Papa doesn’t drink anymore. Papa doesn’t go to the basement or attic anymore. Sure I move a bit slower, but that’s just my body that’s acting it’s age, my mind and my spirit are still in their twenties. The great irony, in this, say the experts on aging, is that this could be a healthy thing. Believing you are younger can actually make you feel younger.

“People, particularly older people, usually say they feel younger than they are,” said William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State. “People who report feeling younger actually tend to live longer and healthier lives and they don’t tend to have as much of a pattern of decline.” says Chopik. In most circumstances, people state that they feel around 20 percent younger than they actually are. This is according to a Michigan State study of over than 500,000 people.

They say when you are older, you heal slower but my innate ability to recover from injuries is well known among my friends and family. Recently I hurt my ankle but I thought I could just walk it off. After 8 days of walking on it, I discovered I had broken it. I was in a boot for six weeks after that and still wear a splint. The orthopedic surgeon I went to said “The x-ray revealed that your bones are, and I going to use a medical term here, crap.” (I love a doctor with a good sense of humor). He said he wasn’t sure just how long it would take me to heal but he suggested it would take months.  I surprised him by how quickly I healed. I have had cancer three times, and managed to spit in death’s eye each time.

So, at my age, I’m on a low salt diet, do Physical Therapy, quit smoking, and have to take an assortment of meds to control my blood pressure, cholesterol, edema and pain. I wear bifocals and hearing aids and But I still don’t look into the mirror and see an old man looking back and I definitely do not see a septuagenarian gazing at me. I see someone that is much younger and more vibrant than that. Then again, I never put my glasses on before I look in the mirror. You remember the age old adage “You are only as old as you feel.”? I believe this to be true. In my mind I am still only 25.

It’s kind of funny how being old doesn’t seem so old now that I am old.

Norb is an independent journalist from Lockport.

Surviving childhood in the 50’s and 60’s

 

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If you grew up during the 50s or 60s, then you are familiar with how laissez-faire things used to be. We didn’t have very many “low calorie” foods, ate what we wanted, and we were afforded much more leeway than we should have had. There’s a pretty good reason why kids today aren’t allowed to do half the things that we did, but maybe, that’s a good thing.

Parents then were much less worried about what they gave us to play with. I’m referring to toys with choking hazards, lead paints and sharp metal pieces. I remember playing mumblypeg. This is a game kids (mostly boys) used to play on the playground where they stand with their feet shoulder width apart while throwing a pocket knife between their own feet. The boy who gets closest to his own foot wins. Getting the knife in your foot was an automatic win. It’s a surprise that we made it out of childhood intact. Why more kids weren’t injured playing Jarts or using easy bake ovens I’ll never know

We were never forced to wear seatbelts by your parents. Hell, most vehicles didn’t have more than lap belts in the front seat. The absence of seatbelts indicated that you could sit anyplace you wanted. The most coveted seat was then the middle seat in the front. This is when front seats were bench seats.

When you sat there, you could control which radio station you listened to. I always flipped it to WKBW, 1520 “The music people.”  WKBW dominated the Top 40 radio market in the Western New York area during the 1960’s. You also got the security of mom’s arm flung across your chest if your father stopped quickly. My favorite spot, riding in the car although was the “way back” as I called it. This was the cargo area behind the back seat of my parent’s station wagon.

However the very best place to ride was in the back of a pickup truck. No seat belt, no roof overhead, just sun in your face and the wind in your hair. A friend’s father even had an old school bus seat in the back of his pickup where we could sit.

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Back then, parents really didn’t grasp the need for safety. Kids raced around on their bikes or roller skates without head protection, knee or elbow pads. You learned how to fall so you didn’t land and split your head open, skin your knee or break any bones.

Probably one of the biggest of the “what the hell were we thinking” moments of the ’50s and ’60s was “skitching.”  is a combination of SKIing and hITCHING. In its basic form, skitching was as easy as finding a slippery, snow-covered road or parking lot, and a passing car bumper.

The skitcher grabs the bumper, flexes their knees, and skis on the bottom of thier shoes through the snow. The car does the work and the skitcher enjoys the ride. Skitching is believed to have originated in urban areas in northern New York, probably cities like Buffalo with a regular snowfall (http://skiernet.com).

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In the playground in the summer I remember swinging with my buddies so vigorously that the legs of the swing set would come off the ground. We would jump off the moving swing and would be flying through the air. You had to learn how to “tuck and roll” so when you landed, you would not break any bones. We also had the burns that we got going down the blazing hot metal slides during the summer. We would steal our mother’s wax paper and slide on it. Waxing the slide would make it that much faster.

There wasn’t a nice soft rubber landing area in the playgrounds back then, either it was dirt or asphalt. And of course we had the Playground merry go round. That steel disk that went in a circle powered by your legs and could whip you around and around. Hang on tight!

If you had a younger sibling, then you would be given the task of watching them after school. You didn’t require any special training to be able to babysit. As long as you were 13 and could dial the operator, then you could babysit the neighbor’s kids when they went out. It was an acceptable practice during that era.

There weren’t health foods either things like quinoa, tofu or kale weren’t readily available back then. The less time it took your mother to pack your school lunch, the better. A whole generation grew up on Skippy PB&J sandwiches on Wonder Bread, a small bag of Wise potato chips and a pack of Hostess Twinkies,

There was no escape the pervasive cloud of cigarette smoke in the 50’s and the 60’s. From airplanes to restaurants to automobiles. There weren’t any limitations on where you were able to smoke. We most likely breathed in much more secondhand smoke when we were young than most people do today in thier lifetime.

We played stickball in the streets and went swimming in the quarry on East Amherst Street. There were no structured play dates and no cell phones. Yeah, being a kid in the ’50s and ’60s wasn’t without it’s hazards but we managed to survive.

 

Love Poems

old couple walking while holding hands
Photo by Noelle Otto on Pexels.com

I recently received a picture of a painting from a local Buffalo artist of two older people hand in hand walking away due to something I had published in the newspaper. It reminded me of my wife and me, always walking hand in hand wherever we go.

I remember meeting her at a birthday party I crashed with a friend of mine. It was the wild sixties. I picked her up and carried her off into a corner loudly proclaiming “This one’s mine”. I had dated quite a few girls but had never met anyone like her. Eventually, I fell in love and I remember trying to find a way to ask her how to marry me.

She worked at Saint Mary’s Home for Children with children who had birth defects and knowing how much she loved children, I devised what I thought was the ideal line. One that I thought she could not say no to.

One night at Ellicott Creek Park, as we were looking out across the water and I said I had something to talk to her about. I then asked her to marry me and have my children. She hesitated a bit and I thought I had blown it. I realize now when I said I had something to talk to her about, this wasn’t quite what she was expecting, but she manage to say “Yes.”

It also reminded me of a few short poems I wrote to her several years ago that she has framed on her dresser.

The first poem reads.
Thru good times. Thru Bad.
Thru happy. Thru sad.
Thru high. Thru low.
Thru you, I’m whole.

The good times were all the years we have been together, going to dinner, laughing and loving each other. The bad times were when I was being treated for cancer and I would lay in bed sleeping, only waking to eat chocolate covered mini doughnuts. The Oncologists and I didn’t think I would see another Christmas. She would lay beside me comforting me thru it all. I firmly believe she are the reason I made it.

The happy is when she said “Yes” at Ellicott Creek Park and when she said “I do” in Saint Patrick’s church in 1969. It also relates to the children and grandchildren she has given me. She has given me an amazing, loving family. The sad is the loss of family members we have both suffered.

The High is the soaring feeling I get seeing her, hearing her voice and snuggling with her on the weekends. The low is the times we had to spend apart while I was in the service. She will never know just how I missed her then.

With you, I’m whole means that without her, I would be a ship drifting on the sea of loneliness. Completely lost. I never thought I would deserve such a loving, kind person in my life. One who accepted me for who I am.

The second one’s a three-word poem that goes. Together, Forever, Whatever. This reflects in three words how I feel about us. Sometimes simple is best. Both of these poems reflect what she means to me.

In all the years we have been together, I don’t ever remember having a major argument. We’ve had disagreements sure, but we always resolved them quickly.
She is my soulmate, the Yin to my Yang, the ping to my pong, the day to my night. We’ve been together for 50 years and I want another 50. She will always be my “Bride”.

Growing up in the 50’s.

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We had the junkman who would drive down the street in his beat up truck. He would collect your scrap metal to sell at the junk yard. The local cobbler would repair your shoes if the soles wore out or heel broke off. On garbage day, they would send a man ahead of the truck to bring our can to the curb. Then after it was emptied another man would take it back into the yard.

The milk man used to deliver to your house. I can still remember the rattle of the empty bottles in the wire carrier that he used. We had a wooden door in the side of the house by the back door for the milkman to deliver our milk and dairy products. This was called a milk box. If you didn’t have a milk box, your items were left on your porch in an insulated metal box. The milk would have a layer of cream on top that you would pour off to make whipped cream or to use in cooking. I loved the milk in glass bottles. A fixture back then was the “knifeman”, who would drive up and down the street and sharpen your knives, scissors, hedge sheers and the blades of the old reel type, hand pushed lawnmowers.

We had bread delivered to the house and had the rag man as well. Let’s not forget the fruit wagon. He would yell “Apples, peaches, strawberriessssssssssssssssssss.” I recall the popcorn man pushing his cart down our street with that steam powered whistle summoning us to come running. We would bring our precious coins that we had earned by returning bottles to the corner store and get this hot, salty snack. That is, if we had any left after buying our stash of penny candy, ice cream treats, & comic books. My Grandfather was a Fuller Brush man and he used to sell aprons and Fuller Brush products.

Around Christmas, the post office used to deliver a twice a day. We walked to school, coming home for lunch, and played outside till dark, only going home when the street lights came on. We were always playing in the street, roller skating, playing baseball or tag. In the fall, we played football. We used to call “Heads up!” whenever a car was coming.

My father worked every day and drove the only family car. This caused us to walk everywhere, parents just didn’t drive their kids around and you walked if you wanted to go anywhere.

We had a few chores, but then it was outdoors in the summer. In the winter we would go to a friends’ house or they would come to mine to play board games. You would walk to a friend’s house and see if they could play. Calling our friends by their name to come out to play didn’t involve texting. We would walk over to a friend’s house and yell “Oh (insert friend’s name here) can you come out to play?” We never rang a bell. If somebody was calling you, you would ask permission from your mother to go outside. It was a simple yes or no and no one got angry if the answer was no. Neighbors got along better than today.

Women were outside & visible around their houses hanging wash or doing yard work, watching their kids in the yards. Our basement contained a wringer washing machine for washing our clothes, our dryer was a clothes line in the back yard and our dishwasher was my mother. When I got older, the kids were in charge of washing and drying the dishes, setting and clearing the table.

The doctors made house calls if you were too sick to come in, or very contagious. Our family doctor visited me when I had the Chicken Pox and the Measles.

We would go home for lunch from school every day and we had a bank day at school on Mondays where we would take our money and get it posted to our bank book.

Every Wednesday we would get out of school early so we could walk to church for religious instructions. I used to stop at the local five and dime and get a small bag of Spanish peanuts for the trip. Speaking of school, there were air raid drills in school. We crouched on our hands & knees, in the hall ways, up against the wall, or under our desks, hoping the Russians didn’t bomb us.

We played with homemade toys such as kites, scooters made out of fruit crates decorated with pop bottle caps, scrap 2x4s, pieces of scrap wood for handle bars and discarded metal roller skates. I made a car out of a large crate and the wheels from an old wagon. You steered using a rope that was attached to the front axle.

There was also the “rubber band” gun. A long narrow piece of wood used as a rifle that we would put a notch at the top of to hold a rubber band made out of a used tire tube cut into 1/2 inch wide trips. You knew when someone shot you because of the sting that you felt.

I have memories of Fel’s Naptha soap that was used for anything from washing clothes, floors and taking baths. Sponge baths all week were the norm then when Saturday night was the night for a real bath in a claw foot, cast iron bathtub.

It was good being a kid in the 50s.

The home medical care industry

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The home medical care industry will face a shortage of caregivers as aging baby boomers attempt to stay in their homes. The lack of qualified workers, ever increasing costs and a huge shift in demographics has America facing a major crisis. There aren’t going to be sufficient numbers of geriatric staff to make certain seniors are okay when they can no longer care for themselves.

It’s a problem that not many families anticipated but one that many will have to face. It frequently becomes evident that falls, lapses of memory and a number of maladies has taken a toll on elderly relatives and some may need help. There is also a tidal wave of baby boomers that are being diagnosed now with some form of dementia.

“We are absolutely in a crisis mode. Providers are routinely reporting that they can’t recruit and they can’t retain direct care workers, which makes it impossible to provide the care that consumers need.” said Robert Espinoza, vice president of policy for the New York-based Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, a direct care workforce research organization.

At times professional caregivers complement family caregivers and they are the primary choice for supporting seniors in the daily activities of life, such as eating, dressing and bathing. Over fifty percent of home caregivers only have a high school education or less, according to PHI, and the pay they receive is about equal to wages received by fast-food and retail workers. With the new push to give fast food workers $15.00 an hour the wage gap between the two could widen and cause more care aids to opt for flipping burgers. The working conditions can be very, very trying when they can go a few doors down the street to McDonald’s and make just as much if not more money. Employers now struggle to hire and keep home health care workers, who make a median hourly wage of $10.49 per hour, or about $13,800 per year, according to PHI. Two thirds of caregivers work part time.

However their wages might grow appreciably in the next few years due to the fact that the U.S. population is rapidly aging. About 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, according to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. Over half of them will need some type of long-term care eventually, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2016.

There are many nursing homes and assisted living facilities, but more and more seniors are looking to remain in their own homes as they grow older. You can’t replace the feeling of living in the home you might have lived in for decades and possibly raised your children in. We just completed a first floor addition for this reason and it will enable us to stay in our house longer.

The demand for personal caregivers is already more than the present supply some experts say. A real good reason for this is that we’re seeing an increased demand for home health care workers is a societal shift from putting seniors in a “home” and having them grow older in their own homes.

For many families, trying to navigate the maze of state regulated home care service agencies to locate the right caregiver won’t be easy, and it will be very expensive. The cost of home health care has increased over 6 percent just last year, according to a report published by Genworth Financial, a Virginia-based firm that sells long-term care insurance. That is 6 times the rate of inflation.

Consumers pay a national average of $22 an hour for home caregiver services, or over $49,000 a year, according to the report, which is based on studies with over 15,000 service providers.

Health insurance and Medicare do not completely cover these costs and while Medicaid does help cover care giver costs for seniors with chronic conditions who meet certain income requirements, most seniors do not qualify.

Home healthcare is one of the fastest growing occupations in the U.S., with the labor force expanding to 1.6 million over the last 10 years and another 600,000 jobs anticipated to be added over the next decade, according to PHI, the direct care research organization.

Low wages, a lack of training and isolation are a part of the cause for a significant turnover among caregivers and the ongoing shortage of workers for the industry. But maybe the hardest aspect of the job for many is not low wages but caring for patients when the relationship invariably comes to an end.