Dementia and Pinched Nerves? or Boredom and Loneliness?

I am seventy-eight, but though forgetful, I’m reasonably functional and can still drive. I have a friend who is ninety-two, another who is only seventy, and one who is seventy-seven. All live either with a working daughter or alone.

None of them drive anymore and the seventy-seven year old seemed to be sinking into severe dementia the last couple of years. She lives an hour away from me and I have been knee deep in grandchildren with school out, and when I finally grab some time to call her to see if I can take her to lunch, she says she is too tired or feeling badly. But, I saw her today and she was as sharp as a whip. She has a care-giver now and had played bridge yesterday and was very excited about playing in a tournament tomorrow. She explained all the challenges to the brain from playing bridge to me. She didn’t need to just get out, she needed something that challenged her and gave her a sense of accomplishment.

At sixty-five the seventy year old was mistakenly diagnosed as having inoperable lung cancer and told she might have only five years to live. She is a talented artist. But, she lives alone and the last few years she has gone from depressed to the point of being suicidal to having frequent panics about her health that involve trips to the ER. Her only daughter is a very successful career woman and is often out of the country.

The ninety-two year old broke her hip two years ago and sits home alone out in the country about twenty-five minutes away from both town and me, because all her children work. She struggles with depression, but has no interests or talents to keep her mentally stimulated. She reads some, but her eyesight is failing and makes it difficult.

I have spent the last four or five years either visiting with them or taking them in pairs out to lunch, shopping, to museums or to women’s study groups. But as each has become more unsteady, using canes or walkers, I have needed to take them each separately because of fear of one of them falling. My life includes a husband who still works and has health issues, and eleven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, some of whom have handicaps, so I try to spend quality time with them. I have a blog with posts that I hope to turn into a book. At seventy-five I started doing some very small gigs as a stand-up comic. I lead worship services once a month and several times a year give presentations to women’s groups I’m in. What I am seeing is that when I am busy elsewhere, often there’s no one to help these women get out of the house, and they go down hill rapidly both mentally and physically.

Sadly, since my husband and I have a chance to travel abroad this fall, and there are a lot of preparations and planning involved, lately I have less and less time for my friends. I feel both guilty and resentful. The women were there for me in earlier stages of my life and I want to be there for them. But often I have to neglect home, husband and my writing trying to be there for them.

Our small church women’s group has one member dying with ALS, another with early onset dementia, several are shut in’s with debilitating physical issues, two women are newly widowed, another woman’s husband has Alzheimer’s and a couple of women are nursing their husbands back to health after major surgeries.  There are more women needing help than there are helpers.

I was all for women’s freedom to have careers and get equal pay for their work. I don’t think all women are designed to be mothers anymore than all men are designed to be plumbers. But now even women who have no desire to have a career need to work because the economy has adjusted to two paycheck families. There are simply no family caregivers anymore.

Sadly my three friends didn’t see a need to become computer and internet savvy and now it’s probably too late for them to feel brave enough to try. I think this is the easiest way for the women coming along right behind us to prepare for a day when they may be home-bound.

Even the buses created to take the elderly to doctors, grocery stores and Senior Centers are challenging. Some have backs that let down for wheel chairs, but are not really easy for someone on a walker or using a cane. In rural areas the fees can be an obstacle, particularly for taking people to a more urban area for medical care. The timing for people going different places often leaves sick or crippled people waiting literally hours to get home.

Our medical miracles are keeping us alive, but our options and quality of life are diminishing. This is the challenge the fifty year olds of today will soon be facing.

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About Eileen

Mother of five, grandmother of eleven, great-grandmother of seven, 1955 -1959 Rice University in Houston, TX. Taught primary grades; Was Associate Post Director of Religious Education at Ft. Campbell, KY; Consultant on the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator; Presently part time Administrative Assistant/Bookkeeper for Architect husband of fifty-seven years. Blog: Laughter: Carbonated Grace

Posted on July 3, 2015, in B4Peace, Decision Making, Ethics, faith, fear for the future, historical perspective, Humor, Mental Health and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Myra Berghane

    This really resonates with me. I’m impressed with what a good friend you are. Like you, I try to “be there” for my friends who need me, but often I just don’t have the energy to do more than get myself through the day. My life is full and I am blessed to be as healthy as I am, despite my many aches and pains. But I’m learning that loving myself is as important as loving my neighbor and if my well is empty, I can’t give anyone else a drink. Yet I feel guilty. My prayer is that God will show me whom to love each day and give me the grace to do it.

    PS Your thoughts on the internet make a lot of sense. My homebound friends who are tech literate have a much happier life than those who refuse to master the computer. (However, I draw the line at walking around with eyes glued to an i-phone. I just want to talk, text and be able to take pictures and send them. Maybe I’m not so tech savvy after all!)

  2. You are right about letting God show us whom He wants us to love each day (including ourselves!) And sometimes loving means letting someone suffer the consequences of bad decisions.

  3. Thanks for sharing and giving me glimpses into various lives at later stages. I feel that one should prepare for old age. Being healthy is a precious gift. Investing in other lives brings fulfillment at any age and keeps loneliness at bay.

    There’s only one of you, so there’s only so much you can do. But opportunities exist for the rest of us to do more. This is an age demographic I hadn’t really given much thought to. Once again, I thank you for sharing.

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