November 15, 2013

Social Isolation Is a Powerful Mortality Risk Factor

This is alarming in many ways and gives me reason to continue to see some of the elderly that I do. Some of the people I see on a regular basis are married and others live alone. Even some of the elderly live in almost total isolation and never see their neighbors. They seldom leave to get food and one couple has almost no food. The last couple finally provided me with telephone numbers of two children that had not been home for several years even though they lived less than 150 miles distant.

In a phone call to the daughter, I was not believed when I said that the only food they had was what meals-on-wheels provided. I said the husband no longer drives and the wife should not either, but does go out once a month to get medications and a little food and then they stay home. I said both need to see a dentist and a doctor, but do not. The daughter said the family was just too busy to make it home. I said they will be dead before you decide that the grandchildren need to know their grandparents. I was not aware that the son-in-law was on an extension until he spoke up and said they would be there on Saturday. The daughter started to make excuses, but the son-in-law stated that he and the two children would be going. He then asked me to come by if I could and I said I would.

When I arrived that Saturday afternoon, the son-in-law met me outside and thanked me for the warning. He had been on the telephone with his brother-in-law and had relayed how things were and he would be there that evening with his family and would bring his sister. Because of the condition of the house, they would need to stay at a local motel, but the son-in-law was more upset at his wife for not believing me and refusing to come with him.

One elderly woman of 89 years had two daughters living less than 100 miles distant, but had not seen each other in over 10 years. They talked by telephone normally once a week, but that was the extent of what they did. .

I was able to get the telephone numbers and called them. I found out that neither of them would plan a trip home. I had asked the son of the above couple if he knew the two daughters of this woman and he thought a minute and then realized he did. He asked me to take him by her place. He and the elderly woman had a great chat and afterward he said he would see to it that they were called and tell them to come home. He also said he knew the husband of one of the two daughters and would call him and explain the situation to him to attempt to get one to come home at least.

He asked for my cell number and when he called that evening, he said that both son-in-laws would be there the next morning. I asked him if he knew why the two daughters were so adamant about not coming. He said that both had bad memories from their father who was abusive toward them and would not return to the house they had grown up in. The son then said that the reason why his sister did not want to come home as she always felt like she could never please her mother and had basically written her off. Even he admitted that he felt that way, as his mother had not approved of his wife.

The two son-in-laws were there the next morning and when they saw their mother-in-law; they apologized for their daughters and were happy they had brought the grandchildren to see her. The son of the elderly couple asked me to stop by and explain why I had wanted them to come home. I did and both son-in-laws said to understand that they wanted more for their mother-in-law and if there was anything that needed to be done, I would be reimbursed for any expenses. I said I was happy to hear this and handed them a notebook with receipts attached and totaled.

They split the bill and said they appreciated that I had itemized it. The one said that they were going to take their mother-in-law home for the week and see if the other daughter would accept her in their home for another week. I said that they should, if they had the time, come back and get the furnace inspected and he said that was what they were doing since one of the son-in-laws was the owner of a plumbing and heating business. He said that the furnace did need to be repaired or replaced, but they were not completed with the inspection. Both said they needed to get the children back for school on Monday, but that the one would be back on Monday to see what needed to be done.

They asked me to stay in touch and assured me that I had done the right thing in having called them and then having the son of the couple call them. The second son-in-law stated that he was going to encourage both daughters to come home at least once and see what was happening. Plus, he was going to see if his mother-in-law could handle a computer and then could use it to chat with the grandchildren. He said either he or his oldest son who could not make the trip would be able to work with her and teach her how to operate it. I said that I was somewhat knowledgeable with computers and could assist when they could not, if needed.

With that they returned to their families and I came back home. The following week the one son-in-law was back and said the furnace needed replacing and would have his crew bring a new one and install it. He had the permit and would be here until that was completed. He stated that his wife would be taking her mother for the next week and was happy that they did not need to come back to the house. Then they would make sure that their mother was included in the holidays and other times.

He stated that both appreciated what I had done for the mother-in-law and that they wanted me to continue if I could. Other the next few weeks when the woman was back in her home, she said that with me pushing, the barriers had been broken. She would be spending the holidays with family and how much she appreciated the two son-in-laws having worked with her. She was able to use the computer, the grandchildren were chatting with her four or five evenings per week, and that was something to relish. I have not needed to assist her and told her that she was a fast learner.

She said that in the week that she was with them, the oldest grandson had made sure that she could operate it. Then the weekend she came home, they had set everything up and because they had the connection installed the week they replaced the furnace, she was ready to use it. She even said that the son-in-laws were paying the cost and telling her to use it. Even her daughters were using it when they had time to chat with her. Then she said that one of the daughters would be home the coming week for the first time since they had left to go to college.

For this woman, I could now see happiness that I had not seen since I started to see her several years ago. Even the elderly couple are more at ease and have said it is good to see the grandchildren once or twice a month. I have noticed that there is more food in the house and the son has been home once a month to make sure that they have their medications. Even their son-in-law has been home later in the month to check on the food supply and both bring cooked food when they come. Then on top of all this, they have been taken to the dentist and doctor when needed.

I am just happy the couple and the elderly woman are seeing family more frequently and no longer have the social isolation from family at least. If you know of elderly people isolated or have elderly family members, do them the courtesy of visiting them regularly, seeing to needs if possible, and being a good friend or relative.

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