Fellow blogger Bob Lowry of A Satisfying Retirement suggested Jeremy Fischbach give me a call. Fischbach is starting a service for older people called The Happiness Amplification Project, based on the idea that a person's "well-being requires positive interpersonal interactions and support." (Yes, the project was started by some academics.) I'll tell you more specifically what the project does in a moment.
But first ... after we talked for a while, I had to tell Fischbach about my mother-in-law. She is going to be a hundred years old in June and now lives in an assisted living facility.
B's mother moved there a little over a year ago from an independent living facility. The transition was difficult. She went to a smaller apartment in a different building, where she is monitored around the clock and is dependent on the staff. Her neighbors are no longer gray haired people, but the oldest of the old, people who are shaky and frail, who use walkers and wheelchairs, who can't see or hear. And not incidentally, she is perfectly aware that once you go into assisted living you are on death's door.
The next evening Dorothy called again, about 7 p.m., and from then on the two women talked by phone every night. Sometimes they'd talk for only a few minutes; sometimes they'd stay on for an hour.
For Dorothy, this was a lifeline. She had family visit her once a week or so. But most of the time she was alone -- blind, incapable of getting around by herself, dependent on the nursing staff to wash her, dress her, get her to meals. But every day she could look forward to her evening conversation with B's mother. And B's mother began to look forward to these calls as well. They became a touchstone in her day.
Then last year, B's mother began to decline. Her memory problems got worse; she was unstable on her feet; and she had a couple of heart episodes that involved emergency attention.
So B's mother was moved over to assisted living. Now she was in the same building as her friend Dorothy. But they were on different floors, in different wings; with different dining rooms, and of course, neither one of them could go anywhere by themselves. So they hardly ever met each other in person. Still, Dorothy continued to call B's mother every night, and now, instead of B's mother providing the lifeline, Dorothy was a lifeline for B's mother. Dorothy provided a sympathetic ear, told her all about the new place, reassured her about the new regimen.
B's mother had a hard time adjusting to her new situation. For a couple of months we feared the worst. But eventually B's mother rallied. She became more alert; she seemed happier; she regained her will to live. And every night she continued to talk to her blind friend Dorothy, who by now couldn't even get down to the dining room anymore and took her meals in her room.
Today, B's mother has acclimated herself to her new facility. Now she's looking forward to her 100th birthday in June. The family is throwing a party for her. B's mother has even started bragging about her age and the upcoming celebration.
Dorothy died just before Christmas. It was a blow to B's mother. But at the time she was caught up with visiting family and lots of activities. Come January we worried that she might have a post-holiday letdown. But instead, B's mother picked up the phone. "Hello, Harriet?" she said.
And now it's B's mother who makes the call every evening, to an old friend still living in the independent facility.
So ... back to the Happiness project. Research shows that many retirees, especially older retirees, are lonely and bored and even sometimes depressed. The Happiness project offers a new free service that gives retirees the opportunity to phone another person and have a conversation with a sympathetic volunteer who understands what the retiree is going through. This is not therapy. It is human interaction with another person who enjoys listening to people and helping them -- who can lend an ear and perhaps offer a fresh perspective on how to meet the challenges of aging.
Right now, you have to go to the website and make an appointment to talk to someone. Eventually the project hopes to have an app for your smartphone so you can push a button and immediately be connected. If you're interested in learning more, go to the Happiness Amplification Project website to see the research, meet the team or schedule a call ... "whenever you want ... for however long you want ... to make you feel better."