"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Thursday, March 24, 2016

You've Got a Friend

     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.

     Several years ago one of B's mother's friends, a woman named Dorothy, made the same move. Dorothy was even older than B's mother and had gone blind. One evening soon after Dorothy moved to assisted living, B's mother got a phone call. It was Dorothy. They talked for a while, not about anything important, just about their day, their medications, their meals, their families. They were on the phone for about 45 minutes.

     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."


Bob Lowry said...

A heartfelt thanks, Tom, for your moving story and publicity for this worthwhile project. I am likely to be one of the volunteers who receives phone calls. I can't think of a better way to immediately make someone's life brighter with just a little effort on my part.

Let's keep our collective fingers crossed that the team working on this initiative can make it all happen the way they dream it will.

Bob Lowry said...

Update: I posted a link to your excellent post on the Satisfying Journey Facebook page. Your help is very much appreciated.

Carole said...

Such an inspiring story! I'm hoping that the project attracts enough volunteers to meet the demand. Seems like such a simple thing, talking on the phone. But the power of good listening skills is enormous.

Celia said...

What a great idea. Hope it keeps expanding.

Meryl Baer said...

A great idea. Isolation, boredom, inability to get around and the resulting depression can be helped with the simplest gestures, the only investment our time.

DJan said...

This is wonderful to learn about, Tom. I will check it out, although I have recently started a volunteer position that is taking too much of my time. So for the moment I won't be joining this excellent program. :-)

stephen Hayes said...

My mother lives in a retirement facility and every Wednesday afternoon she has an hour long phone conversation with a woman to floors up, who after five years my mother had never met face to face.

Anonymous said...

That is excellent advice. Right now, I have a husband who is retired like me, so I really don't need to get on the phone with anyone.

joared said...

Good that she's still able at her age to function at Assisted Living Level and hasn't needed to move to the Skilled Nursing Care level where many would especially appreciate such phone interaction.
This sounds like an excellent opportunity for elders to have social contact. Networks within all the various settings would be good, if none present. I expect those who are hard-of-hearing would be appreciative, too, but more challenging as I think of some elder family members. Changing one's living quarters whether from their home or different levels of care becomes more difficult with each move as functionality changes.

Madeline Kasian said...

A great project! I have come out the other side of a somewhat disruptive start to our retirement.I feel I could be of help on the phone to help others navigate a lonely space, or who just need to vent a little about how it is going for them.I am fortunate that I have regrouped and we've made some changes in our approach, but I know some folks need a leg up and a kind listener. I think if I could have made a call or two,I would have felt better,sooner. Thanks to you and Bob for sharing this!

olynjyn said...

My ex-mother-in-law also lives in PA and will be 100 years old on June 14 of this year. She lives alone, does all her own cleaning, bill paying, laundry (which is in the basement and requires many stair steps), she also does her own cooking. My daughter, who lives in NC got married last November in PA so her grandmother could attend, she is her only living grandparent and I think grandma got more cheers at the wedding than the bride and groom. She uses a walker, but she gets around just fine. She was in an arranged marriage that didn't work out, only has an 8th grade education, and learned to drive at age 67 when her 2nd husband got cancer. He was a smoker and so she was around unfiltered Camels and pipe smoke daily as he drove her for her grocieries and hair appointments, etc. She liked her whiskey sours and store bought cookies...maybe they are the secret to her long life and independence...her mind was clear as a bell at the wedding...she knew where she was and who everyone was. The young kids loved it and I know she loved their loving her spirit!

Jane said...

What a lovely story!

Anonymous said...

You've reminded me I need to call a couple of people today. Thanks Tom

b+ (Retire In Style Blog) said...

What an absolutely beautiful idea! We moved to a 55+ community several year ago and some of our neighbors are very elderly. We are very close, check on each other but not on a schedule. Those that need a regimen would greatly benefit from something like this.

In our park we have a check-in service and I think it is a lifesaver for many.

Thank you Tom. Isn't Bob a wonderful resource? I value his insights.

Barbara said...

What a wonderful idea. I remember my Grandmother used to call my daughter every day when daughter got home from school. Luckily my daughter was very sweet but one day she complained that Grandmother didn't have to check up on her every day. I told my daughter maybe she was just lonely and wanted to talk for a few minutes - just a few. Could daughter spare it? Sure, when she looked at it that way. I think it is a wonderful thing and I hope it takes off like a rocket.

Janette said...

Wonderful post. Thanks

Home Decor Tools said...

This is the right webpage for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You know a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I really would want to…HaHa). You definitely put a fresh spin on a subject that's been written about for years.
Wonderful stuff, just great!