Stories from the Fringe: Elders Learn to Live-And Cope-With Loneliness, Anxiety and Addiction

Aging Today, May/June 2012 | Go to article overview

Stories from the Fringe: Elders Learn to Live-And Cope-With Loneliness, Anxiety and Addiction


Statistics exist on the number of elders who are homeless, and how many might be mentally ill or drug addicted, but it might be a bit harder to find statistics on the effects of social isolation. What seems rare is to hear directly from those enduring this condition and how those in the aging services network offered them a way toward reconnection. Aging Today spoke with three older adults who talked about life on the fringe, and about how giving back helps them to hang on.

Social Isolation

Gabriel Delgado, age 69 Oakland, Calif.

PhotocourtesyBayArea Community Services

"Isolation, what does it mean to me? I have to *

look it up, and refresh my memory. I'm 69 years old. My memory is starting to go. But I sure know what it [isolation] feels like.

Unless I take one of my happy pills, then everything around me looks gloomy. Just another day. No one to talk to, or you miss someone to just be there next to you to talk. Perhaps to reminisce, share a cookie or a cup of coffee.

Fear also steps in, and I think fear and isolation go hand in hand, because that is what I feel sometimes. I can't walk as fast or defend myself, my reflexes aren't as quick as they used to be, and I have some medical issues-so I stay home. Sometimes I would like to be out there in the world doing all the things I used to do, but I can't. I've never been much of a person to call people for support; and it's very hard to change.

So I volunteer during the day at Lavender Seniors (part of Bay Area Community Services). And I make myself reach out to people, and realize that there are many others like myself.

We have lost many of our good old-time friends to the AIDS epidemic, and the few of us that are left behind find it very hard to start new friendships. So much time has gone by, and how do I make those close friendships I cultivated at the ages of 20 and 30, and kept for years? How can I re-create it again when there's not too many years left?"

Anxiety, Apprehension, Depression

Chuck R. Cook, age 66 Hayward, Calif.

Photo courtesy Bay Area Community Services

"For many years, I had a history of mental illness, and recovered through a lot of caring people. I wasn't too gung-ho about lots of adult day centers, sometimes it was just another doggone therapy that benefits some and not others. People in those places are non-reachable. I lived in and out of board-and-care homes.

Finally I ended up in Hedco House in Hayward. …

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