'What on earth is the point of my life?' Molly (not her real name) asks me.
The frail, weary to her bone 92 year old looks at me as her shaky hands struggle to adjust a stubbornly troublesome hearing aid.
'All I do is wait for people to come and help me', she explains, 'from one carer to the next..'
She goes on to tell me that last night she was too weak to walk from the living room to her bed and spent a 'dreadfully uncomfortable night' sat up in her TV chair. 'I've had enough', she says quietly.
I arrived this morning as Molly had her twice weekly nurse visit to redress her sore legs with fresh bandages. High pitch screams of pain pierced right through me as I walked up the stairs to her flat.
Her feet have been a source of grief for many years but have worsened drastically over the past two. 'The pain is unbearable ' and the Dr started prescribing Morphine to help alleviate it.
'You poor thing', I say as I hold her hand, 'I could hear you screaming all the way from downstairs.. I thought a cat was being strangled..'
'I am tired of all of this', she says with her wise, ocean blue eyes gazing into mine, 'I've had enough'.
Desperate to raise her spirit I ask if she is looking forward to her coming 93rd birthday.
Her face lights up a little. 'Oh yes' she says with a cheerful, all be it faint spark in her eye. '..my carer will be taking me out to lunch.. If we can manage it that is.'
If they do manage to leave the flat, this would be such a rare occasion for Molly, it is better described as coming up for air and not an outing; hers is a thoroughly solitary existence.
Like so many in their 90's, 80's and 70's, her friends and close family members are long gone. The only people Molly sees now are the twice daily carers she pays for privately.
What does your carer do? I ask her
'The morning carer gets me out of bed, takes me to the toilet, gives me a good wash, helps me get dressed, cooks my breakfast and tidies up the flat if there is time.
The night carer gets my dinner ready, helps me wash and takes me to the toilet. She also gets my bed ready for me..my eyesight is terrible and I can only walk very slowly with a frame you see..'
So between the morning carer's visit at 9am and the 7-8pm evening one, you are on your own..what do you do for nearly 12 hours on your own? I wonder
'..When my eyesight was better I could read a little and watch television but I can hardly see anything now... so I just sit in my chair really..I try not to drink much so I don't have to walk to the toilet by myself'.
Is this what you imagined old age life to be? I ask curiously as she struggles with her hearing aid again.
'No', she says, I never thought it will be like this..I used to always wish people a long life but not anymore. It is not a blessing, it is a curse..I wouldn't wish this on anyone now.. I really envy my mum', she adds with a quivering voice, 'she died in her sleep'.
I wonder what she considers to be the worst thing about old age.
With her hearing aid firmly in place, the reply is swift to come; 'the loneliness, definitely the loneliness..no one to talk to all day, day after day..it drives you mad.. it is not human really..'
Loneliness IS tough I remark sympathetically
' I cannot tell you how painful it is', she says, voice still quivering, 'it eats you up inside and there is nothing you can do about it..I can't go out..that's the thing..if you are too weak to leave your house, even just to go to the shops, you cannot see anyone..'
Molly is right, social isolation does eat away at you. Recent research restates the obvious, naming it as the route to a speedier functional decline, dementia and Alzheimer's.
The only solution to social isolation is social interaction. A person like Molly needs to be regularly visited by someone to converse with, someone who will take her out, 'even if just to the local shop' and rekindle some of her long lost zest for living.
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General of Age UK, describes 'disability, illness, problems with finances and lack of access to transport' as the main separators of people from family, friends and local community.
Perhaps the solution is bringing the community to the isolated individuals who are decaying in their lonely existence; perhaps we should consider something along the lines of church groups in Nigeria coming to a home bound member's home. In the UK this could be a book reading group, music appreciation group or indeed a socialising group.
Age UK's Befriending Service goes some way towards this where volunteers are matched with a socially isolated elderly person to whom they provide vital, life saving companionship. Social services and health professionals must ensure lonely individuals are aware of such a service and know exactly how to use it.
In my next blog, I speak with Age UK to find out what the biggest UK charity for the elderly is doing to alleviate the suffering of this charmingly humble community.
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