I Relate More to My Elderly Neighbors Than to People My Own Age

Whenever people asked me what that first MS attack felt like, I was frustrated and at a loss. I threw out words such as fatigue and weakness only to hear them say they feel the same things, what’s the big deal? But one day a woman gave me feedback that I’ve repeated many times over all these years since: It’s kind of like getting very old all of a sudden.

Suddenly aging

It is! Now I tell people it was like suddenly aging from 41 to 90 overnight. Of course I had no idea what 90 feels like back then. And heck, at age 60, I still don’t know. But there is one thing that is different now. I live in a senior community full of 90-year-olds, so I’m gaining a better understanding of why that ageing analogy is a pretty accurate one.

I just adore my neighbors. Most of them are widows living alone with the exception of a married couple in their 9th decade of life, and one single man living next door to me: my 64-year-old brother.

Getting to know my neighbors

Ann is 98 but doesn’t look it, probably from a combination of having good genes and a history of competitive ballroom dancing. Sweet and polite, Ann has declined since she moved in two years ago. She has to use a walker now and lately, her brain is cranking out some hilarious delusions. After my brother moved in next door to me, Ann insisted he was sharing the apartment with a short, fat guy with no beard. (My brother is 6’3” and has a close-cropped gray beard.) “I see him go in and out of your brother’s apartment a lot,” she elaborated. “It’s me you’re seeing,” I told her, “I’m the short fat guy with no beard.” She looked me up and down with pursed lips and said nothing. I don’t think she was convinced.

Rose, a charming and feisty Italian woman who knows everything about everybody, just turned 89. She doesn’t drive anymore. She has an older sister who is 95 that still drives and is completely independent. During the past year Rose has lost 40 pounds from a digestive problem her docs can’t pinpoint. She tries to explain about vomiting after eating and that one doc thinks it’s a thyroid issue. She’s lost so much weight that her dentures don’t fit anymore and she leaves them in a cup, preferring to speak with a toothless lisp. She isn’t the only neighbor here who can’t wear their teeth for one reason or another.

Helping each other

Money is one issue. We are all poor here. My neighbors help each other in beautiful ways, and I only know this because some of them tell me what’s going on. The help is quiet and invisible, there are no showboats among the old. Help is there when needed. There’s an unspoken understanding that nobody wants to be a burden to their children, so people chip in to at least help maintain the ailing person’s dignity by cleaning a bathroom or a kitchen, or picking up medications, or groceries. It creates some illusion of independence for as long as possible. Nobody wants to lose that.

I’ve seen two neighbors develop dementia to the point where they are suddenly “disappeared” and their kids spirit them away to a nursing home. It is a fate everyone fears. It’s not that the old ones are waiting for the ax to fall. Not consciously anyway. Many are cheery and upbeat despite feeling anxious or in pain. It softens the fatefulness that hangs heavy in these hallways. Our uncertain futures are too scary to really think about. But repressed fear eventually makes its way into our minds and behaviors. Perhaps that is why my neighbor Betty has been suffering from anxiety.

Worrying about each other

I stopped Betty in the hallway the other day and told her how beautiful she looked, decked out in nice jewelry, a new haircut and a lavender outfit that illuminated her blue eyes. She told me she needed to hear that today so much and began to cry, apologizing for her emotionalism. She explained that it just comes over her suddenly. I asked if she’s told her doctor, maybe medication would help. “Oh yes, I’m taking some new drug but it isn’t working very well.” “I hope you’ll call your doc,” I repeated, my advocate brain kicking in. “You might just need a dose adjustment.” She smiled. “I will,” she promised, and disappeared inside her apartment. I couldn’t tell whether she just said that so I wouldn’t worry. I hope she called her doc, but I’ll worry about her regardless. She spends a lot of time alone in her apartment. That is her choice.

Nobody has to be alone

Here, nobody has to be alone if they don’t want to be. They congregate in the common area and often wander the halls very late at night. Insomnia shortens their sleep. Late one night, struggling with my own unquiet brain, I got out of bed and made my way to the common area. Five neighbors appeared from each of the wings, ghostlike in their white hair and long robes. “Is there a full moon or something?” I joked. “Oh, we do this a lot,” said Jan. “There’s always somebody walking around at all hours.”

So many restless, unquiet minds among the elderly. So many among people with MS, too. I’m sharing these stories with you to illustrate how much we have in common with people whose bodies have been wearing out slowly over a lot more years than we have lived. But it isn’t a downer for me at all, living among the elderly.

Learning, loving, and understanding

Months before I moved here, I lost my mother to lung cancer. We were very close. It’s been comforting to live close to women who are my mother’s age. In a way, it feels redemptive. I harbor a lot of guilt and regret for being insensitive and clueless towards both my parents as they aged. I just didn’t know. But I’m learning. By listening to, hugging, and supporting my neighbors, I hold the images of my parents in my mind and, by proxy, I give them the love and understanding I didn’t give when they were living.

It isn’t quite the same thing. But it helps.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (23)
  • Nancy W
    1 year ago

    I thought of this article and shared it with an older friend the other day.
    Some of my volunteer activities have stopped in the last few months. But I guess this was meant to be since I have helped two good friends lately when they needed me.
    A few weeks ago, a friend could not leave her house because of diarrhea so I went to the store and got her some Imodium. On Monday, I found out a friend was having a lot of pain and her doc recommended she go to the emergency room. I called her and found out she was considering not going. So I offered to drive her. While we were sitting waiting for the doc, she told me she was so glad that I had called because she was thinking of not going because she didn’t want to go alone. I read her part of your article to show her how I could relate.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    1 year ago

    NancyW, I hope your friend is feeling better. How nice of you to check in with her and and give her the support she needed to get emergency care. You are a wonderful friend. Thank you so much for sharing that experience. Hope you’re well, too!

    Kim

  • DaveR
    1 year ago

    After having MS since 1985 I have gone through things I could have ever had nightmares over. I in the last 32 plus years I have lost control of one eye, both legs an arm and I went from being able to draw and write like an architect I went to college for to being unable to read my own writing. At this point the last drug my current neuroigist hoped would help failed and now my lyphocyte count is too low to take a chance on taking any MS drugs. I honestly wish I would have never started the MS drugs because I honestly feel that most caused me more problems then actually helped. I have been in the emergency room four times with antifolatic shock and if it wasn’t for my loving beautiful wife of 35 years I may have died in the emergency room. MS is not a fun time but the only way I have made it thru all these years is finding humor in everything. I have been on disability since 2000 and at this point I am having a difficult time in finding humor about loosing more control of my legs. I walk and try to work out daily but the new Ocrevus (chemo) caused myself more harm then good. I cannot take any other MS drug and I hate taking oain killers so I do my best for my body to create it’s own pain killers by working out. I played rugby in college and ran everyday until I came down with MS which I miss that running feeling. I found enjoyment now in trait my new German Shepherd puppy which is harder when I can walk enough to exercise him completely. I can say without a doubt the MS changed my life and like everyone with MS when I was younger in no way did I say ” someday I want to come down with the MS my mother had so I can be disabled when I get old”.. I am thankful I did not go thru what my mom did when she was 16 and because she couldn’t see, talk, or walk they pulled her teeth and cut off her hair thinking she couldn’t feel it. My mom said she thinks she passed out after the second tooth, but just thinking about what she went through makes me feel like a whimp when I have neuropathy pain. When I first came down with MS all they had was steriods to deal with exaserbations and those steriods damaged my liver. As most people with MS know we all can catch other diseases that end in “isn’t” like arthritis,colitus etc. I was diagnosed with both and I ended up having a complete colostomy which actually saved my life. The bad thing was I had the surgery in August of 2000 and walked out of the hospital after loosing all my body weight and muscle and in September the MS really became active and I could no longer walk. I would not agree to buying a wheelchair and I walked between chairs and basically defyed the odds the odds in the fact the MS distroyed that part of my brain that controls walking and yet I can drive and walk but right now I am back to using a cane. I usually can determine my limitations but not knowing right now because of the chemo how far I can push myself is extremely difficult. No one knows for sure because Ocrevus is so new and they had to putting so much into it for the FDA fast track, but the way I now feel is I am having some reaction to not getting the chemo infusion at 6 months. I did not throw up or anything like that being addicted to the drug, but I honestly have never had this much pain since I came down with MS. I broke my jaw,ribs, fingers and keg playing rugby but none of those came close to the pain I currently have. Tysabri gave me back my ability to walk again but it also was the drug that started my lyphocyte drop. I was told in 2009 that I may be coming down with PML and back then it took 7 weeks to wait for the results and this was after my neurologist said ” I will run a JC Virus test on you but if you have it you will be dead in a year”. In that 7weeks I tried to find any type of cure which only one doctor in New York doing fetal stem cell replacement off shore gave me the only glimmer of hope. When I was able to walk I tried to work again but because someone got my personal information after hacking into this world wide company I had Identity Theft which cleaned our account out in 2006. I had to try working and because Social Security didn’t stop my disability when I was making good money again the people who took our money in the Identity Theft also took Social Securities even though I begged then to tell me where to send the money before it was taken. SS stopped my disability from 2096 thru 2009 which I worked for several companies not exceeding the six month rule. I had the IRS audit me every year for four years because someone used my SS number to work in Philadelphia which I have never been out there. So during the fine between 2096 thru 2009 most of the money I made kept us in our home we bought even after claiming bankruptcy in 2000. When SS decided I paid enough money back they restarted my disability only to have the local Social Security office who can’t navigate their own system decided I should be penalized for working when my disability was stopped. I had a water leak in this old house we were able to buy and my wife’s asthma went crazy where I found one room where we kept files was covered with mold. I just threw everything away which included pictures, marriage license, birth certificates and what information I sent back east to SS. When Social Security took me to social security court I was unable to get copies from social security of the documents I sent in and this local office did not know how to listen to my recorded calls. I had saved $22,000 to go to the Mayo in Minnesota but after I lost in court Social Security just took every dime we had in savings and the worse thing about that is it was easier having the Identity Theft because the FBI never took it far enough to find out who took our money and I know the woman who is the manager at the local SS office. Because I had dementia from my MS which made me forget that NY insurance book of business was my money I let the insurance agent who owned the office cheat me out of a $47 million book of business. The MS has ruined my life in many ways but I have learned so much in what I should not do I am amazed how honest people like my wife and I have not violated the law in anyway, but we lost more money then most people will make in a lifetime. We live day by day on disability which social security is keeping $50/month until 2037 which I won’t live that long, but in the last 4 years we got two new granddaughters who just by smiling makes my wife and I forget about our problems. Then before our second granddaughter was born my oldest came down with MS which really set me back. When I was growing up watching my mother battle MS I was always told I will never catch it, and I found out how my mom felt when my oldest son came down with this disease. What I have learned over the past years fighting this disease is that it won’t kill you unless you ignore your body. A guy who was my best friend since kinda garden came down with progressive MS and he wouldn’t listen to me in what he shouldn’t do. He blamed his beautiful day for me wife for him getting worse and in the end he was resentful to me because I was able to walk again without a cane or Walker. I couldn’t bring myself to going to the nursing home to see him and a year later he passed. His two sons took over operation of the ranch and I was told they have if actually making more money then their dad ever made. Those of us that have MS all need to learn our limitations and neuroigist have gone to college to learn all the scientific resons and drugs to make us better hut I can honestly say we know more about our bodies and we all need to take a positive step and make sure we all exercise and eat properly and hopefully someday the secentist will come out with a cure. I personally have too much damage on my brain and have damaged my body after taking the MS immunity lowering drugs that I probably won’t be allowed to get the cure even if they come up with something. I was told it is numbers game and if I got on a new drug and I died that would damage their numbers of success. I said a long time ago to use me like a lab rat so my kids don’t come down with MS. I failed on doing that but someday I hope to be able to donate just body to science in the hopes they can figure out how I have been able to defy odds in keeping myself out of a wheelchair. I believe it is because I just won’t give up and walking on stilts when I was younger helped. I have no feeling in my thighs down into my feet. Also. I have no feeling in my arms down into my hands and NY lower the cost back. Even though I don’t have any feeling I still try my hardest to do things I love doing, and even though woodworking is a little hazardous I am also getting back into photography again. I probably will never get my money back unless I can find a great employment lawyer who is while to take the chance in reviewing my insurance book of business but my wife and try daily to be happy with what we have. I am disabled and unable to work, but I look at all the positives in my life including I met my wife at work and even though our life has been extremely difficult we have never fallen out of love for each other. Yes I should be depressed and some say suicidal with all the problems I have, but if I did that I would not be able to see what amazing things are going to happen in the future. Commiting suicide to me is the worse thing you can ever do for the people who love even though it may alleviate your pain and problems. Keep a positive attitude and even though my chances are deminsing daily I am still hoping for a cure that will also help me.

  • loosetooth
    1 year ago

    What an insightful and moving article! Thank you for writing it. I’ve always liked being around older people but have never really contemplated what it would be like living that closely around them (or that many). And—the analogy of speed-aging is right on target!

  • swampdoctor dave
    1 year ago

    Just another great article flowing from your “pen” onto paper Kim! Thank you once again for your insights into our mysterious (and sometimes hilarious) lives with MS. I don’t go out much, I don’t care to socialize much at all. It is to taxing. The only “old” people I socialize with are my swim buddies at the pool. It was good for me today to click on the link and see your writing. Keep it up and besides, who says that feeling “old” i such a bad thing?

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    1 year ago

    So good to hear from you again, Dave, it’s been ages! You’re right, feeling old isn’t such a bad thing after all! Hope you’re relatively stable these days and staying warm way up there in the Arctic. –Kim

  • Nancy W
    1 year ago

    I have always been around people at least a little older then me ever since I had my first kid at 18. Seems the people my own age were always at a different point in their lives than I was.

    I was diagnosed at 47 and retired disabled at 51.That was when I joined my local Women’s Club. It has been almost 11 years and the women from the women’s club are my best most dependable friends. Most of them are more than 10 years older than me. I don’t even notice that anymore. Only problem is many of them have more energy than I do. 10 of us have a weekly MahJong game. It is dummy when we are playing and lose track of whose turn it is or someone makes an illegal move. We just chalk it up to “experience”

  • Carol
    1 year ago

    It is good that you were able to join a local Women’s Club. It is important to get out there and be around people if one is able. There are so many of us that are lonely, depressed, and feel the isolation that goes along with our MS.

  • Nancy W
    1 year ago

    Thanks for your reply Carol. I experience that loneliness too. I am grateful for the opportunity to get out. But, I have to pace myself. Just thought it was good for me to acknowledge your comment so maybe we can both be a little less lonely.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    1 year ago

    Nancy W, thank you for sharing your lovely personal story about the women’s club. Especially love that ‘experience’ reasoning. Works for me, lol! –Kim

  • Nancy W
    1 year ago

    I meant funny, not dummy, but it is kind of dumb and funny,

  • Julie
    1 year ago

    I loved this article.
    My husband of 30 years left me not too long after my diagnosis. I needed somewhere to live and decided I wanted to be closer to my kids. My daughter told me about a neighborhood being built in a small town near her. As the realtor showed me around, I realized this was a retirement community. I told him I wasn’t old enough yet to buy here. He assured me they make acceptions for people, for instance, one with a disability. I couldn’t pass it up. The elderly have a lot of amenities that I need like a single story floor plan, doors wide enough for wheelchairs. I wasn’t in one yet but you have to be realistic and plan ahead.

    That was 11 years ago. I am 58 now and just barely old enough to live here. Some have looked down on my living there but for the most part, I get along with everyone. Like you said, we have a lot in common with them. I find them warm and inviting and generous to a fault. I had a fall in my front yard a couple of years ago and before I could even sit up, 5 of them were running to my side yelling CALL 911!! I asked them not to, I’ve fallen many times before. They were still concerned, I was just embarrassed.

    For the most part, it’s been a good experience. I’ve enjoyed the quiet of the neighborhood that I may not have gotten had I moved into a family filled neighborhood. I’m close enough now that my grandkids come here after school until their parents get home from work. It’s a win-win for me.

  • DaffyDuck
    1 year ago

    Hi Kim – Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and experience. It is indeed very difficult to give any kind of description of how it feels to be in my body. One of my friends responds to me by saying – “I know how you feel. I’m tired and ache all over, too. You probably don’t have MS; you’re just getting older.” To which I usually reply with something about the lesions on my brain. I believe she means well. But there is no question about my diagnosis. I’m 61 now and I’ve often said to my husband that I feel 91. I’ve wondered if even a healthy 91 year old feels better or moves better than me. My 91 year old landlord used to cut the grass and take care of the yard. He and his 90 year old wife were on the senior bowling team in town and were so proud when they won and their picture was in the paper. I’d have a real hard time doing yard work or bowling. Not sure that I could do either. I definitely relate to people older than me more than people my age. Especially where I live. People my age are out hiking and bicycling and skiing. Heck, I see somebody walking down the sidewalk and they aren’t staggering or walking with a cane and I think ‘I wish I could do that!’ And then I see some little bent-over old woman with a cane or walker hobbling around the store and I’m thinking that’s how I feel. The struggle is real for those of us with MS. Even if we can’t convince others. If you can follow me around for 24 hours, you might begin to understand.

  • Carol
    1 year ago

    I cringe every time I hear “I know how you feel.” You just don’t know at all. We are truly the only ones that know how you feel. It is so very hard to describe what we go through and I don’t think they will really understand.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. We’ll be okay as long as we keep looking for those who inspire us. Sometimes the elderly are the only ones that fit the bill. –Kim

  • potter
    1 year ago

    I help take care of my 94 year old mother in-law, I walk just a tad faster than she does but we have a equal amount of aches and pains. She is starting to decline so I am spending more time running her to doctor appointments and shopping with her. She was driving until a couple of weeks ago when she lost the implant lens from her cataract surgery. I feel the same way as you, may be I could have been more supportive of my parents. They died 20 years ago. I have watched as other people have adopt her after their parents have died. I think there is a innate need for mothering. Potter

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    1 year ago

    Love your last thought, potter. I think you’re right about the need for mothering. Thank you for sharing your insights, you always move me and make me think. –Kim

  • DeniseC
    1 year ago

    Thanks Kim for your article. Very insight. Think I might take on a few of your habits.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    1 year ago

    DeniseC, thank you for your comments. We need to take care of each other for our own sakes. –Kim

  • LuvMyDog
    1 year ago

    Great article. I have not related to people my own age for quite some time. Most of them were married with kids and doing whatever those types of people do. Me…I no longer did so many of the activities I used to do and began staying home more and more.
    Fast forward, one of the nicest, sweetest and most compassionate people I know…a 94 year old lady who is just one of those people that you have to describe as, one in a million.
    She’s old enough to be my mother but I prefer going out to lunch or dinner with her and spend time listening to her reminisce about her life many years back.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    1 year ago

    Wonderful that you have her in your life. The old ones have lived so many experiences. Careers, tragedies, losses, joys. All with a sense of humor, too. Thank you for sharing your personal story. –Kim

  • MArroyo
    1 year ago

    Thanks so much for this wonderful article. I can really relate. My health problems make my body much more like a 84 year old than a healthy 64 year old. I’m considering a senior living facility and think I’ll fit right in too. It sounds like you found a wonderful, supportive place.

  • Kim Dolce moderator author
    1 year ago

    I hope you’ll find that place, MArroyo. Thank you for commenting. –Kim

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