Holidays Can Be Lonely Time For Some In Community

BERLIN — Eighty-five-year-old Gerta Stover got her holiday shopping done early this year, and she didn’t even have to leave her apartment.

“I do all my shopping, and everything else online,” said the Gull Creek Senior Living Facility resident in her wonderfully thick German accent. “Why would I want to go to the stores and deal with all the crowds? At my age, this is much better.”

Staying Active Is Key

Stover grew up in Berlin, Germany, and a twist of fate landed her at the Berlin, Md. facility several years ago. Mary Bohall, Gull Creek’s Marketing Director, is quick to say that Gull Creek is more of close knit community than it is a facility and its thanks in part to passionate staffers and “rays of sunshine” like Gerta Stover.

Yet, Bohall says this time of year is often difficult for seniors.

“The key is to keep them active and replace their losses with gains,” said Bohall.

Those losses can include mobility, their driver’s license or even friends and family members. Oftentimes, the transition from living on their own to a community like Gull Creek can also be challenging. Yet, Bohall says elder folks who live at Gull Creek have a better chance of keeping up that holiday cheer.

“The older generation is under the misguidance where they think that staying home is the answer,” said Bohall. “It can be very depressing when you get older and you have a two-story house that you’ve had for 50 years and you can’t use the second floor more than once or twice a year, if at all. The people who are alone in their home are much more likely to be depressed than people who live in communities like Gull Creek.”

Stover sees activities as a way to stay sharp. She volunteers, she’s walked in the Berlin Christmas parade twice, and she has joined a growing number of seniors mastering the Internet.

“Our job as caretakers for our residents is to introduce them to things like technology at a basic level”, said Bohall. “The over 65 demographic is the largest growing age group on social media. Our population has changed dramatically in the past few years as far as our residents’ psyche goes. I always say 81 is the new 71. They are so much younger now, and so much more active.”

Aging Baby Boomers

Yet, while they may act or even feel younger, the unequivocal fact remains that our country’s population is getting older and supplying care for our elder residents must continue to increase at the same rate as the demand.

In 2012, the US Census Bureau estimated that the population of Americans over the age of 65 was at 43.1 million. By 2050, that number will almost double, to almost 84 million people. By 2030, 20 percent of the nation’s population will be over 65, which is a 7-percent spike since 2010 and an 11-percent rise since 1970.

Concurrently, baby boomers are the highest rising demographic for depression, according to a 2015 Gallup poll which found that one in seven baby boomers say they are currently being treated for depression. Furthermore, the study estimates that one in five baby boomers will be diagnosed with depression in their lifetime.

“It used to be separation of the masses,” Bohall said. “We would segment the elderly from the rest of the population. But now, the elderly travel more, they go out on the town just like they did when they were younger, they volunteer and they are very active.”

Mobility A Factor For Many

But while many seniors are active and ambitious like Gerta Stover, many are not as mobile. Monty is in his early 80’s and lives at the Woodlands senior living facility in Ocean Pines.

He has been through a slew of health problems over the past few years and isn’t very mobile these days, but he’s usually found on one of the recliners in the main lobby, as staffers say, running the place.

“Monty is always right,” said Cindy Phillips, the assisted living manager at the Woodlands, “and he’ll be the first to tell you just how right he is.”

The Woodlands, like many senior living facilities here, is completely full. Phillips says while this time of year brings a lot of the residents’ family members through the doors, there is also a lot of weeping that can be heard in the hallways.

“There are many of our residents who get very bummed out this time of year,” said Phillips. “They feel forgotten so we sit with them and try to decorate the place real nice so it feels like Christmas.”

Phillips says keeping the residents busy this time of year is reasonably easy, but the long winter months can be challenging.

“When I was 16, I used to ride my bike to the old folks home in my town,” said Phillips. “I’ve always loved the elderly and there is so much we can learn from them. But it’s such a shame how we sort of cast our elder residents aside in our society. This time of year, we just want to do the best we can to make sure that they have the best Christmas holiday they can regardless of whether or not they are with their own families or the one we have created for them here.”

About The Author: Bryan Russo

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Bryan Russo returned to The Dispatch in 2015 to serve as News Editor after working as a staff writer from 2007-2010 covering the Ocean City news beat. In between, Russo worked as the Coastal Reporter for NPR-member station WAMU 88.5FM in Washington DC and WRAU 88.3 FM on the Delmarva Peninsula. He was the host of a weekly multi-award winning public affairs show “Coastal Connection.” During his five years in public radio, Russo’s work won 19 Associated Press Awards and 2 Edward R. Murrow Awards and was heard on various national programs like NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, APM’s Marketplace and the BBC. Russo also worked for the Associated Press (Philadelphia Bureau) covering the NHL and the NBA and is a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter and composer.