She was just pausing at the entrance of the grocery store, I paused as well to ask if I could be of assistance. She said no, she just needed to stop for a minute for her eyes to adjust to the dim light of the store on this sunny August day. She shared that she was now 86 years old and she had to be more careful. How very fortunate she was, shopping alone, car in the lot, very attractive slack outfit on and gray hair piled on top of her head in a very fetching bun.

As anyone knows who finds themselves sitting with a group of seniors chatting about their health issues, people do not age in the same way at the same rate. Even identical twins will age differently. If we all aged exactly the same everyone would become more and more alike as they get older, and that is not the case.  Older adults vary in the same way younger people do in their attitudes, recreational activities, how they look, and social connections.

But physically there are some similarities:

  1. Vision, as with the lady in the grocery store, aging causes a greater sensitivity to glare. Adapting to changes in light levels is slower and there is greater difficulty seeing in lower light.
  2. Heart, the heart muscle thickens with age and the body’s ability to extract oxygen from blood diminishes.
  3. Arteries, stiffen with age, making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood forward through arteries that are less elastic.
  4. Lungs, between the ages of 40 – 70 breathing capacity diminishes about 40%.
  5. Brain, the aging brain loses axons and neurons that connect with each other.
  6. Kidneys, gradually become less efficient in removing waste from the blood.
  7. Bladder, the bladder capacity declines.
  8. Body fat, with aging fat tends to settle more in the deeper organs of the body causing more of a apple shape.
  9. Muscles, without exercise muscle mass will decrease about 23% between the ages of 30 and 70.
  10. Bones, bone mineral is lost and replaced throughout the life time but at the age of 35 you no longer replace as much as is lost.
  11. Hearing, it becomes harder to hear higher pitches with aging, and background noises make hearing more difficult.
  12. Personality, does not change with the aging process. However seniors who experience chronic pain, or a significant loss are at risk for depression.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing


There they sat in their usual places next to the nurses station, in the nursing home. The two of them, good friends, enjoying a warm and deep conversation. Just the way all, old friends enjoy doing. They were deep in discussion about other residents of the home. One by one, they went through the list of people living on their floor.

Talking about Barbie who is so cheerful even though she has had MS now for many years. The friends talk about how sad they feel for her, how hard her life is, how hard it must be for those young nursing assistants to take care of her.

They talk about Lillian who isn’t so cheerful, and even though Lillian has said many a harsh comment to these two old friends. All they can say about her is that she must have had a hard time, something must have happened to her to make her so grumpy. They express as much sympathy for Lillian as they do for the so cheerful and nice Barbie.

And so they go on, talking about each elderly neighbor of theirs in this nursing community. As they talk, what you hear is genuine caring for their neighbors. A total lack of judgement on their part for either difficult personalities or for behaviors that most likely caused the declines in health. Like the parade of neighbors constantly making trips outside to smoke. No judgement here.

When they give kind words of encouragement to others, they don’t expect anything back. They have taken the time to get to know their neighbors families, so they can brighten people’s days by mentioning how smart or cute someone’s grand-kids are. When a neighbor gets bad news, they cry with them as though it is their bad news.

They are the true meaning of benevolence, they live it. What makes it so much more surprising is that one of the friends is only 57 years, living in the nursing home because she has end stage renal disease. She never married, has only one brother living who never comes to visit. She is living on medicaid, clips coupons, goes to dialysis, and looks forward to trips to Walmart.

The other friend keeps waiting for the day when her daughter will arrive to move her to a nursing home closer to her family. She is a very fragile 87 year old, living with the hope that her family will come and get her.

Benevolence – when there is nothing in it for you. So surprising, how much people with nothing can give and continue to be benevolent.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing

The Older Woman Living Alone is she Lonely or Enjoying Solitude?

May just turned 75; she lives alone in a condo close to her only son and grandchildren. May was married to a farmer for over 40 years and has been widowed for the past eight years. Living alone in a one bedroom condo has been a very big change for May. But small as her place is it doesn’t bother May living alone, she is hardly home.

She bought a brand new car last year. It is a small economy car but brand new, which means dependability to May. She carries a cell phone and says she is never afraid although she takes hundred mile trips on a regular basis to visit friends and for her “volunteer” work.

May is the picture of the perfect volunteer. If you are a friend of May’s and you will be having surgery, never fear May is packing a bag. She will be at the bedside from hospital, to rehab center back to your home. Your family will never have to take off from work to be at your bedside to keep you company, call the nurse, get you a snack, you and they have May.

It just is a fact of life, most older women live alone. Being that the word “older,” can indicate a span of 40 some years when society might consider a woman “older.” The typical older woman living alone used to be the widow. Today when so many older women are in better health and more financially secure than previous generations, are they really living lonely lives or enjoying their solitude?

Words that come to mind when you think of anyone lonely are; alone, friendless, abandoned, unwanted, sad and having no friends or company. But someone who is enjoying solitude is experiencing personal privacy and peace. The difference could be a number of things; financial security, support system, safe housing, transportation, good health and most of all religious association.

Some worthwhile fixes for loneliness can be to; volunteer, go back to school, join a club, join a church or get more active in your church. These activities will promote intellectual growth, increase self-esteem, increase social opportunities, decrease isolation, provide enjoyment and decrease stress. All of these activities lead to more fulfilled and happy life, and yes to one’s solitude.

Virginia Garberding R.N.

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing