Chronic: For older adults, social isolation can lead to untreated depression


The smell of scented smoke made my head spin Tuesday morning outside the Monterey Park dance club where 11 people were shot Saturday night. A man named Scott, seated in a wheelchair, lit incense sticks to honor the dead.

“What else can we do?” asked Scott, 57, who asked me not to use his last name. He told me he is Chinese, was born in Vietnam and was disabled years ago by a stroke.

Even before all the wreaths were laid in Monterey Park, along with a sign that read “Ban Semi-Automatic Rifles,” the same question was being asked in Half Moon Bay, where seven people were shot. Few details about this shooter were immediately available.

But we do know that the 72-year-old man responsible for the Monterey Park massacre – who allegedly took his own life – lived alone in Hemet, according to reports. He is the oldest mass murderer in recent history, and his victims were between 50, 60 and 70 years old. The Times described him as a divorced, lonely and embittered man.

Whatever his motivation, I wondered if isolation was a factor. We’re told he was a dance teacher, so he wasn’t totally disengaged. But isolation can be an emotional state as well as a physical one.

“I see a lot of people wandering around here alone,” Scott said. “That’s how they live their lives.”

Many communal activities are offered to older Monterey Park residents, said Derek Ma, founding president and chairman of the Chinese American Community Affairs Council. “But a lot of people are lonely because their husband or wife dies,” Ma said, and the stress of feeling cut off from people and purpose, he added, can have tragic consequences.

California is about to be hit by a wave of population aging, and Steve Lopez is surfing it. Her new column will focus on the benefits and burdens of old age – and how some people are challenging the stigma associated with old age.

Isolation is no small feat in the rapidly aging population, and the resulting depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated. California’s blueprint for aging specifically cites the need to address isolation, a challenge complicated by the fact that 2 million residents “do not have access to high-speed internet and approximately 34 percent of adults in over 60s don’t use the internet at all”. as planned.

Even if they are wired, and even if they are not financially deprived, many people feel disconnected, alone and scared. Since I began the Golden State column on January 15, readers have filled my mailbag with detailed, sometimes heartbreaking accounts of their struggles.

“I have to work hard to have a social network throughout the week,” wrote Judy, 79, of Torrance. When she’s feeling good, Judy goes to church and the grocery store and chats with her neighbors while walking her dog. “But when I have a week of sickness and I can’t do these things, I don’t see anyone. Life is very difficult when this happens.

“My life is so small now,” said Marilyn, 77, who lives south of San Francisco. “I still drive. But the current psychological toll of the pandemic is immense. I don’t expect this isolation to change in my lifetime.

Deanna, a retiree living in Oregon, said making friends has been a lot harder than she expected. “Isolation and loneliness really get to me…I try to find contentment and joy every day, but I always think about death. I’m not looking forward to more surgeries and recoveries.

Julia, 82, from Santa Barbara, wrote that her husband suffered from dementia. “Over the past three years he has steadily declined…I am his full-time carer and…to see someone you love and have lived with for 60 years disappear before your eyes is beyond depressing. ” Julia has medical issues, so “caring and thinking for both of us is exhausting”.

“I have witnessed the struggles of my peers and our elders living in relative isolation with financial and medical crises unable to help themselves despite reaching out to the respective financial and medical agencies allegedly designed to do exactly that,” wrote Grace, 66, a psychiatrist. . “In the blink of an eye, each of us could be facing a life crisis without the safety net to get through it.”

I could go on and on, and I haven’t worked through the over 2,000 emails I’ve received from readers since asking them to share the pros and cons of aging. Many of them are thriving, but there are enough people struggling, one way or another, to fill a book.

If indeed a sense of otherness or isolation motivated the Monterey Park shooter, it is all the more painful to realize that his victims were fully engaged members of the community, all participating in innocent and wholesome activity.

After visiting the site of the shooting, I went to the nearby senior center to see how people were coping with the aftermath of the Lunar New Year celebration turned into a nightmare. But the center was closed to the public – it served as a counseling and resource center for those who had lost loved ones.

So I headed to the Montebello Senior Center, a warm and welcoming oasis after the lingering shock of unspeakable violence – the final blow to our sense of security and sanity. Four dozen people were playing bingo in one room while two dozen people were taking a line dancing class.

At the height of the pandemic, senior centers had to close, but they switched to virtual classes and secured their most vulnerable clients – those who live alone and struggle to pay their bills and to do their shopping. The Montebello Senior Center was no different.

“We’ve seen a lot of our seniors become homeless,” said Bianca Herrera, a senior center aide, in some cases because someone in multi-generational housing contracted COVID and families had to split up. to avoid spreading the virus.

There were also a lot of mental health issues and food shortages during the pandemic. Staff at the senior center helped as much as they could, Herrera said, “but even we struggled to find services.”

At the end of the bingo game, Maria Limas told me that she had lost her husband in 2021 and had fallen into despair before connecting with the center for the elderly. Lucia Alcaraz, another bingo player, told me that she lost her husband 10 years ago and it took time, but now she has achieved a sense of commitment and purpose in center for the elderly.

Alcaraz said she raised her hand during a club meeting after the Monterey Park shooting and suggested everyone be more vigilant about who is struggling, confused and alone.

It’s a long list, and it now includes the survivors of even more victims of senseless violence.

Steve.lopez@latimes.com


Los Angeles Times

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