Seniors and elders…trying to cope in a 2014 world

My current client is 89 years old.   He was born in 1925, so he’s 89 years old.  There’s a good reason why I want to emphasize his age.

His wife of 60+ years has just recently passed.  He is now living alone in a large home in the east bay.  He still drives, does his own taxes and reads a mountain of newspapers and magazines.  His body is a little frail, but he gets around okay if he doesn’t have to go too far for too long.  His son lives in Silicon Valley and visits as often as he can.  He wants his dad to move closer, but dad is reluctant to move.

His house sits at the top of a fairly steep, long hill.  It’s a hike down to the bottom, which he ventures a couple of times a week to get the mail.

His son contacted me to help his father start downsizing and prep for his eventual move.  During this process, I’ve learned more about how people age in their homes.  It’s really got me thinking about how we all manage in the 2014 world.  And how this world fails a whole part of our population, our seniors and elders.

As we started working through the house, we found mountains and mountains of paper stashed everywhere…magazines, newspapers, junk mail, paper and more paper…stuffed into bags, boxes, dresser drawers and closets, in every room of the house.  Why has this paper been accumulating?  Why hasn’t it gone into the recycling bin for the trash pickup?

Paper recycling

A garage full of paper to be recycled…

The answer is because, as of several years ago, the trash company started requiring all homeowners in this area to walk their full recycling and garage bins down their driveways to the closest curb.  This is fine for those young and fit enough to make the trek,  but for  years now, he has not been able to negotiate the long steep driveway, pulling a full bin of recycling with him, to the curb, at the bottom of the hill, so he has simply stopped taking out the recycling.

Recycling bin

My assistant lugging a full bin of recycling down the driveway to the curb…

Apparently, the recycling company never noticed that his was missing. (Even though they have kept on billing him, which is ANOTHER story.)

So, realizing this was happening, it occurred to me that the recycling company must have some kind of exemption for those who can not make this trek, so I innocently picked up the phone and called the company. To make this story, which ended up involving 16 people, 5 weeks and countless hours on the telephone, as short as possible, here’s what happened…

There are two companies, one that handles trash, and one that handles recycling, for his city.  While they both insist they are separate entities, one can not act without the other.  Both require a doctor to FAX a letter to each of the companies explaining that an 89 year old can not negotiate the hill and steep driveway to the curb with full cans of garbage and recycling and could they please drive up to the house and empty the trash and recycling bins.  Sounds somewhat simple…however, after dozens of phone calls, listening to dozens of recorded messages about how the trash company “looks forward to assisting you with the best possible service”, pushing buttons that just disconnect you, redialing and pushing more buttons, talking to a mountain of people, and having to start the story all over again with each of them, only to be reassured that they would “get right on this”, to have another week go by, and then discover that they, indeed, did not “get right on it”, but instead they left the company, went on vacation, or simply could not even remember ever having heard of this request before…and then of course, no one could find the fax, so the doctor has be to contacted to send it YET AGAIN…AND THEN HAVING TO REPEAT THIS WITH THE SECOND COMPANY…well, how in the hell should someone who is 89 ever be able to do this on their own?

The answer is simple.  They can’t.  Asking our seniors and elders to navigate the 2014 world of recorded menus, holding forever, being disconnected and then starting all over, trying to explain their issues, jumping through hoops to get anything accomplished, is more than they can bear.  In my opinion, every service company should still have at least one human assigned to work with the elderly when they call and see their issues through to the finish.

It’s week 7, and yes, the trash and recycling finally got picked up, but not without the help of a friendly neighbor, who ended up walking the garbage bin down the hill himself ANYWAY…the garbage truck decided they could not negotiate driveway.  Both companies say that they will have to talk to their supervisors about arranging for smaller trucks to come separately and do the pickups.

What do you think the odds are that this will happen?



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