Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 865 No One Listens

Episode 419(164) No One Listens

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.

“We don’t talk to anyone”, said Rena, a nine-three year old friend. We were sharing dinner at a mutual friend's house with his 85 year old mother. Both of these women were  living in an extended care facility. My friend likes to get his mother and former neighbor out for dinner often. They come to his house. Both of these older folks say they are living a daily life of silence.

I guess their life is not really being lived in silence, but it is being lived with no one who will listen to them. There is sound in their lives: television and the hum of staff moving throughout the facility. But there are few conversations between residents. There are no jokes. There are no stories. There is a dismal silence hanging over the halls and rooms. Even the well-lit and well-furnished dining room is blandly silent. Four people sit at small tables where conversation should be happening,but isn’t.

I’ve noticed the same silence in my local coffee shop among the elderly. They sit alone and gaze out the window. After engaging several in conversation over the years one problem is obvious. They are starved for someone to listen to them. It’s the same for folks in the extended care facility.

I have had parents and several friends pass through this phase of life. Several of them have been very articulate, well read, and engaging. Others have been more withdrawn and limited with stories they continually repeat as if in a loop. It is difficult to engage them in conversation because of the repetitive stories that always start and stop in the same place. It is also sad to avoid such situations and leave the elderly in their solitary silence.

Hearing has a way of becoming difficult for many in later life. This also affects the willingness of others to engage in conversation.  The volume has to be cranked up and requires extra effort to an extent that it can be tiring and eventually exhausting. At the end of the day; living in a silent world seems to be the fate of many in their later years.

What to do? Of course every effort can be made to engage in straightforward conversation, but that seems to have definite limits. I heard of a technological innovation that holds some promise of relief for the situation: Computers that feel like dogs, hear like people, and talk in whatever dialect you choose.

I’m not sure how to tell this story since it seems a bit far-fetched. But I think there is a real possibility that it will become a reality. The story came to me via a radio program that focuses on technology.

Speech recognition technology is getting better fast. It continually feeds on itself getting faster and faster. Many voice machines are now activated by the human voice. They recognize speech.

Computer chips are becoming smaller and much more powerful. They can store immeasurable reams of data. They can present photos to us and include information as to who is in the picture, the time and date the photo was taken and the place. By  crushing all of this information together a system will arise that can listen to you talk and respond in a rational fashion. It could become your ``friend”. Someone who listens to you and responds with suggestions, follow up questions, pictures and stories of your past or stories related to your stories. For example Siri on my iPhone responds to my voice commands every day. And when I say ,"Thanks Siri". She responds with, "I'm here to serve Del" or something similar.

Now that I write that, it doesn’t seem so very far-fetched. We already have much of this type of technological gadgetry. My “facebook page” is forever suggesting that I contact someone I haven’t even heard from in 50 years. It suggests photos for me to view, and articles for me to read. It doesn’t talk to me but I’m sure it will soon and probably could right now if I had the right programs or applications installed.

A most recent article I read concerned a Barbie Doll who is connected to the Internet via wi-fi. It hears your voice and responds similar to Seri but it remembers everything and can thus personalize each response instantly. It knows what you like, what you dislike, what you want and what you fear. Imagine something similar to this in the hands of an isolated senior? A new best friend and listener may be as near as Best Buy.

The expert on the radio show said that the “thing” could be covered in fur and sit in one's lap just like a laptop, or, just like a dog. You know how they always say that people are happiest if they have a pet to stroke and talk too. Well, that could be this new machine. It would give new meaning to the word, “lapdog”.

Well, it is hard to believe but I find it not much of a stretch at all. If we find these things at our local electronics store in my lifetime I’m sure I will be anxious to try them.

In the mean time I think I will reconsider the need from some of my older friends for good listeners.







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