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Being older, and alone, in Sonoma County

  • Ron Recchioni lives in a Santa Rosa assisted-living facility, where he says he feels isolated among the other residents, many of whom have dementia. (John Burgess / PD)

One early February day, as mid-morning light fell into the bedroom through a slatted window shade, Ron Recchioni's dementia-plagued roommate was, as is so often the case, asleep.

The stray sounds of TV shows and voices in the hall were behind him, and Recchioni, 75, blind, and in a wheelchair, said he feels very alone.

“He's a really nice guy; ex-teacher,” he said of his roommate in the east Santa Rosa assisted-living home, “But he can't remember anything except 40, 50 years ago.”

Managers have told him that most of the facility's residents have dementia of some sort, said Recchioni, a former real estate agent who moved to Sonoma County from Millbrae in 2001.

“It's like 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,'” he said, referring to the landmark 1975 film about a mental hospital. “I can't have a conversation. I feel isolated here mentally.”

His daughter, he said, busy with work and family, last visited in the fall.

“I miss her terribly,” he said. “She's one of my favorites. She tries her best.”

Recchioni, who has a strong voice, a face of prominent features and a furrowed brow, relies for social interaction mostly on a friend's weekly visit and dinner with another several times a month.

“I think that keeps my mind,” he said.

But those occasions aside, he has found himself in many ways alone.

That debilitating situation is familiar to many elderly Sonoma County residents, say people who work with senior citizens.

“Isolation is a huge issue. In the program I run, it is the most common problem,” said Melissa Fike, senior programs manager at the Community and Family Services Agency. The Santa Rosa nonprofit group offers services including individual and group counseling for elderly county residents.

There is no way to know how many of Sonoma County's roughly 81,000 residents age 60 and over are in isolated situations, which over time, experts say, lead to physical and mental health issues and even can shorten lives.

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