Talk Radio and Aging
- Written by Paul T. Chacko, M.A., M.Div.
At 85, a widower for the last five years sits alone in his living room. He is bored. In the past he used to take a walk around the block, but now the Texas heat is too intense. Moreover, he is warned by family and his medical team about the fatal dangers of mosquitoes carrying viruses. So he wakes up slowly and prepares breakfast for one.
He has lived in his house for almost 50 years. He used to drive, but after two accidents they have taken his car keys away.
Now he is dependent on his adult son to take him grocery shopping once a week. His church’s membership has slowly decreased over the years so that, today, only ten people are regularly attending. He hasn’t been able to attend worship lately and to his dismay he found out that his church is, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. His fellow church members are in nursing homes or have moved away to live with their children. This widower's only meaningful activity is listening to talk radio. The voice on the radio has become his only friend, but it is a friendship that comes at a very high cost.
My patient has been a fighter all his life. He has been deeply committed to the American dream, but he now he finds himself caught in a revolving door of panic and a sense of loss of control. He responds the way most of us would if we were exposed on a near-constant basis to the material that he has been listening to. He is angry, bitter and frustrated with the faceless people in Washington who control a world in which he seems to have no say.
He says to me, “I worked hard all my life for the assistance I receive. Every penny I draw from social security is what I put in, in the first place.” He is bitter because he believes he won’t have good health care when he really needs it. He is angry because nobody seems to want to do anything about it.
As his chaplain, I listen to his anger, bitterness, and frustration. He asks me a lot of tough questions, like: “Chaplain, are we doomed as a nation? Will we ever come out of this recession? I never imagined that all this would happen to me in my old age. What can I do with these feelings?” I respond by first of all resisting the urge to fix him. I offer him a listening ear and gently challenge him to broaden his sources of information. I encourage him to find hope in the midst of all the chaos and frustration he is experiencing.
Because the majority of my experience and outlook as a chaplain has been shaped by Vandecreek and Lucas’ outcome-oriented model of pastoral care giving (p.19), I take time to get a shared idea of what it is that we might work on together that will help to ease his anger and anxiety. Though his religious faith never becomes a primary source of support for him, over the course of time he begins to trust me. He reaches out to me from his isolation. I try to offer constructive alternatives as I explore hope with him. I consider these to be crucial first steps toward helping him to deal with the urgent and important emotional issues that have left him feeling overwhelmed.
At one point he says, “Chaplain, I envy your calm. How can you be so calm when so much is going on around you?”
I respond to his question by sharing, briefly, my efforts to cope with the fear and anxiety that seems to characterize the tone of the media. I invite him to explore other sources of strength. This widower slowly makes a switch from listening nonstop to radio programs that barrage him with news and opinions about how bad things are to take advantage of radio programs that focus on positive coping. This redirection gives him a message of hope beyond his fears.
I mentioned my pastoral intervention to his primary doctor. She told me that she is dealing with the same issues with a lot of her patients who regularly listen to talk radio. Every time they walk in the door, they are more worried about the economy than their own health care. They are worried about whether they will continue to have her as their doctor.
During my follow up visits over the next few weeks, I find our friend more relaxed and calm. This was accomplished by a willing patient embarking on a journey with his pastoral care giver toward the desired outcome of giving up stress causer and embracing a new thing (non-stress-ful) one.
Paul Chacko is a staff chaplain in the Geriatrics Service Line for the Baylor Geriatrics Chaplaincy Program. He has extensive unique experience in providing pastoral care to geriatrics patients across the continuum of residential, home, and primary care settings Paul also works closely with the Greater Dallas Alzheimer's Association in leading support groups for family members of patients with Alzheimer’s. In addition to achieving Board Certified Chaplain status, Chacko also became a Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP) with the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners.
This article is the second in a series of articles by chaplains and other staff of the Baylor Healthcare Systems. These articles do not reflect the viewpoint of the organization or its affiliates, but are solely the resposiblity of the writer.
VandeCreek, L. & A. M. Lucas. (2001). The Discipline for Pastoral Care Giving: Foundations for Outcome Oriented Chaplaincy. New York: Routledge.