Ask Dr. Marion: Marion Somers, Ph.D.

Dear Dr. Marion:

My father is 84 and doing very well, but I just don’t know where to start as a caregiver. If you had only one story to tell about your experiences with the elderly, what would it be?

Frieda in California, 46

Thanks for asking, Frieda. It’s too difficult to pick out just one story, so I’ll tell the first one that comes to mind. As a professional geriatric care manager for the past three decades, I have come across many unique situations that you just can’t make up.

One circumstance involved an elderly woman I’ll call Susanna. She came into my life 16 years ago as a frail but independent 74-year-old woman who needed a geriatric care manager to help her maintain her quality of life. Sadly, she didn’t have any other relatives who could serve in that role. We quickly hit it off, and after she got to know me well and trust was established, she revealed some charming, intimate stories of her life. Susanna was depressed and feeling adrift because Norma, her friend of 22 years, had died recently. Susanna told me how their friendship had begun with a strange peculiarity.

Norma had suffered with the physical anomaly of having feet that were an entire size different. When she was a child, Norma’s mother would buy her shoes in the larger size, and then stuff the smaller foot’s shoe with newspaper or cloth. Norma was acutely aware of this situation, especially in the gym or in swim class. She went on to have an ordinary professional life and a successful career, but when she wanted to buy shoes, she had to buy two pairs, one size eight and one size 9, so that she could be comfortable.

Finally, one day Norma realized that there might be some other woman in the world who had the same problem, but on opposite feet. So she put an ad in the local newspaper, more as a lark than anything else. Susanna was shocked when she saw the ad, and she quickly responded. They met days later, and a fast friendship was formed. It turns out they had similar interests, like going to the theater and the movies, especially to see comedies. Susanna and Norma even became traveling companions. They were also both single and labeled “spinsters.” And they were each proud that they had enjoyed successful professional lives in place of a family life.

Most importantly, what had been cause for embarrassment was now a source of great fun. Shopping for shoes became a thrilling activity. They’d hunt everywhere for two pairs of shoes that they both liked and could buy in the two correct sizes. Then they’d each take home the shoes that were right for them. Susanna said it was like gambling because they were beating the odds every time they could find and agree on the right two pairs of the same style shoe. They quickly became the family that neither of them had ever enjoyed.

Susanna and Norma’s warm and supportive friendship came about in a strange way, didn’t it? One never knows how having something in common with someone could lead to life’s great rewards. What might be your sore point could be a way to relate to someone else, so don’t be afraid to open yourself up to meeting new people. Even if you feel alone, there could be someone out there with an anomaly that fits you perfectly.

Dr. Marion (Marion Somers, PhD) is the author of “Elder Care Made Easier” and has more than 40 years of experience as a geriatric care manager, caregiver, speaker and expert in all things elder care. Visit for more information.

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