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, 50years 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.
But such difficulties may well bedevil more and more people in their later years. The county's fastest-growing population group is residents age 65 and older. By 2020, it is projected to number 99,448, or 20 percent of the population, according to the state Department of Finance.
And informal measures suggest that cases of isolated elderly people are far from rare, the situations often made more acute by poverty, lack of transportation, disability and emotional or physical distance from family members.
The Community and Family Services Agency serves about 130 people a year, Fike said. She estimated that 75 percent of those clients are in some way isolated, their social interactions few and their ability to get out of their homes extremely limited.
Another gauge is at the Council on Aging, whose Meals on Wheels program delivers food to about 1,800 people five days a week. The program's clients are largely homebound with very few social interactions — often the very reason they are enrolled in the meal program, said Laura Colgate, director of the agency's senior nutrition program.
"It's very common, a very high percentage," Colgate said. "Quite often, our drivers are their only physical contact."
There is on David Harnage's wall, in a little room squeezed between his kitchen and living room, a collage of photographs of people he rarely sees or who have left the world. A son who comes once a month. Another who lives in Tahoe and whom he sees far less. His grandchildren. His wife, Alvarine, who died in 2001.