By Arlinda Babcock
It is well known that seniors can be lonely. Loneliness happens for many reasons, and it is important to recognize this problem and for anyone with a senior in their life to try to help with the problem.
People who are on oxygen and need to have it with them, encounter the difficulty of transporting the tanks and operating them safely. Just getting the tanks turned on can be difficult for older, weaker hands and arms. Navigating the tanks to the correct setting is also difficult. Tanks are heavy and awkward, and not an easy device for seniors to live with. They may just opt to stay home so that they don’t have to deal with it.
Hearing can be a problem, especially in a group setting with lots of people in the room, such as a restaurant. Some hearing aids pick up background noise and amplify it, making conversation very difficult and embarrassing if the wearer has to keep asking the speaker to repeat conversation. The person with hearing aids may struggle to keep up with conversations and then decide it isn’t worth the effort to go to church, go out with friends or family, or even to go to a doctor. It takes patience to be with someone with hearing problems, and not everyone understands or has the patience to be with someone who can’t hear well. Consider helping them get a more effective hearing aid, or make sure to include them in social activities.
Aging people frequently have a smaller social circle as their friends and family members die, leaving them alone more, with fewer opportunities to be social and engaged, and they will often experience depression from this reduced activity. Socialization has been proven to help prevent depression, slow down dementia, and to improve cognitive activity. With families living in other states and cities from their elders, there is frequently less interaction and recognition of the struggles their loved one may be having. It is important to stay informed about the life details they may have difficulty with so that you can make sure they are staying connected.
Seniors will frequently stop cooking and eating properly due to lack of interest in living in general. They might give up hope on making any improvements to their lives if they are alone and depressed. They might give up any kind of exercise or hobby due to loneliness and depression, when doing things that used to bring them happiness could in fact help them live healthier and happier lives. This is especially true if they live alone. If you notice this in your loved one, consider helping them move to a more social environment, such as Assisted Living.
Another very big issue that can create a lonely life is incontinence. A large number of seniors have one or the other – bladder and/or bowel incontinence, and find it difficult to leave the safety of home due to this. It embarrasses people to talk to doctors, friends or family about incontinence, so they ignore it or keep it a secret, and restrict their activities so that nobody ever knows there is a problem. There are ways to help and deal with incontinence, even physical therapy, but if there is no knowledge of the help available, the issue compounds itself and can result in a very lonely person.
Communication is critical to any relationship. This is just as relevant for seniors as any other human. If we don’t feel anyone cares about us, we are going to have a very unhappy life. If we don’t communicate with family, doctors, and friends, and they don’t communicate with us, we are in a dangerous place of isolation. Loneliness creates stress in the body and then the immune system is affected, creating physical problems and deep emotional problems. If we have a senior in our lives it is important to know them, talk to them, be with them, and support their needs. Be as positive and helpful as possible to encourage social engagement, which might mean listening to hours of stories about their lives, asking for their help with something so that they feel useful and needed, ask for their advice, ask what they would enjoy doing on an outing – it could be just as simple as going for an ice-cream cone, taking a walk in a park on a nice day (yes, even in a wheelchair).
Remember your senior is a human being with a whole life of experiences behind them, and as long as they are breathing, talking, and thinking, they have something to offer. Age does not diminish a person as a whole person, but actually adds to them, building new layers each day. Even a bed-ridden person can benefit from a gentle hand on theirs, brushing their hair, applying lotion to dry skin, having a story, newspaper, or bible read to them. Share of yourself, and touch them as you would want to be touched. Both lives will be enriched!