We are in an age where communication has reached a culminating point. A friend or family member residing on the other side of the earth can be communicated via the internet or phone in matters of seconds. Despite this advancement in technology, research shows that ours is a society, lonelier than what it used to be before. Findings from studies carried out on the elderly, show that this age group is the loneliest than all the other age groups.
A few findings from American studies that focused on loneliness in the elderly are as follows:
- Eighteen percent of senior citizens in America live lonely and 43% of senior citizens feel lonely on a regular basis.
- There is a 45% increase in the risk of death among people aged 60 years or older who feel lonely, while isolated elders have a 59% increased risk of mental and physical decline compared to those elderly who socialize.
- One in 7 people with Alzheimer’s disease live alone.
- The most startling of findings was that two-thirds of older adults in America who felt lonely were either married or living with a partner.
Experts are of the opinion that the elderly who are in nursing homes or assisted living communities psychologically feel lonely despite the good care given by their caregivers. Even when family caregivers are taking care of the elderly, there is a lack of attention paid when the elderly want and crave for some communication with their family members.
How can caregivers help?
Caregivers can help elderly overcome loneliness by following the steps below :
Loneliness in the elderly can be reduced by helping them do what they love to do. By identifying the skill of the elderly person they are taking care of, caregivers can plan schedules to involve them in their activities. This encourages them to be more responsive and motivated. Caretakers who have shared their experiences mention that cooking the favorite meals of the elderly, activities such as gardening and encouraging hobbies such as singing have helped eliminate loneliness in the elderly.
The caregivers much encourage themselves to connect well with the elderly. One way to connect with them is to learn from them. The caregivers can seek guidance on wide range of topics. In a survey, caregivers opined that embroidery was the most popular topic among the elderly women who were willing to share their knowledge on. Sharing knowledge from elderly also helps in balancing dynamics between caregiver and the elderly.
Caregivers should try to improve the relationship between the senior and the younger relatives. It is important to inculcate respect in the minds of the grandchildren about their grandparents. The elderly should be seen as a source of wisdom and the young should be encouraged to spend time with the elderly. This may also help in improving the cognitive parameters as research shows that an elderly who interacts with people is mentally stimulated, while the cognition declines for those elderly who do not engage.
Seeking an advice can be an obvious reason for a family member to approach the elderly. Interacting with an elderly can be encouraged for simplest of reasons such as sending a card, paying a visit with their favourite food, or may be even calling them regularly just for a chat.
Loneliness is painful as it is. Seeing how lonely my late mum was during her final couple of months made me realise how precious just talking was and how painfully lonely she was. Her stroke and dementia caused her to lose her ability to speak and to write. It was the most painful for her not to be able to speak to me and convey what she wanted to say. Watching her struggle killed me internally, as her only child, I realised that we would never speak to each other again. I had to struggle to find out what she wanted. Everyday, it felt like a game of charades. Like the fighter that she was, she kept on trying to throw out words which came out as gibberish. It was a struggle and I applaud mum for her fighting spirit till the end.
On a personal note, I hope that this article helps you understand about what is going on within your elderly parents. They need to be loved and heard. If they have the same topic of conversation and you have heard it like the millionth time, it’s ok. Be there and hear it again just one more time. The joy of being listened to is a much better remedy than the cocktail of medications that they ingest daily.