Leaving This World Alone (Loneliness among the Elderly)
Author: Elizabeth Leatham
James A. Froude said, "We enter the world alone, we leave the world alone." There is no feeling more horrible than the loneliness one feels in the unsettling quiet of an empty house. For many elderly, it seems that aging accompanies loneliness as children leave and spouses pass on. Though many children devote years of their lives to care for their elderly parents, others abandon them to solitude.
A French article translates to read, "Elderly people who are deprived of the warmth of human contact are at the risk of turning inward. For the very old, an atmosphere such as this can become psychologically catastrophic and lead to depressive syndromes such as extreme sadness, a desire to do nothing, sleep problems and even dementia."
It is easier to care for our parents when their health is deteriorating, but what about those who retain their health well into their fifties or sixties? Just as a teenager becomes preoccupied with high school social life and can often forget about the family dinner or activity, adults can become preoccupied with their jobs and families of their own and neglect their elderly parents.
Even if your parent is healthy, they may not remain so when subject to consistent loneliness. Ask yourself: How many times have I given my mother a call this past month? How often have I visited my parents this past year? How long did I stay? Long enough to have a real conversation, enjoy a dinner, or take a walk through the park?
On her blog, Judith Gelber spoke of her experience with loneliness in old age, "Among the side-effects of aging are loneliness and isolation. Friends and family die or move away. Whatever support system existed before seems in tatters. Life becomes a hard pill to swallow."
The problem of loneliness in aging does not always fall on the children; sometimes the elderly bring loneliness upon themselves. "They've spent their lives looking after others as well as themselves. While they appreciate help, they still want to feel they are capable of taking care of themselves and running their own lives." (Judith Gelber) Neighbors and others seeking to reach out are sometimes turned away for this very reason. The elderly have just as much right to keep their pride as the younger population does. Sometimes, though, the elderly can be a bit more stubborn. They've seen more of life, they've been more weathered by pains and hardships, and now they're facing their last years alone.
Judith Gelber said, "The best help for the elderly is in the doing rather than the asking." It's true that some of the elderly may isolate themselves, but it does not mean that inside they are not reaching out for comfort and companionship. As Gelber said, many times actions do speak louder than words. If you are a nearby neighbor to an elderly person you could mow their lawn, shovel their walk, or bring over a warm, home-cooked meal. As a child you can simply pick up the phone and give your mother or father a call.
If your life is really busy and you find yourself unable to visit your elderly parents as much as you would like, you can seek out other companionship services for your loved ones. Many home care agencies offer companionship services. The elderly do not necessarily need to be in poor health to utilize these services. Companionship services can include providing friendship, conversation, and discussion; visits, outings, and trips; reminders for appointments; care for houseplants; medication reminders and assistance with personal tasks such as selecting clothing to wear, morning and evening routines; writing letters and mailing bills; and various everyday companion and care needs.
Adult day care centers are another option to provide your loved one with meaningful social interaction and stimulation. The costs of adult day care have remained consistently lower than the costs for other types of care such as nursing homes, assisted living, and home care. As described by The National Adult Day Services Association, "Adult day service centers provide a coordinated program of professional and compassionate services for adults in a community-based group setting. Services are designed to provide social and some health services."
During the night, when you or a home health aide are not able to be at home with your elderly loved one, medical alert equipment can be used to provide some peace of mind. Various types of medical alert equipment can easily be used to call for help if your loved one has any medical or physical emergencies while they are home alone.
To explore more companionship options as well as compare pricing and services, consult a care manager for advice. Sometimes in a desire to maintain independence, the elderly may not be willing to admit their loneliness and their need for services such as home care or adult day care. Elder care mediation experts are trained in helping families solve conflicts related to aging and the need for care. If you are having trouble convincing you're loved one to seek out the companionship and/or care they need, elder care mediation is a useful option to consider.
Don’t leave those you love confined to the empty loneliness of their own home. Make it a point to visit an elderly loved one or give them a call, and when you can't be there, seek out caring services that can help provide the social interaction and companionship your loved ones deserve. After everything so many of the elderly have contributed to our nation, our communities, and our families, we should at the very least give them the courtesy of friendship. There is no cure for loneliness but companionship and love. No one should have to leave this world alone.