I encounter elderly people daily. I often talk to those who are 80 and above even into their 90’s. Many of these people still live alone, drive and are quite capable of caring for themselves. One common word for many of these people are lonely.
They don’t come in and just announce their loneliness. Sometimes you need to spend a few minutes with them. They will tell you about their life in the past and their spouses or significant other. At times they relive the trips they took, the house they shared. Many will also tell you about the close friends and the lunches, trips and celebrations they shared.
These people have children although they may live in another state or siblings that now live in a skilled nursing facility. You ask if they visit them and they will tell you yes but it isn’t the same. Many of these elderly people are unable to travel due to the difficulty they have walking long distances or even seeing signs and directions. The walking and sight difficulties do not stop their activities around their home. I spoke to one person who described the delight in having meals delivered and no longer cooking. This person proudly proclaimed, ” They are the perfect size and last 2 days.”
Then suddenly the secret comes out. Many say their spouses, friends and neighbors have passed. They tell me they truly miss their companions. To them, having no close and understanding spouse or close long time friend to share it with is a curse rather than a blessing.
I try to focus on the positive with them at that point. I talk to them about what they do for activity. Do they ever ask their neighbor to go places with them? I always think how would I feel in their shoes? What do you say when they lament they have outlived all their peer group?
I recently had a long conversation with a person and I spent more time than usual with them. I do that frequently not because it is my job but I truly enjoy their stories and watching their faces light up when they talk. You don’t have to be a health care professional to chat. If you see that elderly person in a store, restaurant or in line in the grocery store smile and say hi. You and they may be all richer for the encounter.
This a wonderful post! We recently moved to a new state and my mother 78 lives with me. I know she is lonely for friendship and I am trying to provide more socialization but it’s so hard when you don’t anyone! We go out alot but if she had her own friends it would be better for both of us. I’m trying.
Rena I am sure you are trying but being new to the community would certainly pose an bigger problem. Maybe there is a center where they provide some social activities for the elderly in the community. I truly believe as we have people with longer life spans, the need for more centers or activities will need to become reality
While your suggestion to focus on the positive has merit, more significant seems to be taking the actions you are modeling – spending time with those who want interaction and exploring proactive ways for the lonely person to reach out.
I love spending time with these patients. They are very wise and have so much to offer if only people take the time to listen.
My Dad, 89, lives five hours from me. It is a long five hours. He gets so lonely. He has a good friend and does very well, except when she goes to stay with family. Wonderful post! So glad there are people like you who care and who make a difference!
Thanks Diane for the kind words. I am glad your Dad has a friend and they enjoy each others company. It does make a difference to them.
I spend a lot of time visiting my mother at the care center where she lives. Since I spend so much time there I’ve come to know who get visitors and who doesn’t. Sadly there are a lot of forgotten souls living in care centers. When I know a resident doesn’t have anyone visiting them I make extra efforts to spend time with them as well as with my mother. Sometimes people think the elderly in care centers can’t talk, but I’ve found if you spend a little time with them they will begin to communicate with you in one way or another. Great Post Kathy. Thanks for sharing.
I like my patients but the elderly people have a special place in my heart. It is wonderful and so kind of you to spend time with those who don’t have visitors on a regular basis when you visit your Mom. Thanks for your continued support and comments
I always find the elderly to have the most interesting stories. You never know where they’ve been and what they’ve done unless you ask. Fascinating.