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.