It is said that loneliness is a silent killer of the elderly.
Research has found loneliness to be associated with functional decline and can lead to poor mental, physical and emotional well-being and increased rates of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cognitive decline and dementia. Loneliness can double the risk of dying.
Find ways to provide quality companionship and communication for your loved one. This can be a challenge when the elder is deaf or afflicted with dementia or macular degeneration. However, even someone with diminished senses will respond to touch and smell. Instead of shouting to the hearing impaired, “I LOVE YOU!” give him/her a prolonged hug. Touch conveys the sincerity of your love and provides a feeling of security. Sit directly in front of him/her and hold their hand; no words are necessary.
Bring a bouquet of fresh flowers (as opposed to a plant) and ask the elder what the fragrance brings to mind. Most everyone will have a fond recollection of some sort. Food is comforting. Prepare something at home and when you take it to your parent, sit down to eat with them. Try to engage them in conversation about family meal time when you were a child: how you would not eat broccoli; the time you spilled the entire pot of chili as you attempted to set it in the middle of the table; or perhaps rave over the pumpkin pies your mother used to bake. If your parents do not recall your specific experiences, they are sure to have some of their own.
Loneliness hurts, so when you visit with your elder parent, focus on them and them alone. Don’t talk about how hectic your life is and how there just never seems to be enough time. Time is always on the elder’s mind. How much time do I have left? How long must I suffer? How long until my family visits again?
The elderly can often remember in great detail events that occurred 50 years ago but they don’t recall what happened yesterday and this frustrates them. It can make them feel dim-witted and highlights their dementia. Focus on topics they can discuss; friends or their childhood. Give them a voice; let them speak and do not correct them. What does it matter if the facts are inaccurate? Listen to what they are saying because it is important to them to be heard.
Elderly people are vivid story-tellers as they combine accurate and inaccurate memories to the delight of their grandchildren. If you are interested in geneology, the input of your elders is valuable to constructing your family history and will make a lonely person feel useful.
Your elderly parents may be in their second childhood but having raised children of your own does not prepare you for the needs of the elderly. Strategies and techniques for seniors are far different than those that work with children. You are setting yourself up for defeat if you do not research and create an action plan that includes family, neighbors and community services for the aging.