Lord Byron wrote “There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore.” Unfortunately, that is not always the case for senior citizens. All change produces loss, and the transition from days filled with interactions with coworkers, family, and friends, to quieter times with less structure and social contact is a change that is keenly felt and often unanticipated. The evolution of our social circle and the habits that ritualized us can result in feelings of loneliness and isolation. While this can be the result of any change, at any age, it can be especially challenging for seniors who may have difficulty recognizing and vocalizing it. Thankfully, there are many things we can do to help prevent loneliness and its repercussions.
What does loneliness look and sound like?
Seniors may not recognize feelings of loneliness or isolation. Weren’t the Golden Years supposed to be fun? They may say, they are bored, or tired, or that they prefer to be alone or don’t want to go out. Your mom or dad may no longer want to carry on long conversations, or participate in family gatherings.
Adversely, they may reach out to you talk about illnesses or ailments they are experiencing. Without realizing it, they may be reaching out for you to for attention and support. The good news is that you can give them both, and help them to help themselves.
How You Can Help:
We know you want to be there for your parents or elderly loved ones, but life is busy, and you may not have the extra time (Extra time!?!) or the means for frequent visits, or outings. Change also produces opportunities and you can help them to take advantage.
Encourage them to take walks around their neighbourhood and get out into nature. Accompany them a time or two, you will both benefit! Start small. A walk around the block can mean meeting a new neighbor or getting to pet that cute new French Bull Dog next door.
Provide them with a cell phone or a tablet and get the kids to teach them to text. They can reach out without feeling that they might be bothering you, but will also be able to share parts of their day and you can check on them when you might not have time for a long conversation.
Help them to find volunteer opportunities; volunteering has been shown to improve morale and alleviate stress. It is also a great way to meet new people, start a new routine, and feel better about themselves. Serving food at a shelter, holding premature babies while their parents get a much-needed rest, greeting people at the library – these are all rewarding and stimulating activities. There is something out there for everyone.
You can also help them find and enjoy hobbies. Do they like art? Shop for painting supplies or a class. Cooking? Maybe a gourmet club. Reading? Book group. All of these tap into creativity and get them out there again.
Even as we age, we can learn to be alone without necessarily being lonely. Start small and take that walk outside. Here is the rest of what Byron had to say: “…there is society where none intrudes, by the deep seas, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.” With a gentle push and some brainstorming, there may just be a cure for loneliness after all.