Loneliness and the elderly

By From the Heart | Catholic Culture

Jan 10

It is not new that many elderly people today are lonely. Loneliness is a social and financial concern for all of us as the elderly population continues to increase. Pope Francis has had the following quote:

“At this time of crisis we cannot be concerned solely with ourselves, withdrawing into loneliness, discouragement and a sense of powerlessness in the face of problems. Please do not withdraw into yourselves! This is a danger: we shut ourselves up in the parish, with our friends, within the movement, with the like-minded… but do you know what happens? When the Church becomes closed, she becomes an ailing Church, she falls ill! That is a danger. . . .A Church closed in on herself is the same, a sick Church.”

Older adults feel lonely due to several variables. They have a lack of social connections – how many of us know our neighbors? People move frequently away from their immediate families. Families with young children are busy with activities throughout the week and into the weekend. Grandparents do not live with their families and many retired seniors move to warmer climates. As people age, chronic illnesses become more prevalent. Mobility becomes an issue. Decreased energy prevents elderly from being involved with family activities. Doctor visits alone take up much of their time and energy. When you don’t feel well – you may just want to stay home.

Loneliness is not a natural part of aging. So it is important to recognize warning signs of loneliness. Some signs of loneliness include:

  • Sudden neglect of hygiene and personal care
  • Lack of motivation
  • Mysterious aches and pains
  • A noticeable increase in negative thinking and pessimism
  • A drop in energy levels
  • Declining interest in social activities
  • A change in reaching out to family/significant others
  • An increase in activities that might be ways of coping such as shopping

Any personal loss such as loss of spouse, family member, pet, or friend can trigger loneliness. Loneliness can exacerbate health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, diabetes, and increased the risk of dementia.

Some suggestions for the elderly person to combat loneliness include:

  • Increase social interactions. Check out a senior center.
  • Volunteering
  • Connecting with family and friends through technology on your computer or phone
  • Join an exercise club
  • Owning a pet
  • Make sure hearing and eye sight are not causing isolation
  • Investigate transportation issues as giving up the keys can be monumental
  • Reach out for support

If you are a family member or a friend, there are suggestions to help with those who are at risk for loneliness.

  • Check in with the elderly person without causing them to lose their independence. Let them make as many safe decisions as possible. Scheduling time to talk on a regular schedule can give them something to look forward to.
  • Send cards, letters, photos, electronic greetings.
  • Ask questions to share their generation of knowledge. Passing information on to their families is a precious gift that usually requires only time
  • Be patient with elderly persons who take a long time in the checkout line or seems to talk extra long to the waitress in the restaurant. This may be their only personal contact all day.
  • Be sure to investigate transportation options if your elderly person is unable to drive. Also investigate if they are still able to drive safely.
  • Be aware of Elder fraud. Many elderly who have been taken by fraud are apprehensive to talk to anyone about it because of the shame at their embarrassing situation.
  • If you live away, check out volunteer organizations in the area who could make visits and provide needed services.
  • Continue to evaluate their living situation as aging may change their abilities over time to feel safe and secure.

**Information above summarized from  https://www.greatseniorliving.com/articles/chronic-loneliness.

Prayer for Relationships

O Lord, I ask you today to help me truly
Connect with those around me.
Help me not to be focused on accomplishing
tasks, but on building relationships.
Please slow the time down to just the
right speed needed to enjoy and value
each person.  Help me to see with the
heart of Jesus.  I thank you for this
wonderful opportunity to be a channel
for your love.

—Margaret Simonson, RN, Parish Nurse, Community Lutheran Church, Escondido, CA, from Prayers for the Soul:  Comfort for Parish Nurses & the People they Serve

Joyce Simones, MS, EdD, RN has been a Faith Community Nurse since 2012. She is a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Sauk Rapids. Her clinical background is Intensive Care at the Mayo, Minneapolis, and St. Cloud. She has also been a nursing professor at College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University and St. Cloud State. She is married to Greg and has three children.

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(1) comment

Geralyn January 10, 2020

Thank you for a very timely, insightful piece. The long, cold dark of winter can exacerbate the feelings of being lonely. I especially appreciate the suggestions to care for one another.

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