Age and Loneliness

When we’re able to move around easily and stay busy, loneliness may not be something we think about much. However, when an illness or age finally slows us down, it can be a crushing problem.

Loss of mobility is only one reason an older person may feel lonely. As we get older, our friends, siblings and cousins start to pass on. Suddenly, there’s no one our own age to talk to. There’s no one who’s shared the same experiences or remember the same events.

If you’re lucky, your family is close by and they come to see you regularly. Some of my relatives aren’t that lucky. Neither are we. Our family is spread out across thousands of miles, and our elders often feel the bite from that.

If you’re an elderly person living alone, I don’t need to tell you how it feels or what the symptoms are. However, if you’re the relative of someone in this predicament, you need to recognize the symptoms and what you can do about it.

Frequent Phone Calls: Does your relative call you a minimum of once daily and frequently more often? That’s a strong indicator. Hearing another human voice that is interacting with them is important. It helps them feel connected.

Repeats the Same Question or Story: In some cases, this could be memory loss related to a more serious problem. However, if it’s the only thing that has happened in a while, it may be the only excuse your relative can find to justify the phone call. Keep that in mind when you are answering the same question for the sixth time in two days.

Turns to TV: A lot of lonely elders turn to the television set. They can hear human voices, perhaps get involved with some sort of emotional drama and feel at least some relief from being alone all of the time. Many times, they will fall asleep with the TV on. In fact, if you slip in and turn it off while spending the night, they may actually wake up and turn it back on. It’s their security blanket.

What you can do:

Don’t wait for your relative to call. Call them first, and if you have any interesting anecdotes about your family or things that have happened, share them. It shows them that you remember them and that you care. It also gives them something new to think about and cherish.

You may want to consider getting a bunch of post cards and post card stamps. Every day or so, write a short note on one and drop it in the mail. Finding that post card may be the highlight of your relative’s day.

If you live close enough, visit often. You don’t have to stay long, just drop by for a few minutes. If you don’t, see if there are others who can. Check with your relative’s church or other house of worship. If they’ve belonged to a club in the past, talk to them.

Loneliness isn’t just something painful our elderly have to live with. It can be deadly. As they lose connection with the world around them, giving up becomes much easier.

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