Loneliness can hardly be considered the prerogative of the elderly. And yet it is precisely within this age group that we find it most prevalent. The combination of old age and the incumbent problems of aloneness are often perceived as insurmountable by people already compromised by their situation and powerless to seek help. This sense of isolation is no more acutely felt than during holidays and the festive season.
It’s a problem that is not confined by country or culture but affects the elderly in a similar way worldwide. The elderly are often themselves to blame, rebelling against moving into more community-based living because they:
- don’t want to leave their home of 50 years or more or surroundings that they have grown accustomed to and in which they feel comfortable
- don’t want to move away from family
- lack transport to get to activities with friends or family
- don’t perceive themselves as old (it always happens to someone else) even though their eyesight may be failing or they may have crippling diseases such as arthritis or osteoporosis, etc., which limit their mobility
- have lost many of their friends that may have provided the supportive network that has now disintegrated
- have become reclusive and see community living as threatening
- have no one to help them with the transition – or indeed, any support with regard to accessing information and making a decision
The connective life
What these reluctant people miss is the fact that remaining socially connected and engaged with other people is fundamentally important as we grow older. It is vital for both mental and physical health. Here’s why sharing time and company with other people helps you to be a happier, healthier, more productive and purposeful individual:
- People who lose contact with family and friends will experience a much greater amount of chronic and life-limiting health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
- Spending time enjoying leisure activities with friends and loved ones protects mental skills and keeps them intact longer.
- Exploring new hobbies and pastimes such as learning chess or volunteering to do work with a charitable organisation and constantly challenging yourself to engage more will keep those brain cells firing.
- Brain enhancing activities need the participation of others – such as playing cards and board games; dancing and singing; discussing world news and current events. A healthy brain is often the key to a healthy body.
Remaining connected reduces depression, lifts the spirit and gives one the opportunity to have fun and laugh. Laughing by yourself usually means you need to see a doctor.
What community living can provide
When you’re experiencing the challenges of aging, it’s good to be surrounded by your peers – people who understand your problems. This helps to build strong interpersonal connections, provide security and a positive outlook – all of which contributes to both the quality and length of your life.
- Life enrichment: Many communities offer residents activities and outings which focus on providing enjoyment and promoting a sense of purpose and self-esteem.
- Volunteering: This doesn’t only apply to charities but can refer to any tasks undertaken within the community such as helping with book clubs, leading current event discussions, spearheading craft programmes, knitting for hospitalised children – the possibilities are limited only by imagination and initiative.
- Well-balanced meals: Malnutrition of elderly people living alone is not uncommon. When elderly people live on their own, they tend to prepare poor meals or forget to eat altogether. Shopping for provisions may be difficult for them. They may not know how to ensure good nutrition through the right foods for their age group. In a community geared to care for this important aspect of elderly health, meal times become a nourishing and social experience. Well thought out meals are prepared and served in a dining room where they can interact with friends.
- Keeping fit: Retirement communities invariably supply wellness programmes which include Yoga, Tai Chi, dance movement and planned walks where residents can enjoy the company of others as they exercise and enjoy the fresh air.
- Transport: Many senior-living communities offer transport to events or shops, including doctors’ appointments.
- Mental stimulation: Often guest speakers are invited to talk on a variety of issues, or entertainment is arranged in the order of musical evenings and recitals.
- Professional services: Housekeeping services ensure that the days of housework are over! Other useful on-site services may include beauty or barber shops, dry cleaning and laundry services.
The Helderberg Society for the Aged
The Helderberg Society for the Aged provides a variety of secure lifestyle options for elderly people in an environment of compassion and care. We offer a safe, comfortable environment that is designed to enrich and improve lives – and free from the worries and responsibilities of trying to maintain a home.
Connective, supportive, nurturing. We believe life should be lived to the fullest for all the people within our core services which encompass Independent Living, Assisted Living, Home-based Care and Frail Care.
Find out more about us: www.hsfa.org.za