People can feel lonely or bored or helpless at any age, but these can become chronic feelings for many elders. Often when people try to help someone who is ill or disabled, they inadvertently exacerbate such feelings by doing too much.
Learn how you can do just the right amount for someone who needs assistance but still wants to feel valuable.
Companionship Instead of Loneliness
Loneliness is a real problem: a University of California at San Francisco study found that of the 18% of seniors living along, 43 percent feel lonely on a regular basis. AARP found that over 42 million adults who are over age 45 experience chronic loneliness (not that age 45 is elderly). Recently, former surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy said that America is facing “an epidemic of loneliness.”
And loneliness isn’t just a feeling; researchers have found that it is linked to an increase chance of Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive decline. People who are lonely for prolonged periods tend to develop depression, which also has a connection to cognitive well-being.
So, what can you do to keep someone from feeling lonely?
- If you can’t be there to visit regularly in person, call or set up some sort of Skype for them so you can visit face to face.
- When you do visit, try to get your loved one out in their community to see other friends of theirs or sign up for enriching experiences such as seeing art or participating in a local fitness outing.
- Many people enjoy the companionship of a pet, even a temporary foster animal.
- Some people develop close friendships with a professional caregiver who can come for a visit for as little or much time as needed, and be there to play games or run errands.
Why Not Now?
Each person has their own interests, preferences and personality so there can’t be a one-size-fits-all-approach to making people better or less bored or helpless.
The Eden Alternative® is a non-profit organization that provides education and consultation for organizations across the continuum of care. “In Eden Alternative philosophy, we define care as helping another grow,” explained Laura Beck, Learning and Development Guide for The Eden Alternative®. “From our perspective, the tendency out there is that care is treatment alone. The truth is, we all require care all the time and may not require treatment all the time.” In other words, caregiving isn’t medical attention only.
With this approach, the person helping and the person in need of help become partners in care rather than one giving and one receiving.
Whether a friend, family member or professional caregiver, there’s always a chance for sharing knowledge and experiences. For example, client P. hired a professional caregiver but wanted someone who could cook her favorite dishes. Caregiver L. asks P. for the recipes, then makes fun shapes—like hearts or smiley faces—to make up for not being a real chef. In this exchange both are learning and delighted with the results! Neither one feels bored, but excited to keep learning and growing as individuals.
“It is a care partnership,” Beck said. “I think a lot of times what happens is that people are so focused on what it means to be a good giver that they burn out.”
According to the Eden Alternative philosophy, the antidote to boredom is to imbue life with variety and spontaneity.
Don’t Overdo It
Once you are tuned into a person’s unique interests and abilities, it can be easier to let them do what they can rather than do too much for them and render them helpless.
“In our society, we’re very focused on being doers,” Beck explained. “If we become more aware about being present and not what you need to do next, then you bring awareness into the care partnership. It isn’t just about tasks.”
When someone needs a little help—whether from a family member, friend, neighbor or professional caregiver—too often these helpers take over when they really just need to assist.
“If you look at helplessness, the antidote is the opportunity to give as well as receive,” Beck said. “We all want to have a purpose and we feel better when we are not being given to all the time.”