Why Everyone Should Befriend A Senior Citizen in 2020
Some of the most isolated population is suffering, and in more ways than one.
If there’s one thing having a physical disability has taught me, it’s that sometimes, no matter what our minds want, our bodies just won’t cooperate.
I’ve experienced this first-hand many times in my life, especially after a tough orthopedic surgery. I was young, and still wanted to act young, and yet suddenly it seemed as if all my body wanted was to slow down. I couldn’t behave the way I wanted to, and it was not my choice.
As I dealt with this frustration, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was how many older individuals felt. It got me thinking that what if senior citizens still felt young in their minds and just old in their bodies? What if, like me at the time, they didn’t want to be home alone on a Friday night, but didn’t have anywhere they could go?
I was lucky because after my surgery was complete and I was healed I could go back to living my normal life, but for many older adults, this isn’t the case, creating a heartbreaking epidemic of loneliness among senior citizens.
According to studies conducted in 2019, 43% of senior citizens reported that they experienced loneliness often. But what’s even more shocking here is that loneliness is not only associated with depressed mood but physical health risks.
Lonely/isolated seniors have a 29% increased risk for developing heart disease and a 32% higher chance of having a stroke. In addition to this, it has been reported that isolated elders are also more likely to suffer from dementia.
Due to issues like new health problems, the inability to continue driving, or the loss of a spouse, senior loneliness is a problem that is only expected to keep growing, meaning that more and more people will not only feel the mental pain of isolation but the physical effects from it as well.
As stated by Dr. Cole (director of the Social Genomics Core Laboratory at the University of California),
“ The biology of loneliness can accelerate the buildup of plaque in arteries, help cancer cells grow and spread, and promote inflammation in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease. Loneliness promotes several different types of wear and tear on the body.”
My heart breaks when I read these statistics, not just because of how shocking they are but because I know (as I’m sure most of us do) what it’s like to be lonely, at least during some parts of our lives.
I can recall in my early school years writing to a senior citizen in a nursing home as part of a writing program. After a few months, the entire class got to go to the home to meet our writing buddies.
Most of the “buddies” were sweet and excited to meet their pen pals, mine of the other hand…not so much. My pen pal seemed frustrated and “over” the whole thing, claiming it made him feel “old.”
In an attempt to try to bond with him, I noticed that he kept painting supplies at his desk and asked him if he liked to paint, to which he responded to by saying, “It’s not my favorite thing in the world, but it’s about all I can do now.”
Even at a young age, it seemed to click with me that the problem wasn’t that this was a mean old man, but perhaps a lonely one who felt stripped of his identity.
Half an hour later, we were laughing while sharing a pack of gummy bears while he told me all about his baseball days. He was never a painter, he was a sports guy, and no number of candles on his birthday cake could change that.
So how can we help combat loneliness in seniors? Well, the answer may be simpler than you think. A great place to start is to consider the senior citizens that you already know or that are in your community.
Do you know of a senior living down the street who doesn’t seem to get out much? Or do you have an older relative that you haven’t spoken to in a while? A great place to start is to simply pick up the phone and give them a call, or a knock on the door if you can.
Chat with them about how their day is going, invite them to dinner, or offer to come by for lunch one day if they have trouble leaving the house. All of these small gestures can help a senior feel less lonely and start the process of broadening their social circle. It’s also a great idea to consider volunteering at a nursing home or hospice center. And if possible, see if they need a ride or help to get somewhere, such as a social function or a friend’s house.
Remember that senior citizens have all once been young people too. Some of them were the cool athletes, others the beauty queens, and some even the class clowns.
Don’t dilute people’s personalities because of their age or ability to do things. Try to get to know them on a personal basis and find things that you can talk about and bond over, not only will you probably hear some really interesting stories, but they’ll likely have a lot of great advice to share too.
Unfortunately, loneliness is a state we will all likely experience at some point in our lives regardless of our age, but it isn’t a state we should have to live in, especially since we know how truly detrimental it is. Loneliness can’t be fought alone, and only through the kind hearts of individuals can we help see less lonely seniors and people in general.
Let’s change the statistics for 2020 and make this the year of fewer lonely seniors.