Aging Parents and Loneliness

What makes old people lonely? Were they lonely when they were younger, and if they are our parents were we never aware?

Were they shy?  Were they slow to initiate–did they even try? Did they have friends? Were they loners? Were their personalities such that people didn’t like being with them? Remember–people change, not much.

Many old people are lonely. We just know that, even if we don’t know them.  But if they’re in our family, it’s troubling isn’t it?

For many of us there’s an internal pressure to “make it better” for them. With the demands of life today, however, this isn’t necessarily easy. So do we feel guilty, do we do the best we can and connect whenever we think about it and have some free time, or do we repress this reality and go about our life?

A short article from this summer’s issue of UCLA Medicine (the University of Calif. at Los Angeles Medicine Magazine) caught my attention. While we know loneliness is emotionally awful, their researchers report that people who continually feel lonely may also be at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegeneration. Any of those undesirable conditions are burdensome for aging parents and add additional complications to their children’s lives.

If our aging parents fall into the loneliness category, what can we do? Probably not much of substance unless we:

Post Reminders
     — on our computer calendar, paper calendar, engagement calendar, the refrigerator–making certain they have human contact on a daily basis.  OK. Easier said than done, I know, but it can become 5-10 minutes of a daily routine if we phone or fax.

A fax takes only the time spent to write it, which I think is the beauty of a fax.  A lonesome aging parent has something newsy come into his/her life to read and reread, while a phone call lasts for an unspecified amount of time with good or bad news, but leaves only memories after it ends.

On the other hand, D in her 80’s, who will soon be added as a Senior Advisor to this blog, relates: “One morning recently I made two phone calls to friends and received one from a third, and as I thought about the three calls, I felt buoyed up for the day.  

To assuage the feeling of loneliness, nothing can approach the power of a phone call and the warmth of the human voice, which is multiplied geometrically by a second call -no matter how brief – from the same person or another one.”

A visit is best, a phone call is evidently 2nd best, then comes the fax. Also Paw Paw email (click “Sites and Blogs I Like” tab above) qualifies for non-computer users. Its simple purpose is to bring email into a person’s life.

There’s an old saying–I think it an AT&T ad:  “Reach Out and Touch Someone.”  Daily personal contacts can help dispel loneliness as we aim to help parents age well.

Related: Click link for some specific lonesome-parent strategies

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Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities. respected professionals and selected publications–to help parents age well.

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