I recently sat with a client who resides in a lovely independent living community. She is a very confident 92 year old person who is experiencing failing health. Despite her physical decline, what seemed to bother her the greatest was her inability to meet new friends in the community where she lives. She was born in NJ, was married to a very successful man and lived quite an accomplished life. They moved to Florida after selling their business and lived there for 30 years. She moved back to NJ 8 years ago so she would be closer to family. Like many in her age group, she has lost all of her friends and most of her family members. Now, what upsets her the most is a sense of loneliness. She complains that many of the people who socialize during dinner, moved into the building around the same time and have established such a close connection, it’s difficult to be allowed in. That conversation struck me as an unfortunate situation but unfortunately, it seems a recurring topic among seniors who live in similar communities .
Many seniors struggle to make new friends in this stage of their life. Insecurities and vulnerability become evident during such conversations. Perhaps those emotions also get in the way of the journey to make new friends. Interestingly, I have noticed that his complaint has been registered more by women than men. They seem to yearn for that companionship that friendship naturally brings. They resent the feeling of rejection and oftentimes question how normal or abnormal they are.
As a home care provider, I resolve to alleviate some of the distress by stressing activities that includes other people. I encourage visits to places like senior centers, finding support groups, and attending local events. We have a caregiver who organizes tea parties with neighbors so our client can feel the excitement of entertaining and enjoy the company of people her age. This is a remarkable thing, and we salute aides like her who can think of such wonderful ideas.
Providing care at home does not, nor should it mean seclusion. Caregivers should become aware of these issues and try to address them the best way they can. A caregiver is not just a utilitarian helper, he/she should learn to address the needs of the whole person; a holistic approach to care. This includes the social needs too. Here are some ideas:
Game night- help the client with invitations and have her host game night at her home.
Host pizza night and a movie
Have a Frank Sinatra night-Clear furniture for dancing
The list goes on, and on. Be creative, think outside the box and help someone feel less lonely today.
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