Practical advice for the lonely

Loneliness can be very detrimental to your health. There are practical things you can do to deal with loneliness constructively and beneficially.
__________________Heather Ann Hunter
__________________RTO member

Loneliness in seniors can cause premature death. The elderly may isolate themselves due to fear of falling, fatigue. chronic pain, shame (over poor memory) and nervousness driving. Many peers will have died or moved and there is no longer contact with acquaintances. Feeling alienated and unimportant, seniors may not take care of their own health and well-being. Poor diet and lack of exercise can exacerbate illnesses. Isolation is the enemy of the elderly. It can cause depression.

Depression can be the underlying cause of confusion, memory problems and apathy. The risk of suicide is surprisingly high. The good news is that 80% respond to treatment, but the bad news is 90% will not seek help. Their generation was taught to be stoic; sufferers resist prescribed anti-depressants, but too often self-medicate with alcohol (a depressant) accounting for some accidents, fires and falls.

Just because someone is married, doesn’t mean they aren’t lonely. Men and women need to pursue separate pastimes and make their own friends. One thing is certain even for a happily married couple, one will die first leaving the other alone, sometimes for the first time in over 50 years.

Friendships need to be nurtured. It is not necessary to throw a big dinner party. Invite friends for a President’s Choice meal. The younger generation have figured that out. Guests are just happy to be invited and may reciprocate.

Pets provide companionship and a sense of purpose, and even lower blood pressure; but some animals require a lot of attention, so it is important that their demands don’t exceed your ability to care for them.

Regular contact with people is important even if via the internet. Learning basic computer skills will help you (re)connect with family and friends by email, or on Facebook. Don’t miss out due to fear of technology. Your kids will gladly show off their skills racing through instructions, so write down the commands you need to know. Checking if “you’ve got mail” is something to look forward to but remember, no one’s life is as perfect as it looks on Facebook.

Be attentive to the lives of others. Listening can be far more interesting than hearing yourself talk. Nostalgia can easily digress into complaining about society today. Your past is ancient history, irrelevant to your children and grandchildren. Illness is too often the focus of senior conversation, so bear in mind, no one wants to hear the ins and outs of a colonoscopy over lunch. Tell your kids how you are when they ask, but don’t be a total downer. It scares them to learn what their flesh may be heir to.

Too often, seniors look back with guilt and remorse for their mistakes. It may be necessary to apologize for past actions or beliefs as times change, but then, let it go.

Forgive yourself and forgive others.

The thought of relocating is scary. Often the elderly insist they want to stay in their own homes on a street where they see no one all day. Consider leaving your home to live in a seniors’ apartment or residence with social activities. Freedom from the worries of home maintenance will be a relief. There is nothing so rejuvenating as a fresh start. Why not consider going to a building where a friend lives, then, on snowy winter days, you can invite each other for dinner or a card game and only have to walk as far as the elevator.

Join a seniors’ exercise program, but resist the destructive urge to compare yourself to others or your former self. Activity strengthens the body and the mind by stimulating happy hormones. If it is too difficult to go to a community center or gym, exercise at home. Jane Fonda, over 80, has produced great seniors’ aerobic exercises on DVD. Work out at your own pace accompanied by the sweet, encouraging voice of Jane. Then watch an episode of Grace and Frankie on Netflix, a hilarious series about the trials and tribulations of growing old. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin will have you laughing out loud, a natural anti-depressant.

Boredom is a common complaint which can easily be addressed by reading and writing. Reading transports you and expands your experience vicariously, engaging the mind much better than television. Keep a journal and write letters (emails) each day. Work at retrieving precise words from deep in your memory bank. The more you retrieve, the more you have at your command.

Being creative is a way to boost mood and self-esteem. It doesn’t matter if you make a pie, a poem or a bird house; you will get a surge of pleasure from the act, regardless of the results. Retirement affords time to explore new or old interests.

Volunteering gives a sense of usefulness and purpose, whether you are baking for a bazaar or reading with school children. Visit a shut-in or drive them to an appointment. Helping others takes us outside of ourselves. Have more than doctors’ appointments on your calendar.

Feeding the soul is as important as feeding the mind and body. Places of worship Churches are community hubs running regular weekday activities geared to seniors. Fund raisers for local and world causes are gratifying. Belonging to a church, temple or mosque is to be involved with society. Religious services are usually upbeat, thought-provoking and entertaining. Members of the congregation will be delighted to see you and will even ask you to come back. How often does that happen?

Granted, old age may not be the proverbial “golden years’, but to use yet another cliché, life is what you make it. Now, I need to practice what I preach!

RTO/ERO Toronto Member, Heather Ann Hunter, wrote this article based on general readings and personal experience. Living alone, she confronts these issue.

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