None of us have a crystal ball about whether or not we will remain in good health while we age. But, we can control our attitude about aging during our “Golden Years” and avoid some common pitfalls of loneliness.
Those of you who have lost a loved one know it is a challenge at any time and at any age in our lives. It is very natural to feel alone and/or lonely when this happens. We can give ourselves permission to feel sadness. For those who “outlive” their peers, the feelings of loneliness are often heightened. I have seen this reality touch many people, and it can destroy the human spirit.
Preparation is a key life skill; not just a school skill, or work skill, but a life skill. We should take the time to consider where we will live (at home or elsewhere) and how we will take care of ourselves to help prevent a life’s station of loneliness.
Another life skill that helps ward off loneliness is active listening. Listening is a personal interaction that pleases both the giver and the receiver. By listening to others whom we may not understand initially, we become better people and can learn to love and appreciate people who may have different perspectives than we do, including our own family members.
Throughout life’s little surprises or accidents, we can’t always predict the future, but we can prepare for it. When we are younger, we think, ”1 can’t wait to retire so I can do what I want to do, or do nothing if I wish.” We must have a conversation with ourselves about the reality of what this looks like on a day-to-day basis in order to honestly prepare for the future. We should take the time to consider where we will live (at home or elsewhere) and how we will take care of ourselves to help prevent a life’s station of loneliness.
There are two paths we can choose in life that determine the status of loneliness: the “glass half-empty” or the “glass half-full” approach. In my family, I have witnessed examples of both which I will share with you today.
My own personal experience with home care began with my mother who suffered from dementia for 8 years. She was an introvert by nature, but I wanted very much to help her avoid becoming isolated. I often “pushed” her to be more engaging with others. She would often defend her usual way of living by saying, ”You younger people don’t understand. I enjoy my home and that’s all I need.” What she failed to recognize was that she didn’t need “a home” to keep her content, she needed people.
In reflecting on my own mother’s life, while I loved and respected her, she was a “glass half-empty” person and she succumbed to the consequences of that kind of thinking (anger, fear, anxiety). She did not acknowledge that she needed to be needed in some way. If we don’t address this need, then I believe it will be replaced with feelings of loneliness. My mother lost purpose and engaged in activities that were isolating — i.e., watching a lot of TV, losing trust in others, and not engaging in social activities without a “buffer” present, usually my sister or me.
My aunt and uncle on the other hand, view life with a “glass half-full” attitude. They actively work to ward off feelings of loneliness and isolation. They reject fear and anxiety, and treasure every opportunity to enjoy their family. So far, they have taught me that change is hard, whether it is good or bad, but it is how we respond to it that makes all the difference.
They have lived through so much, much of which I may never experience. They are both in their 80’s now. My aunt no longer drives, but is okay with that. She loves her family and her home, and is still able to manage her own care with the help of my dear uncle (her brother-in-law). She engages in dialogue and keeps abreast of current issues we are dealing with in our world. She is an amazingly optimistic individual.
My uncle, too, is interested in conversing regularly with others, engages in correspondence via email, loves his yard, eats well, cares for himself, and chooses to be happy. They have a wonderful arrangement between the two of them. Neither is a hermit, they both have positive mental attitudes, and ride on the laurels of their wisdom, which I also appreciate their passing on to me.
Another action to take in order to dispel loneliness is to be willing to ask for and accept help. Social services, churches, lodges, schools, and those working in geriatrics are dedicated to the proposition that many people need to be cared for, so the quality of services has greatly improved. A possible attitude to embrace is to “relax” and allow others to help in the minimization of your loneliness.
Keep busy with a hobby you love, help others, go to church, and choose to be happy. Keep busy, but not just with anything. Keep busy which results in some type of productivity — for yourself, your family, friends or even for strangers who may have needs you can fulfill through volunteering. Think up, think out, reach toward people! Think about what you can do to help other people and feelings of loneliness will subside.
Written by Carla Turney, Director, Orange County Office, Assured In-Home Care.