LONELINESS AND ITS EFFECTS ON THE ELDERLY

I express my heartfelt condolences to the family of Mr. Clifford Albert Mendes, better known as Man Himself, and pray they find comfort in their wonderful memories and God’s Grace.  Man Himself got a sendoff befitting the life he lived…truly a life well-lived.

 

There will be a follow-up session to discuss the “National Gender Policy on Equality and Equity,” on Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at the Fort Young Hotel from 10am to 1pm.  We extend a special invitation to men to attend so we can get their contributions.  Contact us at VF Inc via info@vfinc.org or 767 449 9649.

 

This week we focus on “Loneliness and its effects on the Elderly.”  I presented the Feature address on the topic at the REACH”s “Poor Person Dinner” on March 22, 2014 and reproduce the majority of the speech here.

 

When we say that we are lonely, what are we saying?  For some of us, we are saying we are bored, for some it is we do not have enough to keep us occupied, for some of us, we are feeling unloved, uncared for and for some of us we are saying that life is not worth living, we have lost hope, we feel like we are in a dark hole and cannot find our way back to the light.  This demonstrates that loneliness is on a spectrum, with the worst cases being those have lost hope.  When we lose hope, we are no longer living.  We just exist and these are the people who often commit suicide.

 

Most people, if not all, at some point or other will experience some feelings of loneliness, often at the lower end of the spectrum, however there are some people, especially the elderly who experience loneliness at the higher ends for prolong periods and for a high percentage, this occurrence comes with age.  The findings of a Ministry of Health and Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) study on the Health and Care of the Elderly in Dominica in 2009, revealed a high percentage of depression and chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCD) among the elderly.  The table below summarises the findings of the Survey:

 

 

FINDING PERCENTAGE
Feelings of uselessness and worthlessness 73% – This compares to 43 in the USA and 33% in Trinidad
Unable to meet daily expenses and necessities 72%
Suffer from a chronic non-communicable disease (CNCD) 90%
37% of the 90% suffer from diabetes
63% of the 90% suffer from hypertension
Remembers no items 34%
Remembers three items 38%
Own Home 89%
29% of the 89% has no running water and toilet facilities
Participate in no physical activities 63%
Females having pap smears 16%
Females doing breast self-exam 14%
Men participating in prostrate cancer screening 25%

 

This data reveals a 73% rate of loneliness among our elderly.  What is your reaction to this data?  Are you comfortable with it?  We Dominicans pride ourselves on our hospitality and love, so how then do we account for 73% of our elderly feeling useless and worthless?  What leads a person to feel useless and worthless?  A lack of love is my simple answer, however this answer masks many of the issues resulting in loneliness among the elderly.

 

My research reveals that this phenomenon is not unique to Dominica but a worldwide phenomenon caused in part by the increasing ageing of society with higher percentages of the population being over 6o, than before.  Some of the reasons gleaned from my research include:

 

  1. Poverty
  2. Worry about their income and the increasing cost of living
  3. Eating alone
  4. No or infrequent visits from family
  5. Uncaring families
  6. Busy life of family members including children
  7. Health issues
  8. Race in America as racial discrimination meant many were underemployed and lived a lifetime of poverty
  9. Not spending sufficient time over their lifetime with their family, especially for men, and in old age end up outside the tight family circle.
  10. Women who were typically the caregivers are now in paid employment, away from the home
  11. Meaningless/dysfunctional relationships – Studies in the US reveal that 2/3 of the people who reported being lonely are either married or living with a partner
  12. Absence of deep meaningful communication
  13. Loneliness is contagious – the behaviours of lonely people often discourages others from wanting to spend time with them

 

Another dimension to not spending sufficient time with our children during their lifetime is the message we give tour children.  Sometimes we tell our children that they are to live their lives and focus on getting ahead in life and if this is the message they have been taught, then when their parents become elderly, they may be at the building stage of their lives and they I also believe the way we raise our children are important.  Some

 

 

What impact can this have on the elderly?

 

  1. Depression and in come cases dementia and Alzheimer.
  2. Increasing poor health as they do not eat properly and the growing rise of non communicable chronic diseases among the elderly, diabetes and hypertension
  3. Risky behavior and increase in AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.  A study in 2010 by the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America found that elderly in Harlem’s housing project are at a higher risk of getting HIV than other places (1 in 38 vs. 1 in 100), in large part due to loneliness.
  4. Self mutilation
  5. Suicide

 

So now that we know the causes and effect of loneliness on the Elderly, what are we going to do about it?  Some solutions include:

 

  1. Families to care more for their elderly family, making arrangements for the elderly to have company for the most part of the day, or hiring caregivers and/or nurses to provide love, care and company.  The Bardouilles of Mahaut formed a twenty-four hour care program whereby there was also a child, grandchild or other family member with their mother while she was sick.  This was truly remarkable for their mother was in a vegetative state for at least five years.
  2. Build relationships during our lifetime with family and friends to ensure a circle of love and support in our old age
  3. Make our visit count – When you visit the Elderly, be present, not just in body but also in spirit.  Engage them in meaningful communication or be silently present if that is what is needed.  Give the cellphones a break – does it really count for a visit if you spend the majority of the time on your cellphone, talking, texting or playing games?  Show that you are happy to be there, that you are there out of love and not obligation.  Demonstrate your love.
  4. Document their stories so we can learn from their vast experiences while at the same time giving them the opportunity to share and meaningfully contribute.
  5. Obtain their advice; place them on advisory committees or boards.  Many elderly persons are in good health, are of sound mind and have so much on events.  Elderly
  6. Associations of the Elderly to engage in programs and activities that provide stimulation for the elderly
  7. Day care centres and Homes for the elderly to provide them with activity and purpose
  8. Intergeneration communication to be encouraged so that children and young persons spend time with the elderly, providing a mentoring/caring relationship.  Natasha Jervier, one of our Youth Ambassadors, plan for the “Bridging the Generation Gap; Adopt a Grandchild” should be given support by the DCOA, REACH and the Gov’t
  9. Live-in communities whereby the elderly, who are still independent and healthy, with no one to care for them, can live in community.

 

The only commandment with a promise is “Honour your mother and father so that your days may be long.”  Let us honour our parents and show more love, respect and honour to our elderly members of society.  I commend the many persons and groups who have made it their mission to care for the elderly.  This includes REACH,

St. Vincent, The Paul Society, DCOA, Yes, We Care, DNCW, Mrs. Ignatia Pascal of Grandbay

 

Until we meet again, May the Lord continue to Keep Us in the Palm of His Hands!

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