weekly blog--one for the ages
Last Friday night, I was back at my mother-in-law’s senior community in Connecticut for a poetry reading. Sixteen residents presented their poems. My mother-in-law read one about army life that had been written by her husband in the 1950's just after the Korean War ended.
Most engaging, was a poem delivered by a woman who had just turned 100. She wrote her poem, Alone, about six months ago when feeling blue and wondering why she had lived so long. As she was reflecting on life, past/present/future, she realized how lucky she was to be living where she was, having a loving family and many friends, and doing all of the things she enjoys--sculpting, knitting, coloring books and doing jig-saw puzzles.
She starts the poem by realizing that she is alone despite being surrounded by so many people she loves and cares about. She ends it with the line, I don’t mind being alone.
Perhaps no other age group feels the sting of loneliness more than the elderly. One researcher concludes that nursing homes, assisted living communities, etc. can be totally disorienting experiences even when someone is being taken care of by a family caregiver because there is often little attention paid to deep, engaging communication between the senior and the rest of the family.
A professional caregiver echoes the same sentiment. She says that the breakdown of family relationships—like those between grandparent and grandchild—has caused many elderly people to feel as though they have been "pushed to the side" and forgotten about.
To counter loneliness, AARP and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging today launched a first-of-its-kind national campaign aimed at raising awareness, and getting families to talk about the issue during the holidays.
Tens of millions of adults are chronically lonely. Studies have linked isolation to disability, cognitive decline and early death. A seminal study of 1,600 seniors age 60 and older found that lonely people were far more likely to have difficulties walking, bathing, dressing, and climbing stairs than those who were not. 45 percent were more likely to die during the six years the study tracked them, from 2002 to 2008.