We have an increasing population of older adults moving to the Quad Cities area to enjoy all it has to offer. Being healthy and active and able to travel can ease the sense of loss of family and friends who may live some distance away. Most older adults are able to enjoy this independence into older age, but as we know, life can change in an instant or over time. Many who have lost a life-long partner find themselves living alone for the first time, often far from close family and friends. Loss of vision and hearing can isolate people even if they don’t live alone. We live in a place where most of us need a car to handle everyday chores, get to appointments and visit friends, but what happens when we can no longer drive?
Can social isolation lead to loneliness? Yes, it can, but loneliness is a subjective experience and can happen even when we have people in our lives. For many, it is a sense of not quite fitting in and belonging. You can feel it even when you are in the midst of a party or family holiday. Persistent loneliness may lead to loss of self-esteem, a belief that one does not matter to others, and those feelings can lead us to isolate ourselves even more. Symptoms of depression may manifest themselves and suicide is a risk for those with serious or clinical depression.
Getting older requires courage and the ability to be flexible and adapt to the changes we experience. Having supportive family and friends who respect us and want to listen can make all the difference. If you know someone who is experiencing feelings of loneliness or isolation, there are several things you can do to help. The first step is to listen to them with your heart. Asking gentle and caring questions about their sense of well-being will encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings. Invite them to think about what their interests are—what brings them joy—and then help them to explore ways they can pursue these interests, which would connect them with others who also hold a common interest, such as exercising at a gym, attending a church, going to a senior or community center, volunteering, etc. Other ways to help would be to offer to do something with them, such as shopping together, going out for a meal or inviting them to come over for coffee and dessert, taking a drive and looking at the beautiful sites around our communities, or enjoying a walk in nature together.
The volunteers and staff who are part of the Senior Peer Program of West Yavapai Guidance Clinic know that the most important thing we can give an isolated or lonely older adult is the recognition that they, and their life experience, are truly valued. We listen without judgment, patiently and with compassion. We want to hear whatever they’d like to share and we respect what they offer as elders. We know this makes a difference, and our volunteers, who are also older adults, will be the first to tell you that they are getting back as much as they give, if not more. It enriches each of our lives and brings a sense of meaning and purpose to us personally.
We may not be able to significantly alter the circumstances of the lives of the older adults we serve, but we do know it takes very little to help someone by walking together with them as they travel their own individual paths in life. If you would like to know more about the Senior Peer Program at West Yavapai Guidance Clinic, please visit our website at seniorpeerprogram.org, or call 928-445-5211, ext. 2601 or ext. 2672 for more information about the free services we provide. QCBN
By Connie Boston and