The Danger of Isolation
is a common phenomenon of aging. It refers to burrowing in at home.
The world shrinks to that one favorite chair in front of the
television. Within reach are the TV remote, piles of old newspapers
and magazines, snack food, and a coffee cup (and maybe a pack of
cigarettes and a bottle of alcohol). Nesting is a sure sign that
your loved one has become too isolated.
We’re social animals. We need to be around others. A
care-receiver who has become a hermit is in danger of developing a
host of problems. Again, the maxim “Use it or lose it” is a helpful
guide. A person who is mentally stimulated and challenged can think
more clearly. A person who gets some physical exercise, who is out
and about, feels better and sleeps more soundly at night. A person
who is concerned about others, who feels he or she is making a
contribution, is less self-absorbed. A person with basic social
skills is going to pay attention to appearance and manners.
Of course, sometimes there are very good reasons for sticking
close to home. We all have our downtimes. It could be that your
care-receiver has been sick. Maybe your loved one is recovering from
surgery. But for some, it’s not hard for that recuperative period to
lead to an unhealthy isolation. You realize that your loved one used
to belong to a parish guild or an altar society but now only attends
Sunday Mass. She no longer takes the bus downtown for that
once-a-month luncheon with friends. She only goes out to buy
groceries, and she doesn’t even want to do that.
Why does this happen? It might be that his closest friends have
died and it’s not easy to make new ones. Maybe he’s concerned that
mentally he’s not as quick as he used to be. He forgets names. He
gets confused when he’s out of the house. Maybe she’s hiding the
fact that she’s having trouble walking. Or that she is getting dizzy
sometimes, or having trouble controlling her bladder. Pride may be
influencing the decision: “What will people think? I look terrible.”
Maybe your loved one is simply afraid. The news is filled with
stories of violent crimes, and he or she can feel vulnerable.
What can you do to help?
--Bring up the subject of isolation. Ask your loved one
why he or she doesn’t want to go out. Maybe there’s a very simple
explanation and solution.
--Find out what community programs and activities are
available. Visit a local senior center with your father. Better
still, make a visit with your care-receiver and take along a friend
of his. Go on a tour. Have lunch there. Meet some of the other
participants. Check the schedule and see what would be fun for him
and his friend to do. Your local Senior Information and Assistance
can help you find the nearest senior center.
--Facilitate activities. Offer to drive your mother to
an afternoon recital or a movie matinee and then pick her up. Find
out about bus schedules, cab rates, and senior van pools. Encourage
your father to volunteer. Be on hand—as co-host and caterer—so Mom
or Dad can have company over for lunch or coffee and cake.
--Find out what’s happening at the parish. Help your
loved one become more active there. Most likely a fellow parishioner
is going to the prayer service, presentation, party, or meal and
would be happy to act as chauffeur.
Don’t expect things to turn around overnight. Correcting the
problem of isolation, like becoming isolated, is a gradual process.
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