Loneliness is a problem for seniors
Great Britain - One in 10 elderly people sees nobody on an average day, according to a report describing the effects of a cash-rich, time-poor society on its older members.
One in five older people is often or always lonely and as many as 32 elderly people die alone in their homes every day in Great Britain, the equivalent of nearly 12,000 people a year.
The report, by the Women's Royal Voluntary Service in Great Britain, challenges companies, governmental organizations and charities to ensure that by 2010 all older people in Britain have daily human contact.
Mark Lever, chief executive, said: "Few understand the multiple impact that loneliness can have. It can be the difference between life and death. Housebound and deprived of human contact, older people go down hill rapidly in both physical and mental terms."
Obviously, this study isn't just reflective of English or even European seniors. Any industrialized society where people move away from family members and/or where most households require two incomes can have this problem.
The question is, what and how to turn this tide around before it's a tidal wave. As many as 70% of American adults do not live in the same town as their parents do and an large number of two-income families makes it even harder for families to see and communicate with older family members.
As long as the senior parents are mobile and can get out and drive themselves around, loneliness is a problem that they can prevent by going out, socializing, going to church, meeting friends, and traveling to see friends and family.
It's when the driving spouse dies, the senior can no longer afford to drive, or someone loses their vision or other abilities to drive that this becomes the impetus of loneliness.
This compares to young people who see 20 or more people on an average day, according to the study. Even when younger people don't see as many people, they have the freedom of making this choice and can alter their situation whenever they choose.
Alternatives to prevent loneliness
No single answer works in all cases and many of these provide some sacrifice for someone in someway:
When seniors move into a managed residence facility, it becomes possible for them to find new friends. The ability to socialize often becomes no more than the ability to walk out the door and down the hall.
Downsides - Moving to an assisted living facility requires giving up the family home and familiar surroundings. According to a MetLife study, 97% of seniors do not want to leave their home. In some cases, moving away from the family home against their will can cause depression.
Another downside is the expense factor. While the family home is probably paid off, requiring only the payment of upkeep and taxes, the cost of assisted living can easily consumer a couple of thousand dollars per month or more, and that is with a minimal number of services. For those that cannot afford this expense or refuse to subjugate their entire life's savings, the cost of assisted living may require other alternatives.
One very viable alternative to every day loneliness is a relatively new but fast rising industry, Homecare.
Homecare companies send companions and/or workers into the senior home on a periodic basis, provide personal services to help seniors with personal care and home care, and can be hired to live on the premises and even stay overnight if conditions warrant it.
In many cases, this can be the best alternative to loneliness when the family home and familiar surroundings are extremely important. It can also alleviate the mundane duties of care that are often provided by family members so that when there is time to visit, it can be spent actually visiting, not maintaining.
Downsides - Homecare still costs money and unless you have long term care insurance that provides for this kind of service, it comes out of your pocket, 100%
In some cases, the client can also feel as though their privacy is violated by having a stranger in the house. However, given the alternatives, the need for service, and the ability to have human contact, homecare is often considered a very reasonable alternative.
Though this can happen in many different ways, the net result is that the parent will join a family member in their own home.
With one or two relatively young parents that are in reasonably good health and who may live a long time, this is often the most economical and efficient long-term way of doing things because it does not need to require any additional costs other than consumables like power, water, and food.
While it may not always be possible, one variant of this might include what is commonly known as a mother-in-law suite. In such cases, a completely separate facility is often built as a room addition to an existing house but separated from the primary living facilities.
The mother-in-law suite almost always should include more than a bedroom. A mother-in-law suite is ideally a large enough room that you can have a bed, but also a mini living room area and even an eating table. It should always include a separate bathroom that is large enough for the senior and someone who can assist them, plus outfitted with anti-skid materials, grab bars, and an emergency call intercom.
This concept allows for the senior to be close to and to visit with caring family members but yet maintain their own place and not feel like they are interfering.
Downsides - There are few downsides to this other than moving from the primary family residence of the senior. If the family that they are joining does not live in the same geographic area, then there is the real potential to give up friends and this may cause even more dependence.
One other alternative to senior loneliness is the roommate alternative. In many cases, this can be a saving grace for two people because the roommate moving in is often a lonely person as well. Just as with college age roommates, when two or more people live in a single location and split bills, it becomes more economical to both.
Downsides - It can be tough to have your living space invaded by a stranger and accept them as "living" at your place with all the rights and privileges that go with that. Few seniors are used to this arrangement and if it is going to work, they have to give up the idea that they can fully control the activities of the household. There can be quite a problem in making the differentiation between household guest and tenant, but the tenant who pays the rent does not expect to have to act like a guest. It is after all, their home too!
Planning and implementation
Regardless of what direction people go towards making changes, several things are important:
Plan ahead - Don't wait until things MUST change to come up with a plan because this is when people make decisions based on immediate necessity and these often result in mistakes being made.
Involve everyone - This isn't just about the senior or just about the family that they would move in with (if that is the chosen option). It is about the whole family and making sure that everyone is alright with the decisions that will be made. If different people have different ideas about what will happen, obviously someone is going to be disappointed.
Listen - Perhaps this is the most crucial aspect of planning. Unless you know how the senior parent feels about this, it can be hard to make the proper plans and decisions. Expect that the senior parents will reject the idea of making changes because, "I'm not ready for that, I'm fine on my own". If they are, then don't push it. Just talk about it. Any life-changing idea takes awhile to get used to and the more honest and longer people can think about future changes that are inevitable, the better.
Work together - This is often one of the least used pieces of advice that can be given to adult family caregivers. It is unfair for any one person to take full responsibility for all the decisions, have to do all the work, or cover all costs of helping senior family members make these kinds of transitions. But a burden shared by all becomes a lesser burden for any and all.