By Abigail Haller, Screening Integration Coordinator
As we age, we begin to fall away from daily interactions with others. Children grow up and move away, we retire, and we might not be able to keep up with our favorite hobbies like we used to. Communication with others keeps our minds focused and give us experiences that helps us stay emotionally versed. Changes with aging can be overwhelming and leave a sense of loneliness and uselessness. Many older adults endure these feelings and changes, but one way to maintain vitality is to keep one thing consistent. Companionship.
As human beings we are genetically designed to be social creatures. Although that may not be the case for all man-kind, it is for most of us. It gives us a feeling of belonging and importance which has a chain reaction on other areas of our mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. Having companionship with other people in any positive way is highly beneficial.
The Health and Retirement Study has found that loneliness and perceived isolation are the main culprits of deteriorating health in aging adults. Some conditions that have been linked to said feelings include impaired sleep and daytime function, mental health and cognition, increased vascular resistance, and even increased systolic blood pressure. These are just a few of the many conditions that can predict mortality. Just as we know that stress can weaken the immune system, other intense feelings and emotions such as loneliness that can lead to depression could also affect the body in damaging ways.
What can you do to lessen the occurrence of loneliness of older adults? Getting involved in volunteering in your area’s retirement facilities is a great place to start. Although the residents of retirement facilities are surrounded by people, they are a large demographic that suffers from loneliness and depression. Simple actions can help boost morale. Sitting with a person during a meal or taking them for a walk outdoors is a time they can look forward to and begin to build a lasting relationship.
Another idea that has been introduced recently is having daycares for children inside of nursing homes. In Seattle, Washington there is a senior living facility called Providence Mount St. Vincent also known as “The Mount”. Children and older adults interacting regularly brings vitality to both sides. The children are exposed to the reality of aging and even death. Many of the residents have grandchildren or family that live too far to see regularly so they still get to participate in being a grandparent or great-grandparent. This brings great joy and purpose into the picture. Also, the environment is lively and full of laughter and raw emotions. This uplifts the spirit and actively brings energy and happiness to the residents.
It is evident and imperative that we see the importance of companionship, not only for older adults, but for all human beings. If we prioritize companionship as we should, then we can strengthen relationships within our communities and provide an over-all improved quality of life for those most in need.