Posted on December 1st, 2012

Most people attain wisdom as they age, but that doesn’t discount the fact that as elders we also accumulate more and more losses. Elderly people lose friends, life partners, and spouses more often than younger ones. Often, they outlive their children. Many are no longer able to drive. Some are in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, their independence taken from them because of memory or physical ailments.

Aging brings tremendous grief. Just witnessing the accumulation of years take hold of our bodies can be disheartening. My 90 year-old mother-in-law lamented not long ago, “I’ve never been this wrinkled before!” She wanted to go to the drug store and buy antiwrinkle cream. It took me an hour to convince her that antiwrinkle cream was something to be applied when we are young to protect from UV rays, not an antidote for wrinkles already accumulated over time. Her complaint may seem silly, but it is a REAL loss none-the-less, and it hurts to see one’s youth fade.

All things change--that is the one constant in life. Change is especially difficult for most aging adults. They long for neighbors that they once knew, but their neighborhoods have grown up and people have moved on. Many of their friends and acquaintances are dead, ill, disabled, or relocated. There are few people who come and visit. There may be no one to drive an elder to the church or Shabbat services they once enjoyed. These days, many folks use text messaging and emails to make contact so phone calls and real hand-written letters are few and far between.

Numerous older adults are without computers. Many don’t want them. What the younger generation view as the gifts of emailing, gaming and chat rooms are lost to them. Even reading is out of the question for elders with cataracts or failing eye sight. . Sitting alone in front of a television screen, the weather too inclement to go outside, our elderly friends, neighbors and loved ones are mired in loneliness, depression and grief. What can we do to help?
You may find the following tips from an online article I read as helpful when dealing with elder adults this holiday season. I’ve embellished them somewhat.

1.  Listen even when their talk is negative. They may be processing their grief. Put yourself in their place and empathize. Often elder adults repeat themselves—be patient. Listen as if it is the first time you’ve heard the story.
2.  Remind them how important and loved they are and include them in your celebrations without making them feel like you are just doing your duty.
3.  Help them write holiday cards and respond to the ones they receive. Often holiday cards contain a litany of people who have died during the year, so sit with the person as they open their mail. Be present to listen and comfort them when they learn of another death.
4.  Remind them that you are trying to celebrate in a way that makes people count this holiday season and not the accumulation of transient things. Affirm for them that they are an important part of this emphasis.
5.  If your parent, relative or friend is in an assisted living facility, check with the local daycares, kindergartens or grade schools to see if they can bring children to come and visit the elderly. They can sing, bring handmade cards and gifts, sit on laps and share stories with one another.
6.  Ask if you can bring your pet to visit your special elder and the rest of the residents.
7.  If your parent, relative or friend is in a facility take them to children’s programs if you can. Include them in your grandchildren’s/children’s activities, or go as a group to see the holiday lights.
8.  Check with churches and synagogues that have outreach programs and ask them to visit your elderly friend/relative. Many have trained lay ministers who know how to listen.
9.  Decorate their home or room festively. Display their favorite Christmas ornaments or a menorah for Chanukah. If candles aren’t allowed, there are electric menorahs one can purchase. Or bring them to your home to help decorate your house. Include them in the activities.
10.  Bring holiday cookies and other traditional treats to share with your loved one and/or the group they are living with.
11.  Put together a holiday party. You can often do this in a conference room at a nursing or retirement facility. Invite special friends and staff to join in the celebration.
12.  Decorate their dinner table—make it festive, fun and colorful.
13.  Spend quality time with them. This is the most important suggestion of all.

Make sure you aren’t rushed, that you have time. Then, commit yourself to being fully present. This can go a long way to make a person feel valued and loved, thus alleviating the loneliness of the holiday seasons.Don’t do more than is comfortable for you. Share the entertainment of your special elder with your friends and family. Divvy up the activities and make sure whoever is entertaining the person is fully committed to being there. Non-verbal communication is easily read…body language doesn’t lie. People see through you when you aren’t sincere. Be sincere. Be committed. Be present and give the gift of time. Time is all we really have to share.  Happy Holidays
Elderly Loneliness and the Holidays.

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