Many people find alone time beneficial. It’s when you are alone that you can write that poem, daydream about the past or speak with your God.
Solitude helps you process memories and lock them in. You can recharge for the social times ahead. Artists would not complete their masterpieces if they were always looking over their shoulders for comments and approval.
However, too much time alone can be damaging. Studies by psychologist John Cacioppo from the University of Chicago have shown isolated people react more strongly to stress than social people. They saw the stress as more serious, and their body’s stress responses were heightened too. Stress causes the release of cortisol which in turn stresses the heart, lungs, digestive system and suppresses the immune system.
Loneliness can lead to depression and anxiety. These in turn make it harder for someone to break their isolation. The suicide risk is higher for people who live alone and spend time alone. On the flip side, having social relationships has many benefits. It is good for your brain health. In the study of breast cancer recovery, women who had one good friend recovered better than women who had no friends.
There are many reasons older people become isolated in our western society. Much of our social world is constructed around schools and workplaces. Once an older person has no contact with these, keeping up a social life is harder. It requires planning and effort.
There are many factors that lead to social isolation and loneliness. For instance, the death of a spouse or close friend, having a disability, not being able to drive, poor health or reduced mobility.
According to Relationships Australia there are common signals that someone is lonely. You may notice your loved one spends more money or visits the doctor more often. This can be a way to fill their time and connect with people. Sometimes they may stop phoning you.
Here are some ways to address loneliness. First up, try to talk about the problem. However, some people don’t want to be seen as a burden or as weak and will not acknowledge it. Instead make a suggestion or two.
Perhaps you could host an afternoon tea for a few neighbours at your parents’ place. This could become a monthly arrangement if it goes well.
Try getting your parent to attend a hobby class that interests them. Start by ‘just having a look’. There is no need to make a long-term commitment. If the group and the activity are interesting, that’s great.
There is some risk involved in going out and meeting new people. Acknowledge this. It won’t always work out. You may need to try a few different groups.
Brainstorm with your parent about what they could share with neighbours. Do they have a passionfruit vine bursting with fruit? Do they have an empty garage space someone could use for a hobby? Perhaps there’s room for a veggie patch. Exchanging goods or services can build relationships.
Many older Australians have skills that are being lost. Can your parent teach someone how to plait a leather belt or do French knitting? Can they listen to a child read? Once you have agreed on an idea, do a letterbox drop in your area.
Plan ahead. For some folk there’s nothing worse than an empty diary. Help your parent put a few ideas into practice on a weekly basis. They can enjoy the anticipation as well as the experience.
Kendall Morton is Director of Home Care Assistance Sunshine Coast to Wide Bay. Call 5491 6888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org