“I’m lonely…” They were not the first words uttered by Ed, 91 years old. But he blurted that out within minutes of telling me that he didn’t need much help – maybe 3 hours every 2 weeks. Are seniors in denial? No, most don’t realize how lonely they are until someone comes into their home expressing new interest and passion for their life’s experiences. Of course, our job is to validate the senior so we draw out every bit of information they can provide us to help us ascertain who they are and develop relationship. At the end of this visit (Ed flirted with me of course) Ed received a big hug – initiated by myself. “Oh, you don’t know how much I miss that…”
A caregiver providing care related one of her companion visits which was primarily a ‘home support/cleaning visit’. “When I first started in home care, I was very young and the agency I worked with had us running from home to home. Our mandate was to complete a list a mile long in 2 hours and often less and then try to sneak out of the house before our senior tried to engage us when leaving. If you didn’t manage to – you were stuck there for at least 15 minutes meaning you were late for your next senior. I was so trying to work by the book. I mentioned my frustration about being late between visits to a friend and they suggested I work the visit with the senior into the cleaning, laundry etc. My gent had emphysema and was on oxygen – it meant he couldn’t get out at all! That made him very lonely. It also meant, he couldn’t help me with simple chores so that we could work together and chat. So I made him a deal. I told him if he let me whip through the chores in an hour and a half, I’d sit with him for the last ½ hour. It worked – a ‘win win’ for both of us.”
Now that doesn’t address the statement “I’m lonely”. Seniors that are lonely can be also depressed. They express very little interest for life’s pleasures because they have lost some of their zeal for life. No one sees it coming – it sneaks up on the senior and their family. Take for instance a loving daughter living in a nearby city who keeps in touch with her dad 3-4 times per week by phone. She’s a busy professional. When she calls and asks her dad how he is, he becomes animated and lively telling her he’s fine – he has a visitor and progresses to tell her all that he’s been up to. There is no sign in his conversation that anything is lacking at all – she must hang up the phone and think ‘dad is just great’! Our caregiver asked him why he told her all that positive stuff, when he tells her he’s lonely. He said “I don’t want to bother her – she’s busy and I don’t want her to worry”.
We as care workers hear the most amazing things – details often not shared with medical staff or family. The secrets we have been privy to, sobbed onto our shoulders and asked to promise to “never tell a soul” are so amazing, such depth of remorse or sorrow, that one must wonder how the senior has shouldered the burden all those years. Those secrets weren’t shared because the senior was bursting to tell; it was because someone had developed ‘relationship’, become their companion and friend.
Family are often the last to know how seriously lonely their parent is. He or she may not need care – but they need companionship. As a matter of fact – regular companionship may just keep the need for future care needs at bay.
If you are reading this article and you have a passion working with seniors to cook for them, read or walk with them, or provide a few hours of respite for a spouse, we need you! Companioning is rewarding for the senior, but will take you by surprise! You will be greatly rewarded as well.