The Ombudsman's Report for September - The Journey Home
by Kathleen Heren, Rhode Island's Long Term Care Ombudsman
So much has been written lately on the health risks of social Isolation and loneliness. Social isolation can be a result of many things that affect the elderly. The death of a spouse, sibling, or friend. It can also occur to someone who cannot remain in their home due to poor health and now resides in a Long Term Care facility or Assisted Living. That person feels isolated as they have never lived in a conjugated setting before. Loneliness is a lot trickier.
A person can be surrounded by their family or friends and still be lonely. I was curious to speak with an elder in a long-term care facility for their thoughts. For the sake of anonymity, let's call this person Mary. When I went by a room, I saw a small woman looking out her window sipping a cup of tea. I went in and introduced myself and asked her if she had a few moments to talk. She looked at me with haunting blue eyes and replied, "Sure why not?"
Mary told me that she had been at the facility for over a year. It was three years ago that her husband of 52 years passed suddenly. They were living in a small home which Mary had to leave after suffering a fall breaking her hip. Mary had two sons but quickly said they "would come to see me when they can but have their own families." Mary had no real complaints about the facility. She said there are a lot of activities that she doesn’t go to often.
My next question to her was, what do you feel the saddest or most depressed about? Mary, becoming a little teary, said, "That I know each day brings me a little closer to my death. I think about everything I used to do for myself, and now I have to rely on others. I regret all the things I didn’t do for myself and others when I had the chance. It's as if I watch an instant replay of my life each day. I miss the time with my husband. We would eat supper every night and read the newspaper. I now sit in a dining room with people I don’t know, arguing that someone is sitting in their chair."
As Mary spoke, I could feel my own eyes filling up. Everything she said, I could see myself in her and what awaited me in a few years. Of course, everyone will tell different reasons why they are lonely. Some people won't be affected at all. Dr. Cole, a Gerontologist, wrote that loneliness acts as a fertilizer for other diseases. Loneliness can accelerate the buildup of plaque in the arteries, help cancer cells to grow, and even lead to Alzheimer's Disease. Loneliness produces wear and tear on the body.
Just some food for thought as we travel down the journey home.
Rhode Island State Long Term Care Ombudsman
Office of the RI State Long Term Care Ombudsman Program
Alliance for Better Long Term Care Inc
422 Post Road Suite 204
Warwick, RI 02888
Ms. Heren provides a monthly guest blog to Connelly Law Offices, Ltd., where she discusses issues and topics that cross her desk as the Rhode Island State Long Term Care Ombudsman. The opinions expressed in our guest blogs are only those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Attorney RJ Connelly III or Connelly Law Offices, Ltd employees.
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