Aging -- Loneliness and its Prevention
Before reading resource materials about ageing and loneliness, I believed that decades of research and hundreds of thousands of elderly subjects would result in clear-cut definitions and well-established measures to prevent loneliness. However, upon reading those sources, I found that the definitions, preventive measures and rates of success are uncertain. The reading resources taught me that experts agree about some aspects of elderly loneliness but there is still a need for extensive study, agreements on definitions, and consensus on effective measures to prevent loneliness in the elderly.
According to academic sources, experts studying the phenomenon of elderly loneliness do not agree on the definition of "loneliness." In both practice and research, the terms "social isolation" and "loneliness" are often used interchangeably (Findlay, September 2003, p. 648). However, the terms have different meanings. "Social isolation" is "the objective absence or paucity of contacts and interactions between an older person and a social network," (Cattan, White, Bond, & Learmouth, January 2005, p. 43) while "loneliness" or "emotional isolation" mean "the subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship" (Cattan, White, Bond, & Learmouth, January 2005, p. 42). Also, as Findlay points out, some older people prefer to be alone and suffer no harm from it (Findlay, September 2003, p. 748). Given those distinct definitions and the preferences of some elderly individuals, a socially connected elderly person could be lonely while a socially isolated elderly person might not be a bit lonely. That may seem like a petty point; however, the interchangeable use of those definitions in studies about the elderly has made it very difficult to adequately sort and evaluate the data about social isolation and loneliness and the effectiveness of preventive measures.
Despite the unfortunate melding of "social isolation" and "loneliness" in studies about the elderly, experts certainly have offered a number of preventive measures and solutions. The suggestions are presented here in no particular order of importance. First, transportation should be made available for the elderly, both through the family offering rides and assisting the elderly in using public transportation and through society providing dependable public transportation with special options for the elderly (Anderson, 2013). Secondly, people dealing with the elderly should promote a sense of purpose for them. Encouraging an elderly person to volunteer his/her special gifts to the community and/or pursue his/her special interests, hobbies and social events provided by a local senior center can enhance his/her sense of self-esteem and well-being (Castillo, n.d.). Third, encouraging an elderly person who is already interested in religious observances to continue participating in those observances will help him/her keep connected and purposeful while allowing other church members to watch for any signs of physical or mental decline in that person (Anderson, 2013). Fourth, if the elderly person is so inclined, he/she will be helped by nurturing a pet or plant; consequently, providing a pet or plant for an elderly person may help stave off loneliness (Castillo, n.d.). Fifth, encouraging a positive body image in an elderly person who may avoid social interaction due to self-consciousness about his/her appearance can help the person to stop worrying about his/her appearance and interact with others (Anderson, 2013). Sixth, the elderly should be encouraged and assisted in obtaining tests of their hearing and vision and with remedying any such problems, as difficulties with sight and vision can discourage individuals from interacting with others (Anderson, 2013). Seventh, the elderly should be encouraged and assisted in obtaining and using "adaptive technologies" such as canes, walkers and wheelchairs. Age-related physical difficulties in movement may hamper an elderly person's ability or wish to interact with others; consequently, an elderly person should be encouraged and assisted in obtaining assistance with physical movements to make social interactions easier for them (Anderson, 2013). Eighth, trustworthy neighbors should be notified about an elderly person and his/her special issues so they can casually keep an eye out for him/her and notice if something seems amiss; otherwise, the elderly person may be suffering without anyone noticing (Anderson, 2013). The neighbors can periodically check on the elderly person by simply observing his/her residence, face-to-face, online or by telephone. Ninth, an elderly person should be encouraged and assisted in eating with other people, individually, with a group and at the local senior center. Eating is deemed a "profoundly social urge" (Anderson, 2013) and can also promote healthier nutrition for an elderly person. Tenth, an elderly person should be assisted with any incontinence…