In the hustle and bustle of daily life – with spouses, children, friends, pets, work and hobbies – the modern person appears to have very little time to spare.
And while trying to juggle everything, the people who are most likely to be “left behind” are their elderly parents.
“In the pursuit of happiness, getting the kids to soccer, meeting a deadline, and finding time to keep house, we have let slide our obligations to the elderly, and worse, relegated them to being a burden.”
Dr Ranjana Srivastava wrote a compelling piece for The Guardian, describing the all too common going ons she sees in her line of work.
What she witnesses at lunch is particularly heartbreaking, “no one mentions it but the elephant in the room is the nearly complete absence of family members or visitors in spite of a weekend.”
“Not to do the heavy work but to simply sit, talk, and offer the greatest medicine of all, distraction.”
“But on this beautiful afternoon, the patients stare vacantly and the corridors are empty,” says Dr Srivastava.
In Australia, more than 40 per cent of aged care residents receive not visitors.
This alarmed the Aged Care Minister, Ken Wyatt, when he visited a facility that received zero visitors year round.
“This is a particularly distressing situation, despite the best efforts of the aged care staff,” Minister Wyatt said.
“I have previously raised concerns that up to 40 per cent of aged care residents receive no visitors but 100 per cent is completely unacceptable.
“So more than ever I am asking all Australians to reach out to people in residential aged care and relatives, friends, and community members everywhere in need of company.”
This also happens in the community, “I recently knocked on the door of an older man whose wife had died and his children had grown up and moved away,” said the Minister Wyatt.
“He broke down in tears, as he told me I was the first person he’d spoken to in more than a week.”
Though many struggle with loneliness, some do have that person or carer who go above and beyond for them, “we regularly meet exhausted, disadvantaged and disabled relatives who struggle to care for an ageing relative. Such carers are seldom recognised and deserve our admiration and assistance,” says Dr Srivastava.
For Dr Srivastava, she says that it’s not just traditional medicine that these elderly people need, “the greatest enemy has been the loneliness of patients, who feel ignored, neglected, or outright abandoned by their family.”
Despite being surrounded by other patients and healthcare staff, these elderly people still feel isolated.
And with social isolation comes the potential for a steep decline in a person mental and physical health.
It’s commonly suggested that being cut off socially can cause depression, anxiety, and even heighten the rate of dementia.
On the flip side, one research suggests that being highly social can reduce dementia risk by 70 per cent.
Regardless of the health risks that come with being socially isolated, making sure that an elderly loved one or neighbour is well looked after is the right thing to do.
“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat” – Mother Theresa.
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