By Leah Bisiani MHlthSc/Dip Bus/Dementia and Aged Care Consultant/RN.1.
These is part 2 in a series of 5 articles. Please ensure you have read Part 1 to appreciate this information in context.
Isolation and loneliness:
Years ago, I found an anonymous quote that demonstrated clearly the feelings and words of an older lady living with dementia, when her need for intimacy and social interaction was neglected.
‘If I am no longer a woman, why do I still feel like one? If no longer worth holding, why do I crave it? If no longer sensual, why do I enjoy the soft texture of silk against my skin? If no longer sensitive, why do moving lyric songs strike a responsive chord in me? My every molecule seems to scream out that I do, indeed exist, and that existence must be valued by someone! Without someone to walk this labyrinth by my side, without the touch of a fellow traveller who understands my needs of self-worth, how can I endure the rest of this unchartered journey?’
Imagine the core suffering that occurs when you desperately want to connect and can’t, because no one bothers to interact with you, on a level that you can respond.
Imagine having your rights, choices, and preferences stripped away in this manner, without having a say.
This then rapidly triggers ill-being and emotional agony.
Grief, loss, past trauma, aging, living with dementia, and other co-morbidities, all may generate feelings of agonizing inner pain.
The labelling and condemnatory attitudes of others towards those that are older or living with dementia might often generate attitudes that are tremendously demeaning, unfairly precipitating feelings of poor self-worth, self-esteem, despair, depression and unworthiness.
Our purpose should be to create well-being within the lives of our senior population and people living with dementia.
To truly achieve this, we must generate culpability and responsibility towards improving and refining, not ignoring, the life quality of people who are at obvious extreme risk due to neglect, and lack of social inclusion.
This could be supported by the summation that it should be easier for us, again, as purportedly intelligent individuals, to use our powers of empathy and insight, to do everything we can to implement a considerate process based on the ethos of “caring for another” unconditionally.
This would allow identifying and resolving past and present issues that might potentially be a source of anguish and pain for the person living with dementia and linking into positive and joyful aspects of that person’s life and history.
This maintains, and ensures, individual needs are revered from the past, during the present moment and for the future.
By undertaking an understanding of the person, instead of viewing them as a condition, it is hoped, that for the person living with dementia, having cognitive changes does not in any way compromise their lifestyle or the ongoing enjoyment of it.
Isolation and loneliness is an evident killer of the soul!
Purpose is central to how we envisage ourselves within the world, and how we maintain our sense of self.
This includes the need to be accepted and valued.
Our spiritual side assimilates our physical, emotional, and social relations within our personal existence.
The meaning of our reality is often defined through our relationships, connections, and self-image.
If we ignore the essence and the spirituality of any person, we may essentially extinguish their spirit.
It is becoming increasingly obvious and apparent within the older generation, inclusive of people living with dementia, how lack of social interaction, enforced solitude, reduced human contact and feelings of exclusion, may precipitate harmful biopsychosocial mood-altering spirals, consisting of intense misery and worthlessness.
These emotions, when sustained over extended periods of time, may lead and manifest into such internal hopelessness, they often become a principal root source to people socially isolating themselves.
This may generate further withdrawal within oneself, at times exacerbating and triggering a more rapid, aggressive, decline and deterioration into fragility.
The need to deliver spiritual sustenance to older people and especially those living with dementia is particularly crucial.
This is especially relevant given a person with cognitive changes may be unable to efficiently access the resources previously available prior to the onset of dementia.
Furthermore, loneliness is not exclusive nor limited to those that live alone or in complete solitude.
Some people living with dementia articulate they have experienced the most intense feelings of segregation and unforgiving remoteness, whilst surrounded by, or living with a number of individuals.
People who reside within residential aged care, have at times expressed how shockingly brutal and dehumanising is the sensation, when one suddenly comes to the horrifying realisation that they are deemed so unimportant, they may as well be labelled ‘invisible’.
When a person feels unloved they may lose their hold on the tentative connection to all of those simple joyful moments, that enhance their lives.
If we eliminate every link connected to a person’s ability to continue existing as they desire, we may be sentencing them to this harsh fate, through our careless, unthinking thoughtlessness.
We may in fact be considered their ‘executioners’, given it is we who engender this rapid decline, deterioration and eventual death of spirit.
Why? Because we give off the impression that we just don’t care enough.
Honestly, the ugly reality is, in many cases, a demonstration of how humanity is inherently self- indulgent and self-involved.
It is therefore logical that this hedonistic approach to life eventually slaughters the souls of those who are neglected.
These core negative emotional states consist of punitive extremes, especially for a person living with dementia, whose present may transform rapidly when needs are not met, individual preferences dishonoured, or when their perception is clouded by an overwhelming persistent sense of anxiety.
This punishing turmoil may plunge a person down into the dark depths of desolation.
It may further develop into a terrifying existence, if not alleviated, eventually pulverising a fragile spirit already possibly broken by wretchedness.
It could appear as a nightmarish prison, forcing a person to confront and confirm their deepest fears.
These fears in turn may redefine their reality, by exposing every vulnerability, and crushing any light that may still flicker within.
Loneliness cruelly lashes away at a person’s faith and courage.
When we spend days, weeks, months, without meaningful interaction, this persistent, unyielding disenchantment may be the impetus to a person questioning the place they hold within the world.
Their personhood may feel as if its slowly and painfully being stripped away, layer by layer, as they silently scream within, and hurtle into nothingness.
This completes Part 2 of ‘Loneliness is the Ultimate Poverty’, written by Leah Bisiani. Part 3 to follow.