Jan 16, 2018

“Patients Stare Vacantly and the Corridors are Empty”: Forgetting Our Lonely Elderly

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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  1. My mother was in an aged care home in Bundaberg Queensland I went to see every day ,sometimes twice a day,I only missed 3 days and on those days my daughter went in my place..
    I don’t think aged care homes do enough to make visitors welcome,more should be done to invite and include families in inclusive activities.A couple of suggestions might be in the secure outdoor areas inviting family to help mum or dad make and tend a little garden would be nice especially for those residents who enjoyed gardens.Being able to sit with your relative and have the chance to have some of the staff sit with you too would have been great but staff are always so busy that one rarely gets the opportunity to find out how your relative is doing,is he or she eating enough,how are they going at night?I could go on and on about what needs to change but no one ever listens and the bottom line is,protocols need to change,families need answers but I for one just came against brick walls and staff who brushed me off..

  2. My wife has been in a nursing home for 3 months now I try to visit 2 to 3 times a week as I miss her so much and she seems too young for such care
    she is high care and has other medical problems besides her dementia we have been together for 25 years the last few I have looked after her at home but became too much for me recently I didn’t want her to go into a home but had no choice and yet I still feel I have abandoned her although others say it is the only place for her at this stage (she always said to me do not put me in a nursing home)
    so I continually miss her and feel guilty She is at the stage now where she seems reasonably content where she is The staff are all young very caring ladies they must have great compassion and tolerance
    I am extremely lonely at home where I have cleaned every room and outside of house to keep busy I have a puppy dog to look after and she misses her Mum
    I have been told by people not to worry as she is in good hands and for me to start putting on some weight as loss of appetite has caused 10 ks to drop off over last few months (I am used to cooking for two but now its only me so I don’t bother as much
    I have health problems of my own and spend a lot of time getting treatment so that is a worry for me too as
    I promised her I will care for her one way or the other so I must stay well as can be
    I have a very positive attitude which I think keeps the whole thing running smoothly as possible
    As far as commenting on above I understand the Lady’s concerns and I am still learning so Best
    of luck everyone in same situation
    To sum up my wife when she was lucid always said “everyone gets their turn” I never took much notice till now

    1. I just saw this today…I feel so sorry for you,I do know how you feel as I too feel the same.Sir,you did your best,just as I did….stay strong,and I will try to do the same.Sincerely,Kay Devenish (the above submission.)

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