All posts by Ann Catlin

Loneliness in Older Adults: What’s the Impact?

 

In the past, I assumed that people living in long term care were most vulnerable to feeling lonely. But a situation that arose at a Compassionate Touch workshop taught me otherwise. We were at a large, upscale retirement community.  Some lived in beautiful three bedroom houses.  We typically worked with people in skilled care.  But this particular day, we visited people who lived independently. Therefore I was concerned the training attendees wouldn’t have the desired experience. One participant returned from her visit, visibly shaken.  She reported that the woman she visited had a beautiful home and was well-dressed, but she seemed extremely isolated, lonely, and depressed.  We can’t assume that because an elder still lives “independently” that they are engaged with other people or lead meaningful lives.

The University of California San Francisco completed a study that confirms that loneliness in older adults leads to more rapid physical and mental decline and even death.  According to the study, “The lonely seniors had a 59 percent greater risk of suffering a decline in function, which was defined as being less mobile or less able to take care of daily activities like bathing.”

I often hear isolation and loneliness used together. What’s the difference? Isolation is simply having little contact with other people. It’s an objective measure of the quantity of interaction.  Loneliness is a subjective experience. Lonely people feel distressed by lacking the desired companionship. The key is feeling distressed. Research from the National Institute on Aging suggests that simply living alone doesn’t always lead to loneliness. The experience is quite individual. Some people live alone but lead satisfying lives, while others have others around them, but still, feel lonely.

Seniors living in their own homes may suffer most from isolation. Our society does not foster the idea of caring for our older neighbors. Families today scatter across the country. Lots of older people look forward to doctor’s visits because it’s the highlight of their week.

We will all be older. Maybe we can create some goodwill that will be paid forward to us if we pay attention to our elder neighbors now. We don’t have to look far to visit an elder in need of companionship.

Ann Catlin, OTR, LMT: For twenty years, Ann led in the field of skilled touch in eldercare and hospice. She has nearly forty years’ clinical experience as an occupational and massage therapist. She created Age-u-cate’s Compassionate Touch program and serves as a Master Trainer and training consultant.

 

Can Computer Access in Long Term Care Improve Quality of Life?

The importance of computer access for people living in long term care facilities is on the rise.  As the number of seniors using technology increases, so will use of personal computers, smart phones, tablets and social media no matter where they live. One study found that among people 65 and older:

  • Four-in-ten  own smartphones.
  • 67% have internet access in their homes.
  • 32% own tablet computers.
  • 34% use social media regularly.

Those numbers will likely increase as baby boomers age.  Anyone working in senior services see instances where technology access enhances quality of life.

I once volunteered at the Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska,  along the Platte River. Thousands of Sand Hill Cranes gather there on their way north.  People from around the world visit to witness this spectacle.  I was given the task of operating what is called the Crane Cam.  It is a remote camera on the river. Its images are sent to the web through the National Geographic website.  While operating the camera, a couple approached.  I explained how it all worked. The woman said her mother was in a nursing home in another state. She  has been an avid bird and visited the sanctuary several times. However, now that she is in a facility she could no longer bird watch. Her daughter had recently set up a computer in her mother’s room .  Her mother could now look in on the Cranes via the internet!

A man I provided Compassionate Touch sessions to for several years used a PC to write poetry and letters to his family. He was a successful business man in his career. His desk and computer helped retain part of his identity that was important to him.

A young man with cerebral palsy who lives in a facility regularly plays games and records music on his PC . Sounds like a typical 20 year old, doesn’t it?.  His keyboard is modified compensating for his poor coordination, therefore he manages  independently.

I think we will see more individuals in facility care with personal computers.  It might serve to lessen the feelings of isolation and boredom that plague so many who must reside in long term care.

What are your thoughts about the link between technology and quality of life for those in facility care?

Ann Catlin, OTR, LMT: For twenty years, Ann led in the field of skilled touch in eldercare and hospice. She has nearly forty years’ clinical experience as an occupational and massage therapist. She created Age-u-cate’s Compassionate Touch program and serves as a Master Trainer and training consultant.

Is Frailty in Old Age Expected?

Frailty is used loosely to describe a range of conditions in older people, including general weakness, balance and cognitive impairment. It leads to inability to perform everyday self-care, home or community activities.

I once spent a beautiful and transformative two weeks in Peru.  One of the most powerful parts of the journey came near the end when I traveled to a small island in Lake Titicaca called Amantani.  A group greeted our boat, including men, women and children.  I lived among them long enough to get a sense of life there.  Their lives are based values of community and living in right relationship with oneself and community.  Their eyes radiated sweetness and joy. I was so moved by their generosity and their strong connection to nature.

I’m curious about what it’s like to grow old in different parts of the world.  It was immediately clear that old age does not equal frailty on Amantani.  Several elders helped to carry our gear from the boat to the house by tying a large cloth around the gear and hauling it up a path on their backs.  I DO mean up, too, as the terrain is hilly with elevation somewhere around 13,000 feet! We Americans had a hard time with that climb, but they clipped right along!

First of all, people there walk everywhere because there are no cars.  Old women herd sheep and prepare food simply in earthen ovens.  I asked our guide about the elders.  Those elders who have needs are cared for by families, as I assumed was the case.  But I was astonished when she said they just don’t have many debilitating diseases such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.  She said people there don’t expect to get sick in old age.

I wonder if some frailty in old age stems from “learned expectation.” Is it a given that wellness will deteriorate? I understand that the answer is complex, but an idea worth pondering.  Please share your thoughts!

Ann Catlin, OTR, LMT: For twenty years, Ann led in the field of skilled touch in eldercare and hospice. She has nearly forty years’ clinical experience as an occupational and massage therapist. She created Age-u-cate’s Compassionate Touch program and serves as a Master Trainer and training consultant.

Ten Ways to Overcome Compassion Fatigue

Compassion Fatigue is physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion from witnessing suffering in others. Taking care of others is one source, but also the constant bombardment of news. It develops slowly over time. As a result our resilience  takes a hit.  Our compassion cup is empty. We feel burned out. How can we fill our cup back up? Here’s ten tips offered in A Guide to Understanding and Coping with Compassion Fatigue:

  1. Focus on the four core components of resilience: adequate sleep, good nutrition, regular physical activity and active relaxation.
  2. Communicate with friends and family.
  3. Wash up after your work shift as a symbolic “washing away.”
  4. Create individual ceremonies or rituals that allow you to focus your thoughts on letting go of stress or honoring a memory of something positive.
  5. Celebrate successes and mourn sorrows with your co-workers.
  6. Allow yourself some time to be alone so you can think.
  7. Practice your spiritual beliefs or reach out to a faith leader for support.
  8. Learn about your colleagues at work, so you can establish connections.
  9. Take time away from work to experience other things.
  10. Find things to look forward to.

Don’t pressure yourself to do all these things. Pick a couple that feel authentic for you. I think one of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was to focus on the moment. The NOW. Just breathe for a minute. I invite you to take three minutes right now to enjoy this Mindful Breathing guided meditation.

Ann Catlin, OTR, LMT is a recognized expert in the field of skilled touch in eldercare and hospice. She guides professionals in discovering Compassionate Touch in person centered dementia care. She is a team member of AGE-u-cate Training Institute.