Last week on one of our first truly warm spring days, I couldn’t help notice those great signs of real spring — the warm sunshine, green grass, dandelions, even garage sales!
As I drove, I saw people walking, smiling and thinking “Boy did we need this warm weather boost!” As I was leaving a local senior care facility, I had to slow down for a couple walking briskly down the driveway, holding hands and the gentleman was skipping.
I had a rush of panic at first, worried that I was going to witness a horrible fall. My second reaction was a little jealousy. Not because they were out walking and I was working, but this man (truly much older than I) was skipping! That’s a feat I’ve never been able to accomplish. I slowed my car down to talk to them as I passed. They were both laughing and truly enjoying each other’s company. “Oh, I’m just singing ‘Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah’ as I’m skipping and she thinks I’m a little crazy. But it is a wonderful day, isn’t it?” My last reaction, just a little bit of warm weather and companionship can certainly turn a day into a “wonderful” day!
It’s so very true, our happiest moments are those that we share with someone else. How valuable “just plain companionship” can be. When we have something happy to tell, of course, we look for someone to share it with.
Companionship and sharing moments seem so normal for those of us with families at home, out in the working world, seeing and dealing with people everyday. However, think of the seniors in the community who don’t have that type of structure in their days. They don’t have the constant connection with people that we sometimes even complain about. Their days can get very long and very lonely.
I’ve witnessed many improvements in health with “just plain companionship.” Just plain companionship like someone to share a meal with, maybe even cooking that meal together; someone to share thoughts about the articles in the newspaper or a funny show on television; someone to go for a walk with, or even someone to take a drive around the lakes with. Just plain companionship can mean the difference between getting up, dressed and ready for the day, or just staying in the same clothes as yesterday and maybe even being unsure of what day it is.
Seniors who are cooped up at home for long periods of time can become not only lonely, but emotionally distraught over the smallest things and even become forgetful as a result. Outside activities and companionship may make a difference for those seniors who are easily distressed and experiencing negative emotions.
I read an article where the question was asked: “My 80-year-old mother who lives alone sometimes gets herself so worked up over things that suddenly she can’t remember anything and then become nearly incapacitated. Have you ever heard of such a behavior?”
The response was: “Yes, we have heard of such a condition, and research also confirms its existence. A study earlier this year from Rush University Medical Center found that people who are easily distressed and have more negative emotions are more likely to develop memory problems than more easygoing people.
In commenting about the study, author Robert S. Wilson, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, said: “People differ in how they tend to experience and deal with negative emotions and psychological distress, and the way people respond tends to stay the same throughout their adult lives.
“These findings suggest that, over a lifetime, chronic experience of stress affects the area of the brain that governs stress response. Unfortunately, that part of the brain also regulates memory.” An earlier study by Wilson and his colleagues showed that people who are easily distressed also are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than more easygoing people.
The recent study found that those who most often experience negative emotions such as depression and anxiety were 40 percent more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than those who were least prone to negative emotions.
So there is medical evidence behind what’s happening to your mother. Has your mom had a medical examination lately? If not, maybe it’s time for a check-up. Does she have much contact with the outside world? Does she have any friends?
Perhaps your mom needs a few outside diversions to get her mind off of what she perceives to be the negative aspects of her life. Why not try to interest her in a few activities in the community that she might enjoy? Is there a senior center in her community? They often plan activities just for older adults.
If your mother can’t get out, why not invite family and friends over to visit? It’s not always possible to get there yourself, but making arrangements for others to be there could help your mom tune into the more positive side of life.
The article certainly confirms we need to pay special attention to something as simple as “just plain companionship.” Skipping down the street and singing “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” might be reserved for a warm spring day, but a little companionship can go a very long way to brighten the lives of those seniors in your life. If you can’t be there as often as you’d like, please make sure someone is. Don’t discount all the advantages of “just plain companionship” and have yourself a wonderful day! I’m heading back to find that gentleman, I hope to spend a little time and see if he can teach me how to skip!
DEB CRANNY is the executive director at Home Instead Senior Care in Brainerd.