As a hospice volunteer, I have seen too many lonely patients. More than once, I have been the only non-staff person regularly visiting a patient. Several of these patients had relatives and friends living in or near the city. One day, a woman at my patient's funeral thanked me for visiting her dying aunt. She said her aunt had been wonderful to her when she was growing up. She added that she didn’t visit her aunt during her years in the nursing home because she lived “on the other side of town.”
I’ve also heard relatives and friends excuse themselves from visiting by saying, “Mama doesn’t recognize me anymore, so she doesn’t know I rarely visit” and “I can’t bear to see my brother in this condition. I don't visit him because I want to remember him the way he was.” Unfortunately, for many patients, loneliness has become a way of life.
A study by Robert S. Wilson at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago concludes that lonely people may be twice as likely to develop dementia linked to Alzheimer's disease late in life than those who are not lonely. Research by University of Chicago psychologists Louise Hawkley and John Cacioppo concludes that lonely people go through life in a heightened state of arousal that becomes more apparent with aging. They also have a poorer quality of sleep, resulting in more daytime dysfunction.
The following poem speaks to the loneliness of patients everywhere, especially in nursing homes:
hoping her years of caring
endured in grown-up minds,
rested in distant hearts,
conveyed how much she missed them.
living real-time movies
of restless nights, anxious days
with inhaled hopes of fellowship,
exhaled sighs of deep despair.
wishing nostalgic winds
flowed through cotton curtains,
brought relatives and friends
she cherished through the years.
grasping like a New Year’s resolution,
like a second suspended in time
until her clock stopped ticking
for visitors who never came.
© Frances Shani Parker
This brief video demonstrates caregiving that helps prevent loneliness.
Frances Shani Parker, Author
"Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes”
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog