Give the Elderly More than Photos

What really gets to me in my job as visiting nurse is the raw loneliness that many of my patients face every day. Last week I went to see a eighty year old woman who had a small but pleasant apartment. There were family photos on the walls and every flat surface. She knew the name of each of her fourteen grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. We talked about her family for a little while before I took her blood pressure and give her an injection of Vitamin B12. She told me that her large family all lived locally but no one visited her. That used to bother her alot but now she is resigned to it. They are all so busy she adds with tears in her eyes.

When I was young, we often went to see my grandparents on Sunday. There was no choice. We just did it. In today’s complex world, children are over-scheduled and parents are over-worked and the elderly are left out of the equation. As I drove away from this woman’s home, I thought about the photos in her home. There were school photos, studio portraits, wedding and graduation photos. Lots of my elderly patients have the same kind of family photos. It is almost like the family is saying ” I can’t visit you but here’s my picture so you know I care”. But photos are no substitution for the real thing. And the elderly know it.

The elderly speak of the world that they grew up in where  mothers cared for elderly relatives and visits to grandparents were often and expected. They are puzzled by today’s world now that they are the senior member of the family. I see them alone and sad. They fill their days watching game shows on TV and doing search-a-word puzzles. Women, like my eighty-year old patient, just want what we all want: the love and support of their family. I truly believe their families love them but it almost seems as if they have forgotten them. We need to assure that our family life  includes time for our elderly members.

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