Elderly people are seeking counselling in increasing numbers as they try to deal with an isolation that comes with a faster pace of life for the people around them.
Linda Knowsley at Catholic Social Services says she is seeing more elderly today than when she began counselling 11 years ago.
Some of the issues they bring are quite practical. For example, their home might be up a number of steps which they can’t easily manage any more, and their families want them to move to a flatter section where they are less likely to fall.
This raises a sense of the loss of a home in which they have lived for some years.
As well many elderly are dealing with the grief of losing friends. They go to many funerals which are difficult and increase their sense of isolation.
‘Sometimes there are issues from a long time ago that they have never told anyone about.’
Linda quotes one psychologist on the overscheduling and overstimulation of families today. Overscheduling comes with families needing to attend sports and extracurricular activities and children often needing to be driven there by their parents. This cuts down on the amount of time people have to spend with their elderly parents.
Overstimulation is where people are more exposed to sources of information, whether it be television and radio, or the internet. This also takes people away from spending time with their elderly relatives or friends. The result is that elderly become increasingly isolated from their families and from their own sources of company and affirmation.
They seek counselling because, as well as finding someone who will listen to them for an hour, they are in the company of one who takes them seriously, who understands the issues they are dealing with and affirms them as people.
Linda says when people are stressed, their bodies release a hormone called ‘cortisol’ which can be damaging if it is around for a sustained period. Conversely laughter stimulates the body’s release of endorphines which make people feel good about themselves and also counter the effects of cortisol, even from a symbolic perspective.
She says as well as company and affirmation, elderly people need laughter to combat the effects of the stress of being isolated in a world that no longer seems to want them.
Society should be working to ensure that elderly are affirmed as people and their needs for company are catered for.
One service Catholic Social Services provides for elderly and shutins, is delivery of fruit and vegetables.
Richard Wharton runs this service every week and Linda says he is invaluable.
‘Ostensibly you’ve got the fruit and vegetables but behind that there’s the company. He is a familiar face and like a social worker in many ways and they just think he’s marvellous.’
Richard also does simple jobs, like changing a lightbulb, which are not so easy for the less nimble.
Linda says visiting people in their own homes gives them a sense of power over the situation and a chance to provide hospitality which is important.
It’s more cost-effective to keep people healthy.
‘We keep people healthy by attending to their emotional, intellectual, and spiritual as well as their physical needs – everything needs to be working together,’ Linda Knowsley says.