Recently, an elderly couple in England made international headlines when they called emergency services due to their loneliness. Officers from the Greater Manchester Police force responded to the call by making the couple a pot of tea and staying for a chat. Mr and Mrs Thompson, both in their 90s with poor health, stated “sometimes you can feel a bit isolated as you get older” and Mr. Thompson expressed “It was a nice change to have somebody to talk to”.
This story resonated with me as I have seen similar loneliness and isolation in my elderly patients in the acute care setting. I remember one patient whose most frequent request was for me to simply sit by his bed, hold his hand and talk to him. Sadly, due to the how busy the ward was, this was a need I was rarely able to fill, leaving me feeling like I had let my patient down.
We can often become focused on the signs and symptoms of ageing. ‘Healthy ageing’ has to mean more than simply avoiding or adjusting to physical deterioration. Healthy ageing has to include looking after the social and mental health of our elderly population. As nurses, I believe we are in a unique position to detect these issues. It’s the resident who never has any visitors, the patient who never receives any phone calls, the client who always wants you to stay for that extra cup of tea who may need our help. What can we do? We can refer them to a service such as the Red Cross Telecross, advocate for more services in your local area, hold their hand in those spare few minutes and above all, remember first and foremost, they are people who deserve to be treated with care and respect.
Mamamia News (2015). “The elderly couple who called police because they were ‘desperately’ lonely”. Retrieved November 13th, 2015 from http://www.mamamia.com.au/news/elderly-couple-call-police/