As the world’s population of older people continues to grow at a rapid rate, Cognitive Psychologist Dr Lynda Shaw is calling for the older generations to help each other and to try and stop relying solely on their own children and their carers.
Dr Shaw argues: “With so many of us of a certain age feeling isolated and growing pressure on our children to care for us in our later years, we need to recognise that since most of us do have some ability to contribute to society, we need to do as much as we can for ourselves and others whilst we can.”
Shaw believes whilst most of us feel it should be the responsibility of family, neighbours and friends to make sure older people are not isolated and lonely, this isn’t always possible and we need to start helping ourselves accordingly. Loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure, disability, cognitive decline, depression and the onset of dementia. Lonely people are more likely to visit their GP, use more medication and enter residential care earlier. “We have to help older people to develop their own social networks and to help each other.”
Conversely supporting people to look after themselves is known to improve their motivation, the extent to which they eat well and exercise, their symptoms and clinical outcomes and can even change how they use health services.
Shaw says: “We know that self-fulfilling prophecies are very powerful so if older people think of themselves as frail, elderly and unable then they are more likely to behave as though they are. In an older person, their attitude is the main factor that leads to a lack of interest in participating in social and physical activities, as well as poor health and a reduced quality of life.”
So if older people help older people what does this do to their psychological mindset? Shaw says: “If you help someone you get pleasure out of it just by reaching out and helping someone else in the community. If older people are involved with helping others their own age, they will stay fit and mentally alert. Older adults today do not just want to keep busy, they want purpose and meaning as much as their younger counterparts.”
“Empowerment is important for a healthy emotional state. People need to reach out no matter what their age, and take control of their destiny.. We are only as old as we feel so why restrict ourselves. We are working for longer and living for longer so we need each other. We need to get out of our seats and see who needs what. I heard a lovely story about a 75 year old who did meals on wheels for those she called the elderly.”
Tips for us to help each other:-
1. Keeping active can help fight the loss of stamina, muscle strength, balance and bone density associated with ageing. Set up an over 60’s walking group and if you know of someone who might be sitting at home feeling a little lonely then ask them to come along too. Ask everyone to bring a friend.
2. Become a Dementia volunteer and visit someone who would love to have a friend during these difficult years.
3. If you have a neighbour that you know may struggle to get to a doctor’s appointment or the shops then ask them if you can help by taking them yourself.