The majority of the senior population have at least one chronic illness, defined as a permanently altered state of health that significantly affects daily living. Examples include arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease and Parkinson’s disease. Some conditions are visible, while many are not, and some are more debilitating than others.
Chronic disease often negatively impacts quality of life. Affected persons may no longer be able to do things they want or need to do, because of altered abilities, fatigue or pain. As a result, they may become frustrated and disheartened, and perhaps even depressed.
How To Help
The following are some things that you, as a friend, relative, or neighbor, can do to support someone who is in this situation, regardless of their age.
- Plan to call or visit when you are not rushed for time. Arrange a regular date to get together, and when you do, treat the person the way you always have.
- Allow them to express emotions freely. Illness and disability affect people physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Listen attentively, demonstrate compassion, and provide words of encouragement. A listening ear and empathetic demeanor can go a long way in lifting someone’s spirits.
- Encourage the person to practice self-care by eating nutritiously, exercising (if appropriate), getting adequate rest, and avoiding unnecessary stress. Also encourage them to keep medical appointments. Do whatever you can to help make this happen. For example, bring over a meal or offer to drive them to a medical visit.
- Ask, rather than guess, what kind of practical help would be most valuable. If your assistance is declined, continue to express your desire to help. Meanwhile, take it upon yourself to deliver a casserole or muffins or, if you’re a neighbor, bring in both sets of garbage cans.
- Encourage the person to ask for and accept help rather than struggle alone.
- Bring a surprise gift, such as a favorite movie, magazine or food treat, fresh flowers or a plant, or a gift certificate to a favorite restaurant that has takeout and delivery service. If you’re on a limited income, sign out reading material, movies, or music the person would enjoy from the public library.
- Help the person feel good about their appearance. For example, offer to set a female friend’s hair or do her nails, or bring her a pretty new accessory. Put together a pamper kit of items to give the person a lift when they’re alone – for example, a relaxation CD containing sounds of nature, scented candles, fragrant shower gel or body lotion, foot balm, or herbal tea.
- Encourage the person to cultivate some solitary pastimes – such as taking up word puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, writing, sketching, or a handcraft – that bring pleasure or fulfillment and enable them to enjoy her own company.
- Facilitate connections to the outside world by sharing news about family, friends, and current events. Bring a newspaper or newsmagazine with you.
- If mobility issues make it hard to get out of the house, encourage the person to rent or buy a walker, electric scooter, or wheelchair and help facilitate this. Also help them register with the local accessible transportation service if appropriate.
- Offer to get information about community resources, such as home healthcare services, friendly visiting programs, shopping services, meals on wheels, and accessible recreation and leisure programs.
- Encourage your friend to seek help from their primary physician or a counselor if they continually feel sad, angry, or overwhelmed. There is no need to suffer, because depression is treatable.