Forget Me Not: Loving and caring for our elderly population is vital | CraigDailyPress.com

Forget Me Not: Loving and caring for our elderly population is vital

Noelle Leavitt Riley

Noelle Leavitt Riley

Loneliness is a terrible thing to experience, especially if you've been married, raised children and have grandchildren who never visit.

Our elderly population in the United States is marred by stories of neglect, leaving the loved ones that gave us life in the dust.

Have you ever been to a nursing home and sat down to talk to senior citizens about their lives? If you have, many of their stories are of past family interaction, and they long to be heard, loved and remembered.

Isolation begins to sink in when we don't show our elderly loved ones that we care, and unless you've experienced utter isolation, it may be hard to know the consequences of such occurrences.

I never knew how isolated our elder population is until I started taking care of my 92-year-old grandmother in 2005. She had broken her hip, and my husband — who was my boyfriend at the time — and I moved her from a nursing home in Santa Fe to a nursing home five blocks from our apartment in Denver.

I visited her every day leading up to her death, and noticed how alone other residents were, especially on the holidays.

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You'd see them staring at the wall or TV. Many were perfectly capable of having an intelligent conversation, and they craved it.

Social isolation causes a number of health risks, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

"Older adults are more likely to experience bereavement and encounter health problems that increase their need for social support and companionship, so the health-damaging aspects of social isolation can be particularly deleterious at older ages," stated the organization's website.

So how can we, as a society, create positive change for our elders and keep them happy and healthy?

I believe it takes a phone call, a weekly or daily visit, a hug and/or a handwritten card or note.

"Older adults who experience one or another aspect of social isolation are at greater risk for all-cause mortality, increased morbidity, diminished immune function, depression and cognitive decline," stated the Library of Medicine's website.

The senior citizens who stare at the wall most likely are craving social activity. Many might suffer from ailments that we don't understand, but that doesn't mean they have to be alone.

Craig has wonderful senior activities administered by the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, the Senior Social Center, Sunset Meadows Senior Housing and Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab.

I've visited all these organizations, and it's delightful to see seniors participating in Wellness Wednesdays hosted by the VNA each week. The Senior Social Center has Senior Coffee and a Conversation each Tuesday.

Both of these programs are organized for seniors to gather with one and another, keeping them engaged with their generation.

However, the programs do not make up for the love elders receive from their families.

When I attended the Nifty 90s party at Sunset Meadows earlier this summer, I was delighted to see so many family members and friends attend, giving those in their 90s love and attention.

I think it's often difficult to keep in mind that many seniors don't have access to the world we live in today, so isolation is common.

Take time to drop your elderly mom, dad, uncle, aunt and grandparents a note, call them or stop by for a visit. They appreciate it more than you know.

Noelle Leavitt Riley is the editor of the Craig Daily Press and the Saturday Morning Press. She and her husband, Shawn Riley, run the Forget Me Not organization where they take donated flowers to the elderly in nursing homes, letting them know they're not forgotten by society. You can reach her at 970-875-1790 or at nriley@CraigDailyPress.com.

Weekly senior events:

Senior Coffee and Conversation: 9 a.m. to noon at CNCC Bell Tower. All seniors are welcome for hot coffee, goodies, card playing and socializing. For more information, contact 970-326-3188.

Wellness Wednesdays: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at The Journey Baptist Church, 1150 W. Ninth St. The program is for adults 50 and over. Art, writing, exercises classes, lunch and card playing are available. For more information 970-871-7676.

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