“Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
Do not forsake me when my strength fails.”
Who are the elders that Bessie’s Hope serves? They are the heroes that who fought in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, who championed the civil rights movement, who stayed home and raised their families. They baked our favorite cookies, patched up our scrapes and kissed our bruises when we fell. They are our parents, grandparents, dear relatives and friends who have imparted their wisdom, candor and values to us so that we could build our own lives and families. Who we are as individuals, communities, and a global society is the direct result of the foundations they have laid and the trails they have blazed.
Where are they now? While we’d like to think they’re enjoying their “golden years,” thousands of them are living alone in nursing homes and long-term care facilities right in our own neighborhoods. While these are skilled facilities with caring staff, they can also be lonely and isolating places for our elders who are without family visits.
A staggering number of our elders— even those with family — spend weekends, birthdays and even holidays by themselves, alone with their memories, although surrounded by staff and other residents. This is the “forgotten” and “invisible” population in our society. For most of us who are going about our busy lives and in good health. We don’t often think about aging. But consider the following:
- The Population Reference Bureau has estimated that the number of Americans over the age of 65 will increase by 75% between 2010 and 2030 from 1.3 million to 2.3 million.
- One third of the baby boomer population have not had children during their lives. This does not include those who have lost their children during their life or for whom their children, for various reasons, cannot provide care and support for their aging parents.
- According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 50 percent of nursing home residents have no close relatives, and 46 percent have no living children.
- An estimated 60 percent of nursing home residents never have visitors.
Sadly, many in this population rarely leave the nursing home premises. Medical challenges, disability and the death of close friends and loved ones take a gradual toll on their mental and emotional health and well-being. Limited social contact only exacerbates the problem. It’s no wonder that depression among the elderly is rampant.
This population also has simple, more basic needs, which if fulfilled, often eliminate the bigger needs. A happy, satisfied person is a healthier person. Studies show people who live longer and healthier lives have strong support systems that keep them motivated.
Bessie’s Hope has seen the difference on-going socialization and relationships can have first-hand. Bessie’s Hope intergenerational programs afford elders an opportunity to participate in meaningful activities, form new relationships and feel connected with the community. This decreases loneliness, boredom, and depression while increasing self-esteem. A report on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia prepared for the Department of Veterans Affairs sites that intergenerational activities have been linked to increased social behavior. In 2017, 92% of residents reported that Bessie’s Hope volunteers added joy to their lives and helped them feel wanted and important.
Also, Bessie’s Hope programs have a positive effect on the residents’ health. Research proves that kindness increases serotonin (an important “feel-good” hormone that creates a feeling of well-being in us) levels. When serotonin levels increase, the immune system is strengthened. Participation in pleasurable activities or activities that induce pleasurable memories increase immune system efficiency by releasing endorphins which increase the proliferation of T Cells (the main soldiers of the immune system).
“We are not victims of aging, sickness and death. These are part of scenery, not the seer, who is immune to any form of change. This seer is the spirit, the expression of eternal being.”
Our seniors have given us much and can still teach us many things. Treasure them, what they have achieved and how far they have come in life. And most important, reach out to them and show them that we still care and that we have not forgotten.
Learn more about us on our website and watch for more in our Intergenerational Month series each Wednesday in September.