The researchers aimed to find out what gave life meaning for older people living alone – what made it worthwhile to get up in the morning? They concluded that what was needed was a sense of purpose or motivation and a feeling of significance. In simpler terms, keeping busy, having a routine or structure to their life, and feeling appreciated.
Several things could contribute to providing purpose and significance:
• Achievement – e.g. talking a walk, tending a garden, learning to use a new computer programme;
• Being valued or appreciated – e.g. being referred to with respect, handing over traditions, knowledge and experience to younger people;
• Giving back, altruism, contributing through volunteering, donations, participating in the church or marae;
• Being there – in family occasions both positive – supporting a grandchild’s dance concert or school event, or negative – a family emergency.
The older people in the research provided their advice on how to achieve purpose and significance, based on personal experiences:
• Keep busy. Have a plan for the week, places to go, things to do. Get out of the house. Go to the park, church, mall. Don’t stop doing things you have always done. Volunteer, in charity shops, at schools, church activities, sport and so on.
• Keep up contact. Make friends with the neighbours. Keep in touch with family (have fixed times to visit so that it is not a burden). Share a meal with a friend/neighbour or have Meals on Wheels deliver meals to one house, so people living alone can share and have company. Have a list of people you can phone – just to talk to when feeling down, about something in the news, or about important decisions. Join clubs, hobby groups, church groups. Learn to use the internet. Have a pet – they are company and help to begin conversations as you walk the dog. A bit harder with a bird or goldfish!
• Take care of yourself. Keep your body active – find a walking partner or a group. Keep your mind active – read, do crosswords, jigsaws or Sudoku, listen to music or radio interviews. Take a rest when you need one – don’t overdo it, remember it takes longer to do everything on your own. Eat well—get Meals on Wheels if you are not able to cook (or buy frozen meals). Get a medical alarm. Get a hearing check and buy an aid, if needed, to help avoid loneliness through not hearing. Plan for dependent living if your health deteriorates – discuss this with family and friends.
• Manage your money. Plan and budget your expenses, taking into account higher power costs in winter and house maintenance costs. Use the SuperGold card for discounts.
• Accessibility/Transport. Plan your trips; learn about the bus routes and stops; travel when you can use the SuperGold card. Use Total Mobility vouchers for taxis if you are eligible. Have online shopping delivered to your home. Use a mobility scooter.
• Keep the effort and cost of home maintenance low. Do it yourself as much as possible or ask for help from family, neighbour, church. Get in touch with local volunteer services. Downsize by moving to a smaller house or move to a retirement village unit where maintenance is provided. Install eco-lights.
• Be prepared for an emergency. Keep a list of emergency numbers and put them on telephone speed dial; have an Age Concern Life Tube in the fridge and get a personal alarm. Have a neighbour or family member check on you regularly – think of something which will alert them if something is wrong, such as curtains/blinds not opened by 9 am or calling them at a set time each morning.
These are all things which older people can do themselves, but there is also outside help – from family friends and voluntary services as well as those provided by central and local government.
In my next blog I will outline these services and what the older people in the research suggested as improvements.