The Loneliness in Older Persons study, published in 2012 (Journal of the American Medical Association; JAMA), studied 1,600 adults with an average age of 71. The results concluded that among participants who were older than 60 years, loneliness was a predictor of decline and premature death. This study also concluded that loneliness can lead to depression, cognitive impairment, and coronary artery disease.
Harvard Medical School conducted a study in 2015 featuring a similar conclusion; the key to healthy aging unequivocally is relationships. What our aging parents need most from us is our time. It does not matter how many expensive gifts you have delivered to your parent’s doorstep or how many cards you send to their mailbox; what they need most is your presence.
Essentially, a portion of the power is in our hands to increase the longevity of parents’ lives. The importance is not placed on what you do together, but the fact that you are spending time together.
Here are a few reasons why spending quality time with your folks can be good for mental health, theirs and yours.
Make up for the Lost
If either of your parents weren’t around much when you were growing up, there’s no better way to make up for lost time than being there for them as they get older.
Spending time together now allows you to get to know each other more, and you start seeing them in a different light. There is still a lot that you can learn from your parents even once you are an adult, vital life skills and ancestral knowledge and traditions that only a parent can share with their child.
Mend Broken Relationships
Maybe you missed out on a lot of the parent-child relationship because you frequently clashed. Reach out to them; don’t miss out on spending the last few years with your folks because of pride. Past mistakes cannot be undone, but you can patch things up. This does not mean that toxic relationships should be swept under the rug. Not everyone can mend; but for many relationships, it is possible.
The following are simple ideas to alter the scenery for when you visit your parent/parents:
Visit them in their home. If they live by themselves, consider baking them goods to bring over, bringing a delicious treat they would not normally indulge in, ￼or buying magazines or books for them. It’s healthy to have your parent looking forward to something new each day, no matter how small the surprise may be. Novelty pings our brain. It also keeps them in touch with the outside world, if they aren’t able to leave their home often.
If their physical health permits, try a new bakery or restaurant. The idea is to pick a place where you can speak to one another, within a new environment.
Maybe your mother enjoys scrabble. Or your father finds a chess game to be exciting. Engaging in a game is a distraction for themselves, and provides them the outlet to keep on thinking strategically.
Watch one of their favorite films with them. Ask, why is it a favorite?
Cooking their favorite meal for after the movie can be a great way to talk about the movie over food. Positive associations alleviate depression.
Reading your or their favorite books aloud, especially to parents with dementia-related ailments.
Listening to music they loved together. Music is evocative and is a stimulus for memory.
Going through old photo albums with your parent, as you listen to the stories and memories behind each photo. See The Psychology of Nostalgia.
Touch through grooming. Perhaps give them a manicure, brush their hair, put on make up or hand lotion together. The small acts of ADLS can increase connection.
Looking through their letters, files, and memorabilia with them. People save what they value. One patient learned about her mother’s life through shared letters from a lost love: As an individual, not a spouse, mother, or sibling. It was deeply moving for both of them, a peak experience.
Showing them new technology- your parents will always be awed by how far technology has come. And then they will be happy to tell you how such gadgets were not needed to communicate back in the day.