Today’s researchers say that loneliness may be as detrimental to older people as cigarette smoking and high blood pressure! The multigenerational study done by the Stanford Center on Longevity’s Sightlines Project revealed that social engagement may be the single greatest guardian of health and endurance. There are many conjectures about why this is so. Social interaction generates mental stimulation, movement, creative thinking, emotional stimulus. It is true that a TV set can spur some of the same responses, but why is it that human interaction is so important? I’ve been thinking about the connection to homesickness. Could there be a parallel between what, in our youth, we call homesickness and what older people experience as they suffer the loss of a spouse, children moving away or losing mobility?
I’ll never forget the loneliness I felt as a freshman in college. I was so homesick! As one author put it, “I felt a strange and inexplicable pang that I had never felt before. It was homesickness. I’ve long since forgotten the pain in my neck, but never will I forget the pain in my heart.” Mine was especially intense on Sunday evenings. At times I thought about getting in the car and leaving school. Good thing I didn’t have a car! In the midst of the most exciting time in life, I was literally sick. Poet, Christian Morgenstern, says, “Home is not where you live but where they understand you.” We expect children to grow out of these feelings, but is it possible the same yearning for home, comfort and understanding follow all of our days? Do you think that as Elders we might suffer again from that type of pain and it literally becomes a health hazard? That is why creating a physical environment that is home is critical not only for aesthetics, but for health.