If you are an elderly person, you may have at some point considered whether it would be better for you to live on your own or with a family member. According to Dr Valeria Risoli, a clinical psychologist based in Dubai, it is better to let the person make a decision based on his or her comfort level. Whether it is the right decision depends on many factors including their personality, habits, lifestyle and even mental state.
She told Gulf News: “It would be better to live in a familiar environment together with your family and friends. But, this is not always possible and sometimes is not what the old person wants either. If a person is still independent and loves his or her independence, moving in with the family might be an issue. In either case what is extremely important is that the person feels in control of the situation.”
The most important aspect of the equation is that the elderly should be prepared psychologically about the new place. Many times, a move is imposed on them, without first introducing them to the new environment, which could be “detrimental to the mental and physical wellbeing” of an elderly person, as stated by Dr Risoli. Additionally, it is harder for them to adapt to a new place.
Dr Risoli said: “A clean explanation, preparation and active involvement can make the process easier and more pleasant. For old people who have mental difficulties and show a loss of cognitive processes, such as memory, attention or perception, a move might create confusion and affect his or her abilities. It is more difficult to learn and memorise new things when the environment is not familiar.”
If an elderly person is not ready for a move, it can cause distress, which could lead to the person developing anxiety or depression. In this case, the family members have to support them and be patient.
“On a social level they might face difficulty to rebuild a social net of friends. He or she should be offered opportunities in the new environment to meet people of the same age in order to not feel suddenly isolated and lonely,” Dr Risoli said.
So is it better to stay in an environment they are familiar with? It is definitely more beneficial, but there is no definitive answer, stated Dr Risoli. Familiar environments, faces, places and habits do give the elderly a “sense of reassurance and clarity”. They would feel more independent and would be able to do their tasks without any support. Thus, feeling more confident about themselves.
What she recommends is that older people should not be forced to move just so their family members can soothe their worries and the need to be nearby.
“Try to be empathetic and imagine yourself in that position in the future. Even if we are older our voice should be heard and respected,” said Dr Risoli.