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Most long term care facilities have some residents who are ‘loners’ or ‘introverts’; they enjoy being in their bedrooms and do not often pursue interaction with others. They engage with life in fundamentally different ways than their extrovert counterparts.
Statistically, approximately 25% of the population are naturally either loners or introverts. It is just one more in the myriad of possible personality traits unless clinical assessment deems otherwise.
Loners vs Introverts: An Important Distinction
Loners are people who avoid or do not actively seek human interaction; they prefer to be alone. Introverts, on the other hand prefer to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves rather than talk openly. This does not necessarily mean that introverts prefer to be alone, but their thoughtful and reflective nature causes them by nature to be quieter.
Both terms, although very different in meaning, are used interchangeably to describe people who enjoy solitude. A loner differs from an introvert in that the loner chooses to be alone and avoids socializing while the introvert feels drained after socializing and needs time out to recharge.
Related: How to Motivate Residents in Long Term Care
The word ‘Loner’, when used in the context of aging often carries a negative connotation. The accepted rationale that all people should be social creatures is erroneous; being a loner is not always a negative enterprise. Loners can be independent, creative and happy people in their own way.
There are two types of Loners:
- Intentional loners
Intentional loners are those who prefer their own company to the company of others, and may actively avoid interacting with other people. Introverts are those who keep to themselves and are content to be on their own.
- Unintentional Loners
Un-intentional loners and introverts are those who isolate themselves from others because of mental illness or social alienation.
Common reasons for being a Loner/Introvert
- Inherited temperament (DNA)
- Bad past experiences - e.g. someone who has been ostracized may use solitude as a coping mechanism.
- Intolerant personality
- Family tradition of privacy
- Being overly sensitive
- Religious considerations
- Some sort of mental disorder (depression, anxiety, social phobia and others)
Nevertheless, solitude is a normal human need and much emphasis is placed on being ‘social’ when a reasonable lack of social activity is perfectly natural.
Isolation in Nursing Homes
Problems can arise when loners and introverts enter long-term care facilities. Suddenly, choices are limited and isolation among seniors in care facilities can be a serious problem.
Leisure & Lifestyle staff need to find ways to balance the needs of introverts/loners and avert mental illnesses that may result from chronic isolation.
Related: Social Isolation - How To Support Your Clients
Here are a few ideas that might help.
Activities for loners and introverts
- Bird keeping
A budgie in a large cage would be a companion and an occupation for a loner.
Related: 10 Benefits of Pet Therapy
- Weather Station
A weather station is a great project to have on the grounds of a care facility. It can engage 3 or 4 loners, each doing their own thing. Purchase a few devices for measuring the temperature, rain fall, relative humidity and other elements of nature in your local hardware store.
Related: Weather Station Activities for Seniors
- Pet Keeping
Most people appreciate the company of pets. Unfortunately many care facilities do not allow residents to have pets. If your facility is not one of them, consider a pet that is small, quiet and friendly.
Related: Pet Therapy in Nursing Homes
- Mobile Library
Weekly or monthly, a mobile library with audio books, CDs and large print books would help loners and those unable to get to the library.
Related: Mobile Library Trolley
- Bird Watching
Use your own backyard or garden to observe birds. A pair of binoculars is a good investment if the resident is keen (priced from $120 onwards).
Related: Bird Watching Activities
Consider taking a loner to a safe place for a bike ride (providing he/she knows how to ride a bike), an empty football field or a park with a bike path. Invite a relative or two to add to the fun.
Drawing is not an inherited talent; all you need is to practice; there should be no pressure or judgement.
Related: The Benefits of Coloring for the Elderly
The Internet is full of free games you can load up on a computer. If you use the web browser Chrome there is a great list of Puzzle & Brain Apps available.
Related: Word Games and Sudoku and Riddles and Crosswords and Word Searches.
Another idea is to use iPads or Android tablets - the touch interface makes the devices easier to use and understand and there are lots of free and cheap games available to download.
- Learn something online
- Digital photography
- A few words from a language you were always curious about.
Free language website www.duolingo.com
- Visit a loved-one
Even a loner may have a good friend or relative they feel comfortable with. In fact loners often develop a strong one-on-one relationships based on common interests and mutual respect with staff or volunteers or others.
Related: Tips for One-on-One Visits with Seniors
- Furniture Restoring
Bring an old desk or chair to its former glory by sanding and spray painting or varnishing it. A therapeutic and gratifying hobby.
Related: Sanding & Painting Birdhouses
A Painting class is a great way to attract loners; despite being a group session it allows the loner to sit by himself and do his own thing.
- Movie Watching
Another group activity suitable to loners; they can be seated quietly in a corner.
Related: Movies About Aging and the Elderly
One of the most versatile art activities, collages can be made from anything you have at hand: photographs, toys, bits of fabric/leather/wood, newspaper, nails, safety pins, buttons and, the list goes on. Collages can be abstract or based on a theme and it is fun to make them in the privacy of one’s room.
Related: Recycle Magazine Scrapbooks and Sticks & Bark Collage
Consider facilitating the baking of cookies. The cookies could be shared with a group and a nice ‘Thank you’ card sent to the ‘baker’ from the group.
Related: Cooking with Elders in Assisted Living Facilities
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