Visiting a senior shut-in can be very healthy for them, emotionally and physically

Since National Shut-in day recently occurred on February 11th of this year, this is still a great time to visit a home-bound senior, to express the fact that you care, and to relieve some of the monotony associated with constantly being confined to the home setting. Actually, any time of the year is a good time to do this, since it's every time of the year which will find these seniors tied to home, due to some kind of physical disability or perhaps mental impairment.

While the house itself will not change much from day to day, the whole home setting can seem very different when there are new visitors in the building. Your visit could have some surprising results too because studies have shown that the impact of a friendly visit on a home-bound senior can go far beyond the few hours you actually spend with them. Home care workers throughout the area of Lake Stevens join in urging you to visit a home-bound senior, especially during this month of special shut-in observance.

Emotional Engagement

Scientists and doctors have known for a long time how important it is for elderly people to remain emotionally engaged. Study after study has shown that seniors who still have their spouses, or are surrounded by family loved ones, are much healthier emotionally and stay engaged socially to a much greater degree than those who have lost most of the people who mattered to them. This research has pointed to the clear conclusion that health issues such as heart attacks can be cut in half by having a significant loved one nearby, whereas the total absence of spouses and family has increased the likelihood of such heart problems by half. 

Positive Emotions Have a Source

It has been apparent for quite some time that having positive emotions has led to generally better emotional and physical health for seniors, and scientists now believe they have an understanding of why that is so. Underlying this obvious truism is a real physiological cause, which is referred to as the natural functioning of mirror neurons.

Mirror neurons are brain cells which are triggered when people experience emotions, and especially when we observe others experiencing emotions. These cells have the natural tendency to copy that observed emotion, reproducing it in the observer. For instance, an elderly patient seeing someone close by in the act of joyously celebrating a birthday or holiday would have the natural inclination to copy that behavior, along with all the associated emotions.

When a friend or loved one visits a home-bound senior and expresses cheerful, caring emotions throughout the visit, it will thus kindle those same emotions in the elderly person, and stay in effect for a considerable time afterward because the mirror neurons are still firing in an effort to reproduce the same set of emotions.

A perfect example of how this works is to be with someone who sees something funny and begins laughing in an infectious and uninhibited manner - which in turn, moves you toward doing the same thing and laughing right along with him/her. The good feeling from that laughter doesn't end the moment that the laughing stops, but it goes on for some time afterward because mirror neurons are still being triggered into copying that observed happy feeling.

The Benefits of Visiting a Shut-In

Given the fact that these mirror neurons act as copy-cats for observed behaviors in others, any expression of love and caring from a visitor can easily trigger the same kind of positive emotions in a home-bound person. In the same way that bickering and hostility in the household could cause an elderly person's blood pressure to rise and shut down positive emotions, cheerfulness and generally happy emotions will cause an upswing in the positive emotions experienced by a senior. A visitor who demonstrates nurturing and sincere caring toward a senior will almost always bring out the same kind of reaction in the elderly person being visited.

Another clear demonstration of mirror neurons in action might be when a hospitalized person is visited by a loved one or friend - and sometimes in more spectacular cases, by a local celebrity who is making some charitable visits as a service to the community. Anyone who has observed these kinds of visits can hardly fail to see how it lights up the face of the person in a hospital bed and elicits a gush of good feeling that continues on, long after the visit itself has ended.

So next time you have an opportunity to visit a senior who is confined to his/her home for whatever reason, think about how your positive, cheerful attitude can cause that same kind of response from the person you're visiting. It may not be a life-changing event every time, but the chances are good that you'll be instilling some very warm and positive feelings in the brain and the heart of the person you're visiting. Even when the national day of shut-in visitation observance has passed, try to keep in mind how much it would mean to a senior to share a few hours of your time.