A lot of changes take place as we age. Friends and family members pass away. Illnesses or physical impairments can keep us from enjoying the things that used to brighten our days. It often becomes increasingly more difficult to engage with others. Adult children may live far away, causing further feelings of sadness and distance. Unfortunately, loneliness tends to be a typical part of life for many seniors.
Just because loneliness is common, however, it doesn't mean it's okay. Loneliness by itself can be quite painful, but it can also cause physical and emotional problems beyond the emotion itself. Seniors who experience long-term loneliness may find themselves feeling completely isolated, which can make them more susceptible to physical and emotional impairments. According to an original investigation performed by The JAMA Network, "Among participants who were older than 60 years, loneliness was a predictor of functional decline and death. In older persons, health outcomes, such as worsening disability and death, are influenced not just by biomedical factors but also by psychosocial distress." In other words, senior isolation can cause or enhance ailments such as depression, weight gain, heart disease, and other problems associated with lack of movement.
Thankfully, loneliness isn't a requirement of aging! There are things you can do to help your loved one feel connected so he or she lives with a sense of purpose.
1. Enlist the Assistance of a Companionship Pet
Oftentimes, the feelings of loneliness and isolation settle in when seniors no longer feel needed. Their kids have grown up, their grandchildren are starting to sprout their own senses of individuality, or, perhaps, their great-grandchildren are discovering adulthood. For a person who's spent his or her life managing a household and ensuring everyone's taken care of, a completely empty nest can be overwhelming.
Pets not only provide companionship; they provide a sense of value and worth to their caretakers. The benefits of a well-behaved pet can be exponential, providing their human family members:
- Increased social interactions
- Necessary physical activity
- Mental stimulation
- The ability to live in the here and now
2. Make It Easy for Them to Get Around
Sometimes, a simple trip to the grocery store or the ability to make it to a doctor's appointment without undue stress can mean all the difference for aging seniors. Transportation allows seniors to maintain their independence without feeling like they have to rely on someone else to fulfill their daily duties.
You can help your loved one feel connected by researching available transportation options. If he or she is near public transit, plan your loved one's route and provide the necessary information to get from point A to point B. If public transportation isn't readily available in the area, look for alternatives. Popular ride-share service Lyft recently recognized seniors' needs to be more mobile and acted accordingly, creating an innovative network meant to keep seniors on the road to independence.
If these options are not viable for your loved one, consider creating your own network of reliable drivers who take shifts to ensure participants' friends and family members are able to have access to transportation so they can maintain social connections and retain a sense of independence.
Don't count out homecare options related to transportation, as well. Many people don't realize that "homecare" isn't only for the home. Many homecare agencies offer transportation to places all over town, including doctors' appointments, grocery stores, pharmacies, and other places your loved one may need access to. The professionals who operate these organizations are familiar with seniors' needs and do their best to ensure your loved one enjoys comfortable and convenient transportation when needed.
3. Remind Them They're Needed
Hobbies and interests can protect seniors from feeling alone and isolated. Help them rediscover who they once were or things they've talked about wanting to learn, then expound upon those interests. Perhaps they could:
- Volunteer at a local non-profit
- Plan events and social gatherings at a local senior center
- Coordinate weekly card games
- Be the point person for monthly potlucks
- Teach other seniors how to do something they specialize in
- Coordinate with a nearby school so students can learn from their stories and experiences
- Participate with Meetup groups where someone else does the planning and they simply come along for the fun
- Create arts-and-crafts weekends whereby members showcase their skills and teach others their talents
- Schedule monthly outings, which could include shopping, cinemas, dining, and other social experiences
Seniors who have a sense of purpose keep their brains engaged while keeping their social circles active; both of which are keys to staving off the effects of loneliness.
Looking for ways to deliver compassionate elder care at home?— Read our blog here!
4. Encourage Exercise
When it comes to health, seniors can move mountains by simply walking over molehills. In other words, it's not the type or amount of exercise exerted that counts; it's merely about the effort. Exercise has been shown to have incredible benefits to the mind and body of individuals of every age. Seniors, in particular, can benefit from increased the increased blood flow and endorphins the body produces during exercise. Movement — even in its smallest forms — is excellent for the mind and body. Besides cultivating positive chemicals in the brain that promote happiness and cognitive awareness, exercise can help seniors enhance their social circles.
Consider helping your loved one:
- Connect with neighbors who enjoy walking regularly
- Find a facility that offers senior classes such as swimming, yoga, or aerobics
- Embrace new fitness options he or she may not have considered before by offering yourself up as a fitness buddy
The first step in preventing loneliness is to recognize that it is a real problem. If you've taken that step; now you can take preventative measures to ensure your loved one lives a happy life, fulfilled with companionship and contentment. If you'd like to discuss potential solutions for your loved one's living situation, we invite you to reach out to our friendly and welcoming staff!
If you think that homecare is in your loved ones future, check out our blog on When is the Right Time for Homecare.