Home Care Solutions: How to Fight Loneliness in the Elderly
It’s an unfortunate fact: sentiments of loneliness and isolation can lead to serious consequences for senior health. Let’s face it, none of us relish the thought of aging without a spouse or family member at our side…or without friends to help us laugh at the ridiculous parts of growing old while supporting us through more difficult times. Still, that is precisely what many North American seniors face – as the baby boomer generation moves beyond the over-65 threshold, it grows, yet many of our aging loved ones are still feeling alone in the crowd.
Some Statistics on the Senior Isolation Problem
According to a U.S. Census Bureau study, 11 million – or 28-percent of people – aged 65 and older lived alone in 2010, but compounding this finding is the fact that as people get older, their likelihood of living alone only increases. Further, it’s being found that more and more older adults do not have children – according to the AARP – and this means fewer family members to provide company and care as those adults become seniors.
While living on one’s own doesn’t inevitably lead to social isolation by a default of any kind, it is certainly a predisposing factor, complementing yet another important consideration dealing with how often seniors engage in social activities. Consider: Statistics Canada reports that 80-percent of Canadian seniors participate in one or more social activities on a monthly basis, yet that leaves nearly one-fifth of the senior demographic non-participatory when it comes to weekly or even monthly activities.
Sure, it is an unpleasant notion to accept when we’re told social contacts tend to decrease as we age for a variety of reasons (such as retirement, the death of friends and family or lack of mobility) but regardless of the causes behind this phenomenon, it must be understood that the consequences can be alarming and perhaps harmful. Even perceived social isolation – that is, the feeling that one is lonely – remains a challenge for many older people.
Fortunately, increased research over the past few decades into the risks, causes and prevention of loneliness in seniors has yielded noteworthy suggestions and data with regard to fighting senior isolation.
First, some facts:
- Senior isolation increases risk of mortality
- Feelings of loneliness can negatively affect both physical and mental health
- Perceived loneliness contributes to cognitive decline and risk of dementia
- Social isolation makes seniors more vulnerable to abuse
- LGBT seniors are much more likely to find themselves socially isolated
- Social isolation in seniors is linked to long-term illness
- Loneliness in seniors is a major risk factor for depression
- Loneliness causes high blood pressure
- Socially isolated seniors are more pessimistic about the future
- Physical and geographical isolation often leads to social isolation
- Isolated seniors are more likely to need long-term care
- Loss of a spouse is a major factor with regard to loneliness and isolation
- Transportation challenges can lead to social isolation
The In Home Care Giver: A Senior’s Link to the Outside World
We feel very optimistic in our constant battle in combating elderly loneliness – it’s all in what caregivers are willing to make happen. Ways that in home care can help alleviate loneliness in your elderly loved one include:
• Listening and Observing – We don’t listen enough to the people we love…it’s just a fact. Saying “tell me more” is a gift caregivers can provide from the heart; encouraging seniors to express themselves can help discover what interests and passions lay dormant, just waiting to be rekindled in your loved one.
• Developing a Strategy to Defeat Seclusion – Once you know what your loved one enjoys doing, you can use this information to help a home healthcare organization develop a personalized loneliness eradication plan for them.
• Letting Them “Teach” – As strange as it may sound, we encourage caregivers to connect with clients’ loved ones through allowing them to pass a portion of their vast hard-earned knowledge to them. The key is to let the senior’s passions guide the “lesson plan;” for example: If someone is caring for your mother who loves to embroider, that caregiver can ask her to teach him or her how to do it.
• Bridging the Generation Gap – Caregivers can play a vital role in fostering a relationship between a senior and their youngest relatives by coming up with ways to help the oldest and youngest generations of families spend time together.
• Acknowledging That it’s the Thought That Counts – This is a very interesting piece of advice from professionals in the in home care industry: Urge family members to reach out to an elderly loved one, even if it’s not a grand, time-consuming gesture. Something as simple as sending a card, dropping off a little present or their favorite food or calling for 30 minutes a couple of times a week can make all the difference in the world with regard to a senior feeling loved and connected to the rest of the family.
Taking steps to make your elderly loved one less lonely could not only contribute to them living longer, it may make their eventual passing a bit easier because when the elderly get re-acquainted with family members, it makes “moving on” a gentler prospect.