Has your aging parent or loved one lost interest in things they used to enjoy?
For instance, has your father, who once loved gardening, completely given up on his favorite outdoor hobby? Has your social butterfly mother decided to stop attending her weekly book club, seemingly out of the blue?
Unfortunately, as many family and professional caregivers would tell you, it’s all too common to see aging adults lose interest in the things they once loved.
In some cases, older adults may give up their hobbies or pastimes due to physical changes and health concerns. For example, that dad who loved gardening can no longer squat and stand as often as he needs to in order to take care of the backyard. Perhaps a loved one who was always an avid cook may stop working in the kitchen because they’re experiencing changes in their sense of smell or taste.
In many other cases, though, the causes are less cut-and-dry. Some older adults simply give up their interests over time because they stop finding pleasure in things. This could be due to a psychological condition that is referred to as anhedonia. In some cases, anhedonia may manifest itself as a lack of motivation to do things, or general apathy. In other events, older adults may not get pleasure from the activities that they do, causing them to start resenting their interests and hobbies.
Whatever the cause, it can be dismaying enough to see the older adult in your life lose interest in hobbies, relationships, and activities they once enjoyed. When a person loses the things they’re passionate about, they lose a little bit of themselves. As a loving friend or family member, these changes, whether major or minor, can be incredibly frustrating or scary to see firsthand.
To make matters worse, apathy, loss of interest, and anhedonia have been linked to some serious health conditions in older adults. For elderly adults, losing interest in hobbies, pastimes, and passions can be a warning sign of more serious things to come, including:
Depression and Mental Illness
As the APA’s Psychology Benefits Society blog points out, losing interest and motivation can be “a key feature of psychological disorders such as depression and schizophrenia, as well as neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.” Lack of interest in longtime hobbies and relationships is a common symptom of depression, which is remarkably common among seniors – and which can be emotionally and physically debilitating for older adults, if left untreated.
Losing interest in hobbies and passions often accompanies Alzheimer’s Disease and other types of dementia or severe memory loss. In fact, recent significant research has indicated that apathy in old age could be “an early sign of dementia.” Performing scans on more than 4000 people with an average of 76, researchers discovered that those who reported high levels of apathy, without another condition such as depression, displayed “1.4 percent less grey matter and 1.6 percent less white matter,” compared to those who were more active and engaged.
Older adults who give up on their routines may be more likely to experience significant health consequences down the line. For one thing, older adults who are apathetic or unable to keep up with daily living may let their homes become cluttered or dirty, which can make it more likely that they’ll fall ill or suffer an accident. For another, older adults who become socially isolated or withdrawn may experience some of the negative health effects of loneliness, including an increased risk for chronic illness, decreased longevity, and lower levels of fulfillment and personal satisfaction.
How Can You Help?
As we get older, a little bit less motivation and enthusiasm can be par for the course. But when it starts to affect an older adult’s health, happiness, and quality of life, it’s only natural to want to step in and provide help, in whatever way you can.
So, as a concerned family caregiver, what can you do to help your older loved one who seems to be “giving up” or losing interest in things they once enjoyed?
Look Into Medical Care for Your Loved One
Encouraging your loved one to seek treatment could be a way to get their day-to-day life back on the right track.
For instance, your loved one may benefit from talk therapy, or from working with a mental health professional who can also provide medications (such as antidepressants), as necessary. If you or your elderly loved one suspects that these emotional changes could be a sign of a larger cognitive condition, such as dementia, it may help to talk to a specialist early on, before their condition grows worse. Finally, if your loved one is ignoring their hobbies due to a physical problem, a health provider may be able to help. For instance, if your parent has given up cooking because of physical pain, a physical therapist or orthopedist may be able to help mitigate or resolve the problem, letting the senior get back into their hobby in time.
Help Older Adults Foster Social Connections and Relationships
Staying socially connected and engaged can give older adults a sense of purpose and fulfillment, and may even help your loved one to avoid serious mental and physical conditions. Help your loved one stay connected to others, however you can. Depending on your family, that may mean making more time to visit your loved one, or to coordinate visits among their family and friends. In other cases, you may want to find a professional way to provide companionship if you can’t see your loved one as often as you’d like. A full- or part-time caregiver can help give your loved one additional companionship and social support. Similarly, bringing on a professional who can offer driving services may help your loved one get to other social events, such as community meetings, religious events, and so on.
Give Seniors Additional Support and Care
Finally, bringing on a caregiver can be a great way to help give your loved one the social support they need, while also assisting them with driving, housekeeping, and activities of daily living. There are countless social benefits to bringing on a caregiver for your loved one. This trained professional is there to be a friendly face, and help engage and stimulate your loved one by playing games, going on walks, sharing meals, and so on. At the same time, this professional’s assistance around the house may help your senior feel healthier and more fulfilled. For example, a caregiver can help cook and clean, helping keep your loved one’s environment safe and livable, and cutting down on their risk of experiencing an accident, an illness, or another serious health consequence.
About Companions for Seniors
Do you have a loved one who might benefit from having social support, or an extra helping hand around the house?
At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.
Our companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and can help provide a variety of services designed to help your loved one remain in the comfort of their own home, including assistance with housekeeping, ADLs, driving, and more. We are locally owned and operated in Chicago, with clients throughout the city and suburbs.
Curious about how we could personalize a care plan for your aging loved one? Want to talk over all of your options, or discuss your concerns with a sympathetic ear? We’re here to help. Get in touch whenever you’re ready to get the conversation started.