Is your senior loved one grappling with loneliness? Loneliness and social isolation are significant problems facing older adults, with serious long-term consequences. Fortunately, there are many steps you can take as a loving family member to help bolster your loved one’s sense of connection, decrease feelings of loneliness or isolation, and improve their health.
The Dangers of Loneliness for Older Adults
Over time, it is easy for older adults to become more isolated and socially disconnected, due to any number of reasons. A partner may pass on. Adult children may move away. Friends or family may simply not have enough free time to visit as often as they’d like.
In fact, as many different sources, including the AARP, have noted, loneliness is a growing public health problem in the US – to the point where it could even be considered “an epidemic.”
As the AARP notes, more than 42 million Americans “identify as being lonely.” This is particularly common among older adults, many of whom report living alone. A recent survey of adults aged 50 to 80 found that “one in four [people] said they feel isolated from other people at least some of the time, and one in three say they don’t have regular companionship.”
Over time, being socially isolated and lonely can have serious health and lifestyle consequences for seniors, including:
- Increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease
- Increased risk of heart attack or stroke
- Feelings of depression or anxiety
- Higher rates of chronic illness
- Higher stress levels
- Increased risk for cognitive decline, including dementia and Alzheimer’s
- Decreased physical mobility
- Higher risk of suffering a severe accident
- Higher rates of malnutrition
- More overall medical attention and hospital admissions needed
- Lower rates of longevity
- Higher likelihood of developing poor health habits
To put all of that in perspective? One commonly cited statistic suggests that prolonged isolation can ultimately be as bad for your health as “smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
Looking Out for Signs of Loneliness in Seniors
Yet, despite all of these serious concerns, many older adults hesitate when it comes to reaching out for help. Many seniors feel like they’ll be seen as a burden if they complain. Others simply accept these changes as a natural part of aging and don’t see the need to trouble their family – even as their health gradually worsens.
As a family caregiver, it’s important to frequently check in with your senior loved ones. Keep an eye on them, and be ready to talk about important subjects, like loneliness and isolation.
As Kerstin Gerst Emerson, a clinical assistant professor in the Institute of Gerontology put it: “Loneliness is tricky because someone has to tell you… You can’t give the patient a blood test or an MRI.”
Another important step is to keep an eye on your loved one’s health and wellbeing by looking out for potential warning signs of trouble. Often, you may notice changes in your senior’s daily habits and lifestyle – some small, some substantial – that set off warning bells in your head.
For instance? If your normally chatty mother seems withdrawn or uncommunicative, that could be a sign that she’s feeling the effects of isolation. In other cases, older adults might start to withdraw from the social activities they do have on their schedule. Your older family might start losing weight or give up healthy activities like exercising, cooking, or keeping up with their daily grooming and hygiene routines. You might also notice changes to your loved one’s household that are troublesome – they may give up cleaning, start neglecting their houseplants or allow the mail to pile up, for example.
How Family Caregivers Can Help
If you notice one or more of these warning signs, or you simply want to be proactive in keeping your loved one feeling connected, empowered, and healthy, there are many ways you can help your loved one stay socially engaged as a family caregiver. Plenty of little changes can make a big difference for your senior loved one. Here are a few tried-and-true ideas to keep in mind:
Make a Point to Visit in Person
It’s hard to overstate the power of being there when you can. Spending quality time with your senior loved one is a great way to brighten their day, and your own. Whether you share a meal, see a movie, go for a walk, play a game, or simply sit together and swap stories, the benefits of spending time with your senior family can be enormous. At the same time, visiting in person gives you the opportunity to check up on your senior loved one’s health and wellbeing. Visiting gives you the chance to help out with chores, or keep an eye on your family member’s home.
Of course, it’s also important to be realistic. Many family caregivers live a good distance away from their aging loved ones. Many more are members of the Sandwich Generation, and are busy caring for kids of their own, while also looking out for an elderly family. Don’t sacrifice your own health and wellbeing, but do be mindful about taking time for your senior family, whether that means visiting once a week or a few times a year. There are plenty of stopgap measures you can use to keep in touch in the meantime, including…
While there’s no substitute for face-to-face time, using technology is a great way to connect with your older loved ones in those times when getting together simply isn’t in the cards. Depending on your elderly loved one’s comfort and familiarity with technology, there are all sorts of ways you can keep in touch, from email to video chatting, to instant messaging on social media, to simply talking on the telephone. One major study, for instance, found that seniors who spoke to their loved ones using chat apps like FaceTime and Skype “had almost half the estimated probability of depressive symptoms” as their peers, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Help Your Loved One with Transportation Services
In some cases, empowering your loved one to get around could make all the difference in helping them stay healthy and socially active. For older adults who cannot drive and are cut off from public transportation, it can be hard to get out of the house and into the community for outings, friendly visits, or social events. Senior driving services, such as those provided by the professional caregivers at Companions for Seniors, can help your loved one stay connected to their community.
A driving companion can help transport older adults to card games, volunteer events, group meetings, religious services, doctor’s appointments, special outings, and more. At the same time, your senior loved one may benefit from simply having a friendly face that they know and trust behind the wheel. Running errands or heading to an appointment might seem a lot less intimidating when your senior can chat and laugh with another person along the way.
Connect Your Loved One With Their Community
For the elderly, living at home doesn’t have to mean living apart. In fact, aging in place is a great way for seniors to remain connected to their local community. If your loved one is feeling cut off, you may want to help them connect to a local group that shares their interests. There are plenty of classes and groups out there specifically designed for older adults, from gardening clubs, to exercise classes, to book clubs, to volunteer opportunities, to religious groups, and everything in between. Similarly, you may wish to help your loved one go for walks or drives, if possible, in order to help them stay active in their neighborhood. There are plenty of ways to get involved – as a family caregiver, your role may be to help connect your older loved one with the activity or organization that will be the right fit.
Look for a Part-Time or Full-Time Senior Companion
Whether your senior loved one needs more attention and support than you can provide on your own, or you feel that your family member might benefit from having a new face around the house, a senior companion can help step in. A companion can help provide your senior loved one with the personalized attention they need while giving you the chance to get some much needed respite.
Companions can assist older adults with activities of daily living (ADLs), such as sitting and standing, grooming, bathing, and going to the bathroom. A companion can also step in to assist your loved one with laundry, housekeeping, and meal prep, while also providing driving services and routine assistance. In other cases, a companion’s main task may be to simply share a meal with the senior when you cannot, or play games and keep up a lively conversation. Companionship is a flexible service, which can be tailored to best meet the schedule and the needs of the senior and their family caregivers.
Companions for Seniors Can Help
Do you have a senior loved one who could benefit from having a little bit of company? Companions for Seniors would love to step in and help.
Our companions are here to help make sure your elderly loved ones are getting the social interactions and support they need, without having to leave the comfort of their homes or finding a way to pay for expensive, institutional care.
At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the safety of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships. We’re locally owned in the Chicago area, with clients in the city and suburbs.
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. We offer personalized care plans for each of our clients, and our caregivers can assist with activities of daily living, housekeeping, driving services, and more. In most cases, we can customize a care plan and be up and running in a matter of days.
Have any questions? Want to get in touch? Don’t hesitate to give us a call at 866-910-9020, or fill out our handy contact form available here.