Spending social time with friends and family is a proven path to better health and longevity — but what if your senior loved one is shy, introverted, or socially anxious? Compared to their more boisterous or outgoing peers, it can be harder for shy seniors to connect with a companion at home, or go out and enjoy time in their community with friends.
As a family caregiver to a shy or introverted senior, there are still lots of ways to make sure your loved one gets the support and quality social time they need to thrive — while respecting their boundaries and making sure they’re comfortable, at every step of the way.
Introversion, Social Anxiety? Why Seniors Can Be Shy
Koraly Perez-Edgar, an associate professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University, uses “shyness” to describe “people who want to interact with others, but can’t do so comfortably.”
Many people who are introverted also appear to be shy to outsiders. As Psychology Today puts it, introverts are those who largely prefer “the inner life of the mind over the outer world of other people.” Introverts typically find pleasure in being alone, or their preferred social setting may be “one-on-one engagement in a calm environment.”
As Perez-Edger notes, shyness is a general and subjective label. In some seniors, it may be a sign of a larger condition, such as social anxiety disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.
According to a report from the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, as many as 10-20% of our older population may be dealing with anxiety, which often goes undiagnosed — usually because seniors are reluctant to talk about their symptoms, or because they’ve been managing the symptoms their whole life and “believe the feelings are normal.”
Also known as “social phobia,” social anxiety occurs “when an individual feels overwhelmingly anxious and self-conscious in everyday social situations.” As the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP) puts it, an older adult might feel “intense, persistent, and chronic fear of being judged by others and of doing things that will cause embarrassment.”
For some seniors, shyness and social discomfort are long standing conditions. For others, they can manifest or grow more intense later in life, often due to the health and lifestyle changes that come with aging.
As the AAGP explains, “some older persons suffer a social phobia because they are embarrassed about being unable to remember names or are ashamed of their appearance due to illness.” In other cases, shy habits and social phobias can be heightened due to grief following the loss of a loved one; stress; or the effects of isolation.
Helping a Senior Come Out of Their Shell
Studies have shown that older adults who maintain strong social relationships live healthier, happier, and longer lives.
So, as a family caregiver, what can you do to help ensure that your shy or introverted loved one is able to enjoy these positive benefits while aging in place?
Be Ready to Take Baby Steps
Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your senior loved one may not suddenly be willing to open up or try new things overnight. Start by taking things slow, and try to encourage them to be more active by taking small steps together — such as meeting with a new caregiver; going on a quick outing to a mall or museum; or calling a trusted friend or family member for a few minutes.
At the same time, keep in mind that everyone is different. The fact that your loved one has a different outlook doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re right, and they’re wrong. As Perez-Edgar put it for U.S. News & World Report, if someone prefers alone time,
“that’s perfectly fine if they’re happy and they’re functioning and they feel good about themselves. It only becomes a problem if you see that it limits them or they’re sad about it, or if they’re somehow feeling bad about themselves.”
Create an Environment Where the Senior Feels Comfortable
One way to help a senior sing their song is to create an environment where they feel comfortable and empowered. If your loved one has trouble focusing or gets overstimulated, try turning off the TV or radio. When you sit down for a conversation, get rid of distractions, and show that you’re present by using “active listening” body language — make eye contact, nod, smile, and show that you not only hear and understand, but appreciate what your loved one is trying to say. Be mindful of the senior’s body language, and recognize when they’re starting to seem tired, stressed, or agitated.
If your loved one has a professional caregiver, make sure that they have a separate space to go to in those moments when the senior needs a break and some alone time. Finally, work with the senior to see what settings they feel most comfortable in. For example, some shy adults may prefer to eat their meals at home, compared to going out to a noisy or busy restaurant. Some people dealing with anxiety may find it easier for friends to come to them, whenever possible, rather than having to work up the nerve to go out into a less familiar setting.
Look for Activities That Work Well With Introverts
If your senior loved one is more introverted, there are still lots of ways for them to enjoy time in their community. The Institute on Aging offers some great activity ideas that can help introverted seniors charge their “social” batteries, including:
- Quiet reading time with a friend or companion
- Listening to music
- Playing cards or doing puzzles
- Small group discussions and one-on-one visits
- Attending a museum or gallery
- Working on an art project
- Attending a class or workshop
Reach Out for Help
If shyness, stress, or anxiety are overwhelming your senior loved one or holding them back from living life to the fullest, it may be time to consult with a medical professional. Your loved one’s primary care physician may be able to help identify and manage some of the physical effects of anxiety. When appropriate, a PCP can help your loved one connect with a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or social worker. There are lots of affordable options for mental health treatment, including professionals who focus primarily on working with seniors.
Work With a Senior Companion Who Will Be the Right Fit
Bringing on a professional caregiver or companion can be a great way to help your loved one get the social support they need to live a more full and complete life.
Try to find a companion who will be the right fit for your loved one. During interviews with prospective companions, ask about their experience and background in working with seniors like your loved one, or see if they have similar interests or hobbies.
Meanwhile, look for companions who will truly be there for your loved one, while remaining compassionate, empathetic, and passionate.
At Companions for Seniors, our companions know how meaningful it is to put themselves in their client’s shoes, and adjust their care to suit each individual’s unique needs. We truly get to know the seniors in our care. Our companions recognize when it’s time to sit still and just be with their clients, and are also able to “step out of their shell” and share stories, listen, and embrace new experiences when it’s appropriate.
Our companions are also truly dedicated and passionate about caregiving, and find fulfillment and joy in spending quality time with the elderly. In fact, many of our companions come to us because they have prior experience caring for a loved one, which gave them the drive to be of service to others who need help.
Companions for Seniors Is Here to Help Make Caregiving Easier
If you have a loved one that you believe could benefit from the assistance of a professional caregiver or companion, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the experts at Companions for Seniors.
We’re locally owned in the Chicago area, with clients in the city and suburbs. We’re always here and ready to help, however we can. Whether you’re looking to address any questions you may have about caring for your aging loved one, or want to reach out for home care help, we are here for you.
Our companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and can help you and your family shoulder some of the responsibilities of caring for the senior in your life. Our mission is to help provide seniors with a higher quality of life, while also offering respite and peace of mind for a family caregiver who might need some support. We offer personalized care plans for each of our clients. Our caregivers can assist with activities of daily living, housekeeping, driving services, and more, all on a flexible schedule that works for you.
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 online contact form, available here.