Over time, many adult children find that their aging parents and grandparents start to become more and more withdrawn. A once-boisterous and joking dad now sits in his chair and quietly watches the news non-stop. The mom who once spent hours every weekend visiting with family, friends, and neighbors now needs to be convinced to attend family gatherings or even go to church.
Though your mom or dad may not even acknowledge or recognize the changes in themselves, you might find these new developments worrisome — and find yourself with plenty of questions and no easy answers.
Is it normal for older adults to shrink away from their favorite pastimes and hobbies as they age?
Withdrawing From Life
A few years ago, a powerful article from U.S. News & World Report explored some of the ways that older people tend to “withdraw from life” over time. This includes both big and small examples, such as:
- Avoiding travel or giving up driving
- Downsizing into a smaller home, or living in fewer and fewer rooms of the house
- Reducing or giving up hobbies and other pastimes, from playing golf, to hosting card games, to gardening
- Downsizing their wardrobe, or confining themselves to only a few well-worn outfits
- Passing on entertainment such as restaurants or live shows
- Giving up on learning new things
- Stepping away from food by avoiding cooking, eating only the same few dishes, or losing interest in trying new foods or recipes
- Making excuses to avoid social time with friends or people outside of the home
You can find plenty of real world stories and experiences from caregivers and family members cataloged here, courtesy of Aging Care.
As the writer of the U.S. News article, Philip Moeller, puts it, some of these developments are entirely natural — and there are certainly cases where a “limiting decision can be a good one.”
For instance, using less of the home may make older adults feel safer and more secure as they age in place. And even for the most independent senior, there will always come a point when they will have to “reduce or end activities that have become challenging,” including pastimes they once enjoyed — such as going on long drives, taking home maintenance projects, or learning about new technology.
As Dr. Eric Tangalos, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic puts it to U.S. News, “I would argue that as each of us gets older, we shrink our environment to get better control of it.” However, this natural reaction to the challenges of aging can have some unintended consequences — including losing the ability to adapt to change and missing out on opportunities to socialize. Over time, Moeller writes, this can create a “solitary lifestyle” that “precludes new experiences, community activities, and interactions with friends and family.”
As Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) explains, this loss of social connection can “become a significant issue, leading to depression and a downward spiral with one’s health.”
And despite how common these challenges and changes are for seniors, Milner says, there is still very little research being done on “the ways in which aging causes people to shrink their environments and scope of activities.”
What we do know is that becoming withdrawn or isolated can make common health and lifestyle challenges even tougher for older adults. It can lower quality of life and limit independence, and may be a sign of a serious underlying problem — including isolation, anxiety, depression, chronic physical pain, and even cognitive changes such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Helping a Senior Loved One Stay Active and Engaged
As a loving son or daughter to an aging parent, it can be stressful and even scary to see an older adult limit themselves and give up on things they once enjoyed. Fortunately, there are many practical steps you can take to help your senior loved one live a more full, complete, and active life. Here are some ideas to keep in mind as you and your loved one move forward:
Look for Ways to Create Sense of Purpose
“Struggle with depression is much tougher for people who’ve lost their sense of purpose in life.”
In contrast, people who do feel a strong sense of purpose tend to report feeling happier and more fulfilled —and may even experience greater longevity along with a much higher quality of life. There are all sorts of little ways to start bringing meaning back into your loved one’s day-to-day. Connecting remotely through Skype or by writing letters can give your senior loved one something to treasure and look forward to. Caring for a garden or a low maintenance pet can give older adults a strong motivation to get active. Or, as Lewis explains, working toward a goal — be it finishing a knitted scarf, assembling a full puzzle, or finding ways to volunteer and give back to the community — can “keep loneliness and brooding at bay.”
Listen to Your Loved One, and Look for Opportunities That Suit Them
As a family caregiver, it’s important to be patient, empathetic, and always willing to listen. When in doubt, start up a conversation — and be open to truly hearing what your loved one has to say about the challenges they face.
What are they afraid of? What situations make them uncomfortable? What brings them joy? What would they like to be doing with their time?
The more you understand your loved one’s likes, dislikes, and goals, the better equipped you’ll be to find activities that work for them. For example, might they be more willing to strike up conversations with other people in a setting where they’re working on an individual activity, like cooking or knitting? If they’re nervous about leaving the house to see family, would they be open to having the nieces, nephews, and grandkids come to them? Could having a professional caregiver help them overcome a physical limitation or concern that’s keeping them at home?
Give Love and Encouragement
As Lewis puts it:
“Show aging seniors that you love and need them, listen to them, and hug them often… Expressions of love are especially important for widowed seniors who need more support and affection to deal with grief.”
When your loved one is reluctant to go out for social support, it may fall on you to make them feel loved and supported. Show that you care with attention, verbal support, and little gifts. Be a helping hand and an open ear. Focus on spending quality time together, even if you’re just sitting quietly or watching a movie. Tell stories, play music, break out a board game, help with chores around the house, offer a smile or a reassuring hand on the shoulder — whatever you can do to remind the older adult that they’re not alone, no matter what.
Watch for Underlying Health Problems — and be Ready to Get Professional Help
Social isolation, depression, and anxiety can both be intensified by and help lead to a whole host of other challenges. Keep an eye on your loved one to see if they’re also dealing with other lifestyle complications. Are they eating well? Are they drinking enough water? Do they get enough physical exercise? How much sleep do they seem to be getting at night? Are they staying on top of their medicines? Are they smoking or drinking alcohol to excess?
Depending on what your loved one is experiencing, you may wish to consult with a healthcare professional or medical expert for guidance and answers. There are lots of doctors who focus on seniors’ physical and mental well-being, as well as specialists who can help them address specific challenges.
Consider Companion Care
Companion care is about providing older adults with the support and attention they need to thrive. This includes:
- Providing the kind of practical, everyday support that can empower seniors to age in place, including help with running errands, tending to housekeeping, preparing meals, receiving reliable driving services and so on
- Offering older adults emotional support and friendship, allowing them to nurture meaningful relationships and live life to the fullest
With home care provided by a passionate and attentive senior companion, you can connect the senior in your life with exactly the type of care they need, on a flexible schedule that suits their lifestyle – and your own.
This way, your senior loved one can enjoy the lifestyle they want from the comfort of the home they love, without having to uproot and pay all of the expensive fees associated with institutional care.
Bottom line? Companions care is a flexible, reliable option for providing seniors with the support and attention they need – while also giving time back to the countless family caregivers who deserve the chance to rest and recharge.
Interested In Learning More? Companions for Seniors Is Here to Help
Do you have an elderly loved one who could benefit from the personalized attention and support that a professional companion can provide? Do you have any questions, or want to discuss what may be the best course of action for you and your family moving forward? Companions for Seniors is here and ready to help.
At Companions for Seniors, our companions are trained and bonded, and can help your family shoulder some of the responsibilities of caring for an aging loved one. We are locally owned and operated in Chicago, with clients in the city and suburbs.
We help provide seniors with a higher quality of life, while also offering respite and peace of mind to family caregivers who might need some support. Our companions help stimulate our clients physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, empowering them to live an active and enriched lifestyle in the comfort and safety of their own homes. We also offer companionship services in hospitals or treatment centers. We can develop a personalized care plan specially suited for your senior loved one’s needs; as our client’s needs change, so can our plan of care.
Have any questions about Companions for Seniors? 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.