We live in an age where we communicate with friends and family through texts or a few clicks of a mouse. Even with all of the communication technology advances, research indicates that, as a society, we are lonelier than we have ever been. It’s important to address that perhaps no other age group feels this sting of loneliness more than the elderly. As our loved ones grow older, mobility issues, life changes, and health issues can all contribute to social isolation, which can cause loneliness. Their social circles seem to shrink as the years go by, and hearing and vision loss can make it so difficult to communicate that it doesn’t seem worth the effort.
Loneliness is though to act on the body in a way that is similar to chronic stress. It raises the levels of stress hormones like cortisol in the body, which impairs immune responses and contributes to inflammation, mental illness and conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Loneliness may even be associated with the development of brain biomarkers associated with preclinical Alzheimer's disease. While lonely senior citizens may try and push people away, it's important for them to have communication and engagement with others. To make sure your elderly loved on doesn't become lonely, here are a few ways you can help keep them social and happy.
Listen and observe.
We often don’t listen enough to the people we love. Saying ‘tell me more’ is a gift you can give from your heart. Encouraging them to express themselves can help you discover what interests and passions lay dormant, just waiting to be rekindled.
Keep in mind that once-loved activities may no longer interest them or fit their abilities. Do your best to help them discover ways to adapt these hobbies or find new pastimes altogether.
Encourage Interests and Hobbies
If your senior loved one has interests and hobbies they can focus on, they are less likely to feel alone and isolated. They can find ways to spend time with other seniors who share the same interests through groups or clubs in the community. If you are curious about different groups your loved one can join, visit your local senior center.
Keep Connected with Loved Ones
Having close relationships with family and friends can not only help your loved one fight loneliness, but studies have shown that these types of relationships can actually improve health and increase lifespan as well. With the technology we have these days, a loved one is never more than a few buttons away. A phone call is the easiest way, although, many elders are learning to connect to social media.
Bridge the generation gap.
Caregivers can play a vital role in fostering a relationship between a senior and their youngest relatives. Grandkids often see their grandparents as either crazy or boring, when they should consider their elders sources of valuable wisdom and fun. Try to come up with ways to help the oldest and the youngest generations of your family spend time together.
Get Outside with Them
Sunshine and fresh air are great for a healthy life. On days where the weather will allow, consider taking your loved one out for a picnic or a walk in a local park. Just getting out of the house and spending some time with each other is perhaps the easiest and best way to help avoid feelings of loneliness.
Be Their Transportation
Many seniors who cannot or should not drive will opt to stay home instead of finding a way to get to a group meeting or lunch with a friend. Knowing that they have transportation to anywhere they needs to go and are welcomed to ask can make them more likely to want to get out of the house and spend some time with others. If you can, offer to be their transportation. There are also many companies that offer senior-specific transportation around town that you can look into.
Help with Community Involvement
Community involvement, such as volunteering, is a wonderful way for your loved one to stay connected to other people and avoid feelings of loneliness. Volunteering fosters feelings of purpose and accomplishment. Your loved one will feel proud and be able to meet others at the same time. Visit your local senior center and inquire about different volunteering opportunities that are geared toward seniors such as, for example, nursing homes.
Consider Senior Living
While living at home alone may seem ideal, moving to an assisted living community or skilled nursing facility (nursing home) can help your senior loved one to stay socialized by providing fellowship with other seniors in the community. Through community gathering spaces and different activities that are offered, they can stay social and happy more easily than if at home.