For families caring for an elderly loved one, routines will gradually change over time as the older person’s abilities and desires change. An older adult may begin to distance themselves, keeping mostly to their room or not leaving their home if they live by themselves.
While some level of decreased activity is normal, it is important to remain aware of the potential for loneliness and social isolation to develop in your loved one. Elderly loneliness is a profound issue that can reduce your loved one’s physical health and longevity, but there are many ways to increase social connection and reinvigorate their lives.
We will provide an overview of seven ways to prevent elderly loneliness for people of all activity levels, mental states, and interests.
The Elderly Loneliness Pandemic
Being lonely is not a pleasant feeling, but loneliness causes more than just emotional turmoil. In fact, studies have shown that elders who are lonely are more likely to need emergency room care, and their health outcomes may suffer. The elderly are more susceptible to high blood pressure, dementia, cognitive decline, heart disease, reduced immune function, and even death.
What is worse, more older folks than ever are falling victim to loneliness severe enough to cause problems. As families struggle to make ends meet on their own, working multiple jobs, the time available to spend with an aging parent or friend continues to decrease. As a result, about 1 in 3 seniors reports feeling severe loneliness, and 1 in 4 qualify for the classification of socially isolated.
Tips to Prevent Loneliness in Elders
The good news is that senior loneliness has many potential cures, and these can be applied to older folks from all walks of life. Whether your loved one can walk on their own or is confined to their room, there are usually many options to decrease loneliness.
1. Schedule Social Time
One of the best ways to maintain a social life is to schedule it. This may reduce the fun of spontaneity, but it also makes socializing more likely. Rather than waiting for your loved one to “feel like” going out or doing something fun, plan for this time. This way, they know what to expect and can feel prepared for it. Anticipating this block of time can also improve their mental well-being by giving them hope.
2. Embrace Technological Connection
No matter whether your loved one maintains mobility or needs substantial assistance, technology today is making connection easier than ever before. Activities like Zoom calls, YouTube videos, and many more are all ways for anyone to connect with hobbies, passions, and people they love.
Teach your family members how to use these services or set them up with the devices they need to connect. You may be surprised how many people enjoy simple social activities like playing Scrabble online or talking on forums.
3. Create Meaning
Develop activities that have deep meaning for your loved one. For instance, finding a pen pal or encouraging your family member to write down childhood recipes directs their attention outward, toward giving items or knowledge to others. This is just as social as receiving attention from others and fulfills the same mental and emotional needs.
4. Take Care of Something
If they are able, taking care of a pet is a great way to keep your loved one social. Even fish can be helpful pets. If your loved one struggles with this task, caring for plants (real or even plastic) can invigorate older folks. Also, virtual pets can often be a fun experience for those with physical or cognitive decline that prevents caring for living things.
5. Get Involved with Community or Hobby Activities
Your local community is full of opportunities, both remote and in person. Discover the hobbies that your loved one holds dear and connect them with groups that pursue this interest. Sometimes, members from these groups may visit your home if your family member is unable to come to them!
Even if the older individual participates from afar, such as by making quilts at home, their attention is still directed toward a social endeavor. Senior centers are common in counties across the U.S. and can be a good option – and they often offer a range of services and programs.
6. Participate in Family Rituals
Do not neglect your loved one during your common family routines, traditions, and celebrations. Invite them to dinner or to watch TV, even if they always fall asleep or lose interest.
Even simply group activities like cooking together can give them a sense of purpose and belonging. Spending time in the physical presence of people can be healing, even if they are not meeting you on your same level of engagement and enthusiasm.
7. Attend to Health
Loneliness cannot be prevented by a good diet and plenty of sleep, but they can help reduce the negative emotional and physical effects of loneliness. Make sure your loved one is getting enough rest, eating a healthful diet, and getting as much practical exercise as possible. This can improve their mood and inspire them to connect in many of the ways described above.
Learn About Local Resources to Combat Loneliness
If you are concerned about a family member’s loneliness, you have options. The team at the Shepherd’s Center of Northern Virginia can help you explore the resources available in your community so that your loved one can age in place without losing their social life. Contact SCNOVA to discover the many opportunities that your family member could take advantage of.