Many elders in the U.S. live in a state of isolation and loneliness. Children move across the country and spouses and friends pass, while it becomes more difficult to make friends. Even younger adults remark that it is more difficult to make friends as an adult than it was as a kid. For seniors this is compounded by the physical decline associated with aging – loss of hearing and vision, which ultimately leads to loss of driving privileges.
Elders typically prefer to stay in their homes for as long as possible, downplaying the health risks it poses and reassuring everyone that they feel fine. However, what gets overlooked too often is the risk of a lack of social contact. A periodic caregiver and assistant is great to have someone check in regularly, but doesn’t do much in providing the excitement and joy of being with friends and family.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do for your elderly loved ones is spend as much time with them as possible and pursue opportunities that foster friendships. If your loved one does not live in an assisted living home and you’ve been considering having the conversation, the risk of ongoing isolation could be the right catalyst.
If your loved one does live in an assisted living home and therefore has greater access to socialization, you can still play a role in decreasing loneliness and increasing stimulation by following the three tips below.
It is important for elderly people to have frequent contact with family, and the same can probably be said for people of all ages. Friends are important to the emotional and even physical well being of a senior, but familial interaction is still crucial. There is no set recommended frequency, but often and meaningful are good guidelines.
A phone is a great start, but in-person visits do so much more. It is best for your elderly loved one to see you and hug you. In the early 1950’s, now-famous psychologist Dr. Harry Harlow established through experiments with capuchin monkeys that physical contact is important in the emotional and physical development of infants. We now know that this is true and invaluable to all people. If time and distance are an issue, try to Skype more often. Many seniors are not too tech savvy, but an aide, friend, or nurse may be able to help.
For distance caregivers, it may be a good idea to hire a home aide or find a new home for your loved one. This is true when health complications increase and bodily and mental functions wane; however, solitude can be just as detrimental in the long-run.
If your elderly loved one is still able to get around, take him or her to events they would enjoy. Be it a concert or ballet, bingo night, or anything else they like. Taking your time to do this gives the senior an opportunity to get out, plus the added benefit of visiting with family. If an outing is too much, take your parent to run a few errands that they may need. It is very nice of you to bring your parent the new socks that they have been needing, but it will be more beneficial if you take them with you. A dose of physical movement and mental stimulation will go a long way to lift their moods for weeks to come.