Loneliness in the older population is considered by experts to be an epidemic. Loneliness is a medical health risk, as it can cause seniors to become more prone to adverse health conditions. Despite the prevalence of loneliness, families can take steps to ease these feelings in their senior parents.
Recent studies conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) conclude that 25 percent of seniors age 65 and older experience social isolation. According to the same study, greater than one-third of adults over age 45 feel lonely.
Loneliness and social isolation are two distinct beasts. The former is a feeling that a senior might experience despite people being around. Social isolation occurs when social connections are insufficient. Seniors can feel lonely without being socially isolated; and, social isolation can lead to loneliness.
Why are seniors vulnerable to loneliness?
Older people have an increased risk for loneliness due to a number of life circumstances. Loved ones, including a spouse and close friends, may have passed away. Seniors are likely to live alone. The elderly are more reluctant to drive, which limits their opportunities to socialize with others.
Chronic health conditions in the elderly can prevent them from either pursuing or maintaining social connections. A decline in hearing or vision can make conversations with others an insurmountable challenge and lead to dwindling personal interactions. Physical decline is also an obstacle for many.
What are the health risks of loneliness?
Being lonely is unhealthy for seniors of any age. The risk of premature death increases in seniors who are socially isolated, and this risk rivals the risks associated with smoking, physical inactivity and obesity. The risks for heart disease and stroke spike in seniors who are socially isolated or lonely.
A 50 percent increase in the risk for dementia occurs in seniors who experience poor social connections. Emotional and mental health are also compromised by loneliness or social isolation. Anxiety, depression, and suicide occur more frequently in older people who suffer chronic loneliness.
1. Call Regularly
Families can develop a plan to combat loneliness in their elder parents. If the senior’s spouse passes away or the individual no longer drives, for instance, it is necessary to establish a routine for increased contact. More contact means calling Mom or Dad at regular intervals.
2. Visit Often
Adult children are encouraged to visit elderly parents often. Seniors will find comfort in the warmth of a hug from their children or will be satisfied simply with their physical presence. If distance is an issue, consider virtual visits via technology, such as Skype or other video platforms.
3. Explore Community Resources
Community centers offer a range of senior-friendly activities, many of which members of the aging population enjoy. The senior center is filled with similarly aged and like-minded peers with whom older parents can relate, enjoy the company of and eventually befriend.
National organizations offer an abundance of resources designed to improve the social lives of the elderly. Families may look into the National Council on Aging to find community programs and services. Illinois Department on Aging provides Community Care Programs. AARP provides community connection tools. The Area Agency on Aging is also a helpful resource.
4. Teach Technology
Technology opens up the world to lonely seniors. If adult children are unavailable to teach their elderly parents how to use technology, invite the grandkids to the senior’s home for a few lessons. Teaching something new to a senior is itself a great social opportunity.
Seniors who learn how to operate the computer’s camera can reach family members anywhere in the world. Video chats can become regular, and loneliness will decrease. Online chats can fill a senior’s day with amusement and keep the senior socially connected.
5. Encourage a Hobby
Adult children might encourage an elderly parent to pick up a hobby. Learning something new is an excellent technique to keep the aging brain sharp and stimulated. Joining a book club or starting a knitting group opens the doors to increased social opportunities and meaningful connections.
6. Gift a Pet
A furry friend will keep a lonely senior entertained and turn an empty home into one full of excitement. Caring for a cat or dog helps reduce cortisol levels in the brain and increases serotonin production, all of which contribute to helping the senior feel positive and less alone.
7. Suggest Volunteering
Giving back to the community through volunteering is an immensely rewarding experience. Encourage the senior to volunteer with a local organization. The senior has an opportunity to socially connect with other volunteers who share the same spirit of giving. Volunteering also keeps the aging brain active.
8. Hire Professionals
Families that live a far distance from their elderly parents can rely on geriatric care managers to connect the seniors with community activities. Geriatric care managers are often experienced nurses or social workers who work out the logistics to get the seniors’ social needs met.
Companion caregivers are an alternative to geriatric care managers. Professional caregivers take the time to develop personal relationships with senior care recipients, initiate pleasant conversations and stimulate the seniors’ minds with games. Companion caregivers also provide transportation if the senior does not drive.
Easing a senior’s loneliness can be accomplished with proper planning and a wide range of accessible resources. When you aim to give your elderly parents greater life satisfaction in their advancing years, choose Assisting Hands Home Care for compassionate in-home assistance.
Assisting Hands Home Care professionals are experienced in providing high-quality elder care. We offer comprehensive, non-medical home care services, such as meal preparation, assistance with personal hygiene, mobility assistance, companion care, transportation, light housekeeping, fall prevention and timely medication reminders.
Our in-home care services are flexible and can be tailored to meet the individual needs of the senior in your life. Our caregivers are available to provide 24-hour home care, companion care, dementia care and post-operative care to seniors and adults with disabilities living in Deerfield, Buffalo Gove, Highland, Lake Forest, Lake Zurich, Lincolnshire, Mundelein, Vernon Hills, IL and the surrounding areas in Lake and Cook county, Illinois. Call us at (847) 595-1222 for a complimentary in-home consult.