We live in an age in which communication with friends and family is easier than ever. Despite advances in communications technology and the increasing connectedness it brings, research supports that as a society we are lonelier than we have ever been. This can be true more for no other age group more than the elderly. One of the biggest issues for seniors is that their social circles begin to shrink as the years go by. Friends, significant others, and family members move away or pass away. Even those who still live close by may be inaccessible due to limited mobility, especially once a senior can no longer drive safely. Age-related changes in one’s physical condition, such as hearing loss and low vision, can make it so difficult to communicate that it doesn’t seem worth the effort anymore. Sadly, many seniors experience a decline in the number and quality of their relationships as they age, whether it is self-imposed or due to outside forces. In addition to the damaging mental effects of feeling that one lacks fulfilling personal relationships, feeling lonely can also take a toll on one’s physical health. Loneliness is thought 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 as shown in research studies. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry even found that loneliness may be associated with the development of brain biomarkers associated with preclinical Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are a few ways you can help alleviate loneliness in your elderly loved one.
Listen When spending time with the Senior in your life, encouraging them to express themselves can help you discover what interests and passions lay dormant, just waiting to be rekindled.
Dig deep to find out what their interests were at other stages in life, and get them to try and awaken those forgotten activities. 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.
Defeat Seclusion with Strategy Once you know what your loved one enjoys doing, you can use this information to develop a personalized loneliness eradication plan. Does your loved one have a passion for photography or crafting? There are many outlets offered by local senior communities in your county, and many are at no cost. Most of these activity calendars are located online and can be accessed to work in some social and special interest activities into your loved one’s schedule on a consistent basis. For example, J’adore Seniors teaches jewelry making classes in both the Alpharetta and Gwinnett areas on a monthly basis free to seniors in the area. The time spent together is so valuable in building community and as a source of joy for many aging adults. Sometimes our elders just need a creative push to step outside their comfort zone.
Be a Lifelong Learner At J’adore Seniors we encourage family members and caregivers to connect with their loved ones by allowing them to pass some hard-earned knowledge on to you. While interacting with our Seniors, I learn something new every day as they share their life experiences. The key is to let the senior’s passions and experiences guide the lesson plan. For example, if your mother loves to embroider, ask her to teach you how to do it. This not only has the potential to be a great bonding experience, but it can also help restore a bit of balance to the child-parent dynamic that may have been lost once caregiving began.
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 too old to relate to or boring. Try to come up with ways to help the oldest and the youngest generations of your family spend time together, whether in person, by phone or via mail. Does your child have an upcoming history project? Let the grandparents be active in the discovery of historic events they have lived through, and bring history to life. There is nothing more valuable than a first-person account of the past.
Seniors have the potential to contribute a lot to their families if they are allowed to remain engaged. It is doubly important considering research has shown that an unengaged elderly adult will experience cognitive decline at a much faster rate than a senior who is mentally stimulated by interactions with other people.
It All Counts Another piece of advice from the pros is to urge other family members to reach out to an elderly loved one. It doesn’t have to be a grand, time-consuming gesture. Something as simple as sending a card, sharing a favorite meal, or calling for 30 minutes a couple times a week can go a long way to making a senior feel loved and connected to the rest of the family.
Consider Senior Living For some seniors, no amount of effort encourages them to come out of their shell. It may take a large change to get them to reignite their interest in people and activities. While placement in a senior living community might seem like a viable solution for a lonely elder, it isn’t always that straightforward.
The success of such a transition depends on the individual person and the fit of the facility. The search for senior living is vast and can be overwhelming. Consider using your experienced and passionate Senior Referral Advocates at J’adore Seniors when tackling this daunting task. Having the advice and support of an advocate to navigate the information, budgeting, and resources radically transform this transition into a manageable and even exciting new season of life. It also takes time and effort for a loved one to adapt to and grow comfortable with their new living arrangement and neighbors. When seniors move to independent, assisted living, or memory care, it can be a totally disorienting experience. Family members and staff should provide gentle encouragement to help new residents acclimate, meet new people and participate in activities and events. One of the best parts of senior living is that opportunities for socialization and fulfillment are available right outside a resident’s bedroom door. Above all, making any size effort to connect with your aging loved one will reaffirm that they have value. Our Seniors are golden, CHAMPION THEM!