We sometimes become preoccupied with the physical health of our aging loved ones while overlooking their emotional health. However, their emotional health can dramatically affect their quality of life, memory (or lack thereof) and in turn influence their physical health.
Loneliness in seniors is a common emotional issue that is often not addressed directly by seniors or their families. Those who have lost spouses, who live far away from their relatives, or who find themselves home-bound due to ill health, often become emotionally and physically isolated.
Over time, this isolation can lead to depression and worse. Research indicates loneliness contributes to a faster decline in health and has been found to be a major risk factor for mortality in older adults.
Those suffering from loneliness often won’t speak of their unhappiness and they internalize their feelings. They may not feel there is much they can do about their circumstances. However, extensive research has been conducted to discover strategies to alleviate the condition. There are many lifestyle choices they can make to eliminate loneliness and re-introduce interest and joy into their lives.
Participate in Clubs and Organizations
If your loved one is able to leave home, there are a variety of options for meeting like-minded people. Social or special-interest clubs, such as book clubs, quilting clubs, gardening clubs, etc., are a great way of meeting people with continuing similar interests. If your loved one haa a faith, becoming active in a church of their choice provides emotional and social, as well as spiritual support. Volunteering at a charity provides both social opportunities and reinforces feelings of value and participation. Joining a health club can benefit both their social activity and physical health.
Sign them up a class of interest at the local senior centre or community college, or if you cannot leave home, consider a tele-class or seminar. This may not lead directly to long-term friendships, but it offers the opportunity to learn and provides mental stimulation as well as a social outlet.
Get friendly with the web
There are so many social opportunities online, from finding old friends or staying in touch with relatives on Facebook, to participating in chat rooms and online communities. There are places to play games, do puzzles and research interesting topics. Those who are home-bound have more opportunities than ever to reach out to others. There are even opportunities for less tech-savvy seniors to learn about computers and the internet from the people who do it best: teenagers.
Invite people to your home
If your cannot leave their home, hold regular gatherings there - for cards, reading groups, or any interest your loved one may have. If they are not mobile, make it easy for friends to come to them.
Care for a pet
The therapeutic value of pets is well-known to both children and the elderly. Pets such as dogs and cats are a calming influence who provide their owners with unconditional love. An added benefit is the the responsibility of taking care of a pet, which provides us with a sense of value, knowing we are needed by another.
Consider finding a companion
There is no expiration date on love. People can start new relationships at any age, and even if the relationship that develops is more companionship than passion, it provides both partners with someone who they know is available for them and cares for their well-being.
There have never been more opportunities for seniors to engage socially with others, even when they are home-bound. If you have a loved one who is suffering from loneliness, discuss their options with them, and if necessary, help them take the first steps toward a more social life.
Are you fulfilling other needs your aging loved one may have? Check out our Caregiver Checklist for more ideas on keeping your loved one's life well-rounded and at a quality they deserve.