More than 40% of seniors regularly experience loneliness. While we may underestimate the significance of this, loneliness can be as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes per day and have substantial effects on both physical and mental health. While contributing factors may vary from not having access to transportation to being ashamed of incontinence issues, the result and impact are the same. Regardless of the situation an aging loved one finds themselves in, there are steps we can take to ensure they are socially engaged and healthy.
Have Ongoing Open Conversations.
Observe and talk with your loved one about how they spend their time and if they look forward to getting up each day. Engage in conversations to find out what is important to them – anything from attending religious services to playing cards with their friends or volunteering. Try to determine if there are any barriers preventing them from participating in social activities that they enjoy. If there are, talk about how you can begin to address them. If it’s a matter of transportation or finding appropriate activities, work with a company like Homethrive that can help find and arrange that for them.
Encourage Routine Doctor Visits.
It’s important to quickly asses, diagnose, and treat health problems that may interfere with the desire and ability to participate in social activities. For example, hearing problems may create the inability to communicate effectively with others which, in turn, may cause embarrassment and cause a loved one to shy away from others. Incontinence issues can also create embarrassment but can often be treated effectively with medication or personal care products.
Promote Physical Activity.
Whenever possible, assist your loved one in connecting to and attending health and wellness programs where age appropriate activities are offered in a group setting. Tai chi, yoga, chair exercise classes, and water aerobics are just a few examples. Exercise will improve strength, flexibility, and balance which will help your loved one feel more confident in their ability to get out and participate in other social activities.
Encourage Involvement in Their Community.
There are many ways to become engaged in the community. A Senior Center is one example of a place that offers a communal area for seniors to come and go as they please. In many cases, they offer a variety of monthly educational classes, events, speakers, gym membership, outings, and, clubs. For adults with memory impairment, an Adult Day Care may be a good option. They offer socialization outside of the home, nutritious meals, supervision, and transportation to and from the center all with professional caregiver assistance. In addition, communities continue to come up with creative ways to involve seniors, including a Foster Grandparent program.
If you’re interested in volunteering to support similar programs nationwide, visit: https://www.voamnwi.org/rsvp
Remove the Transportation Barrier.
It’s critical to have transportation arranged before encouraging your loved one to leave their home to participate in social activities. For those who can no longer drive, lack of transportation to social activities can be a significant barrier and contribute to isolation and loneliness. Consider utilizing older adult-friendly transportation offered in your community or try setting up a carpool with family and friends.
Make Time for Family.
Make family time a priority, whether it’s visiting loved ones in their home, taking them out for lunch, or even a quick scenic ride. For those who aren’t geographically close, calling frequently and having regular video chats is always an option. Close family connections help seniors feel involved, included, fulfilled, and comforted. If you’re a Homethrive member, you have access to assistive technology that can facilitate this communication.
If your loved one is unable to leave their home, there are still great social options! Companies such as Papa or volunteers like Senior Companions can be an avenue for socialization in a loved one’s home. Telephone reassurance programs allow homebound seniors to connect daily with a volunteer and there are virtual senior centers available as well.