When you have an elderly parent or loved one, there are a lot of worries and stresses you may deal with. You may have to help them with daily tasks or find a place for them to live where they will receive that help. Moving your loved one into an assisted living facility comes with a whole set of anxieties on its own. For example, statistics show at least 10% of all elders have experienced some form of abuse.
There’s another issue that’s perhaps less spoken about but no less impactful for older people, which is loneliness.
The idea of our elderly family members suffering from loneliness is especially relevant right now, as many elder care facilities and even hospitals aren’t letting visitors in because of the Covid-19 outbreak. The outbreak has also encouraged social distancing, and since older people seem to be more vulnerable to the virus, even if they still live in their homes, they may be spending time in isolation.
Loneliness itself is a problem, but so are the complications that can develop as a result.
For example, loneliness can lead to depression and other negative health effects. Then, depression can lead to malnutrition and health problems.
Some people even see that when elderly individuals are experiencing loneliness, they’re more likely to turn to alcohol or other substances to fill the void.
There has been some research, such as a study in 2012 that found senior loneliness can lead to an early death regardless of underlying health issues.
Perceived loneliness and social isolation can also be linked to declines in cognitive performance. Our brains are wired to need social interaction, and when the need isn’t met it can lead to effects on our brains.
The following are some tips to help prevent your loved ones from feeling lonely, especially during challenging times.
Create a Contact Schedule
You’re likely busy with your work, your children, and everything else that’s important in daily life and that can make it understandable that calling or visiting your elderly loved one can slip your mind.
However, if you make a contact schedule for when you’ll call or visit, it will help you keep you accountable and make sure you don’t forget, and it will give your loved one a routine they can look forward to, to boost their mental health.
One of the worst feelings for a lot of older people is that they become invisible. They may feel like no one is really listening to them, and so one of the best things you can do to show them you love them and help combat loneliness is taking the time to be an active, engaged listener.
You can ask questions and ensure that your loved one knows that you are taking what they say seriously.
Too often, we want to talk at our elderly family members, not out of maliciousness but because we’re trying to be helpful and that’s not the best way to communicate.
Help Your Loved One Integrate Technology into Their Lives
Technology provides opportunities for all of us to stay in touch in ways we couldn’t previously. You can help your loved one start using technology in different ways so they can stay in touch with not only you but other people they care about and the world as a whole.
The use of social media and video apps has become popular during social distancing for Covid-19.
Help your elderly family member set up something simple, like a FaceTime account and if they have an iPhone, show them how to use FaceTime. This way, they’re not only in communication with people, but they can also look at their photos and have other ways of avoiding isolation.
Encourage Them To Adopt a Pet
Adopting a pet might not be an option for all seniors, but if it is for your loved one, encourage them and help them do so.
If they adopt a pet, it will give them companionship and purpose.
If they adopt a dog, having to walk it will also give them the opportunity to get and about and perhaps meet new people.
Help Your Loved One Find a Group to Join
Group membership helps all of us feel less lonely and isolated, but your loved one might not know where to begin as far as finding a group to join.
You can help them in this area.
There are exercise groups specifically for seniors, as well as groups geared toward certain hobbies and interests.
Being part of a group can create not only relationships but give some structure to seniors’ schedules.
You could even encourage your loved one to take a class on something they’re interested in, or if we’re talking about the very near-term, maybe an online class.
Strategize with the Rest of Your Family
If you have siblings or other people in your family, you may all think the other is doing more than they are. You should get together with your siblings and people in your family and create a plan for how you’ll help combat your elderly loved one’s loneliness.
Create a calendar as far as who will call and visit, and when they will, how often you’ll all be checking in and what your roles will be.
If you live far away, many of the things on the above list are still available with the use of technology, but if you want to make sure your loved one is taken care of in-person as well, you might want to hire a care manager.
A geriatric care manager is someone who’s specifically trained to check in on the welfare of your loved one, but they can also connect them with community resources.
Finally, just ask your loved one what you can do for them on a regular basis. You might be surprised at what they say. It’s challenging to help prevent loneliness, but it can certainly be done and it’s an effort well worth it.