Ah, loneliness, an emotion so painful the very thought of it may make you squirm. Nevertheless, when you are a caregiver of an elderly loved one, it’s one condition you may have to look square in the eye.
The fact is that older adults are often susceptible to isolation. When someone is 80-plus, chances are good they have lost lifelong friends and relatives. And when you add in the loss of a beloved partner, they may be left feeling alone in the universe.
What is more, declining health can also play a role in loneliness. For instance, if your parent has dementia, or hearing or vision loss, it may be harder for them to connect with others. If they suffer from a chronic condition like arthritis, the associated pain and fatigue could throw a wrench into their social life. And, if they need a mobility aid, the logistic issues that come along with this could also hamper their socializing. Indeed, simply losing the ability to drive is enough to keep some seniors homebound, especially if there are few transportation alternatives in their area.
The profound impact of loneliness
Although the affect of loneliness can easily be downplayed, the reality is, it’s no small issue. It may be no surprise that isolation is associated with depression, but did you know that it can harm one’s physical health? In fact, one meta-analysis of research into loneliness found that people who were socially isolated have a higher mortality risk than those who are obese or inactive. On top of this, loneliness is linked to decreased resistance to infection, dementia, and increased emergency admission to hospital, according to this review of research on seniors and isolation.
Mitigating the loneliness factor
So, is there anything you can do to lessen your loved one’s seclusion? The answer is, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. In the best-case scenario, it might simply be a matter of encouraging your mom or dad to volunteer for a cause, sign up for a class, or join a book club. Likewise, adopting a pet might provide much needed companionship--and taking a dog out for a walk is an almost surefire conversation starter. (if your loved one has health and mobility issues, a robotic pet that doesn’t need any feeding, toileting or walking might do the trick.) Another step would be increasing your in-person, phone or Skype contact with them, though you’ve got to make sure you’re not already giving more than you’ve got.
When your loved one needs more support
If your loved one does need more social engagement than you can offer, you need to look at other alternatives. For instance, consider an adult day care center, which provides transportation, meals and social activities, ranging from group conversations to movies and stretching. Many adult day programs operate within senior centers, medical centers or in senior living communities such as Sunshine Retirement Living.
Finally, if your loved one wants to be surrounded with like-minded companions on a more regular basis, moving to a retirement community might be the most attractive option of them all. Senior living would allow them to live in a community where they can regularly mingle with peers over meals or in common areas, a natural way for friendships to develop. These communities typically provide special social events as well as group activities, all of which offer excellent opportunities to bond with others. Sunshine’s retirement communities, for example, have daily calendars that include activities like games, social hours, outings to parks and restaurants, Tai Chi and other exercise classes, and more (These programs are either included in the resident’s monthly rent and free or low cost to the public).
Although living alone is trending in America, the truth is, humans are very social animals and living with a community of people might add years to your loved one’s life.