It’s inevitable that as people age, they also become more isolated. A 2016 Merck Manual study found that about 30% of 46 million seniors not living in a nursing home live alone. The consequences of isolation on senior mental health can be tragic, ranging from extreme loneliness to a further decline of health. It’s crucial then, for seniors to seek out companionship.
However, the answer is not necessarily to move to a senior facility. In spite of the prospect of crippling loneliness, many seniors strongly hold on to their independence. The Merck study also found that about 90% of those seniors who live alone insist on doing so.
How can we then help these fiercely independent but also isolated seniors? There are several possible solutions.
Why are Seniors Alone?
There are many reasons that lead seniors to spend their days alone. Adult children may move away or are simply too busy with their own families to visit often. Even seniors with family caregivers may feel alone if their family caregiver works during the day.
There is also the sad fact that friends and spouses may have passed away. Deteriorating health is another factor, as it can mean losing the ability to drive or go for walks. Embarrassment is another consideration, as seniors with poorly functioning facilities (such as bladder control) may worry about experiencing an incident in public.
Consequences of Isolation
Loneliness is obviously the biggest result of isolation, but this can, in turn, lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, or a risk of depression.
There is also a decline in health and an increased rate of mortality for seniors who live alone. This may be due to unchecked symptoms and a lack of a social network that would advise medical attention. Seniors who live alone may also neglect or forget to take their medication, or have trouble with certain medical treatments.
Social skills also deteriorate among seniors who are frequently alone. Many of us have heard of the “grumpy old man” stereotype. They have trouble interacting with people when given the opportunity, which in turn leads others to back away, causing more loneliness.
In-Home Caregivers as Companions
As mentioned earlier, many seniors value their independence so much that they’re willing to endure isolation. Therefore, relocating them to a nursing facility is not the solution. As long as he or she is able to safely live alone (i.e. no chance of falling or passing out), seniors should ideally live at home where they feel comfortable and secure.
A suitable compromise then would be to hire an in-home caregiver who can provide companionship (and if necessary, some medical assistance) to the senior. This will allow the senior to maintain his or her independence while not feeling lonely and isolated.
In-home caregivers provide physical and mental benefits for seniors. They can help seniors with physical therapy, exercises, or simply taking walks with them. In-home caregivers can even take them on small field trips such to the movies, lunch, or to the mall. They can play mind-stimulating games with seniors such as chess or cards, or assist them with their hobbies.
In-home caregivers can also monitor medication, doctor’s appointments, and the senior’s overall well-being. They can even cook for them, do light housework, and assist in personal care. And of course, in-home caregivers are simply someone to talk to.
Even if your senior has a family caregiver, an in-home caregiver can be a helpful asset. Interacting with a different person is mentally stimulating and can alleviate boredom, for both the senior and family caregiver. An in-home caregiver is also beneficial for the primary caregiver because it allows him or her to take a break and do other things, like work full time, engage in personal outings, or tend to their families.
Additional Remedies for Isolation
There are other ways for seniors to combat isolation. Be sure to take into consideration their physical or mental health, as some of these suggestions may not be ideal for someone with say, dementia or debilitating arthritis.
If the senior is still relatively able-bodied, he or she can take on a volunteer role. Even if it’s only once a week, volunteering for a certain cause gets him or her out of the house and interacting with others.
Adopt a Pet
Animals don’t talk, but they certainly provide companionship and unconditional love. Caring for a pet would also give a senior a sense of purpose and stimulate their minds. Just make sure not to get a pet that would be difficult to care for, such as a large dog.
Schedule Regular Meetings with Friends
It’s crucial for seniors who live alone to maintain contact with nearby friends. Encourage them to meet up for coffee or lunch at least once a week, or even visit each other’s homes.
Meet Other People who Share Your Hobby
Coloring, painting, knitting, playing board games, assembling puzzles—there are countless hobbies that seniors can enjoy with others. Local community centers may have clubs that cater to your senior’s hobby.
Use Video Telephony to Keep in Touch
Your senior can communicate with faraway loved ones via Skype, FaceTime, or some other form of video telephony. Seeing their loved ones on a screen can be more satisfying than simply speaking on the phone with them, and can help alleviate some loneliness. You may first need to teach your elderly loved one how to use the technology, so don’t use an overly complicated program. It may lead to frustration and reluctance to use it.
If you have a special senior in your life that needs companionship, we at Community Home Health Care can help. Our staff of highly trained in-home caregivers includes home health aides, personal care aides, and registered nurses. We are here to provide personal and medical assistance, but most importantly—friendship. Please visit our website, call us at (845) 425-6555, or drop by our facility and we will be happy to answer any of your questions.