Age brings many difficult changes that contribute to a more solitary life. One of the biggest issues for seniors is that their social circles begin to shrink as the years go by. Friends, significant others and family members move or pass away. Age-relate changes in one’s physical condition, such as hearing loss and low vision, can make it so difficult to communicate that is don’t seem worth the effort anymore.
Many older adults who suffer from incontinence, are on oxygen therapy or need to use a mobility aid to get around not only face logistical obstacles when it comes to leaving the house, but they must also overcome self-conscious about these “obvious” signs of aging.
Even when a senior is being taken care of by family caregivers, there is often little attention paid to deep, engaging communication between a senior and the rest of the family. Caregivers are usually so worn out from juggling their day-to-day responsibilities that they have little or no time or energy left for truly meeting a senior’s emotional and social needs. A modern trend is the breakdown of extended family relationships—like those between grandparents and grandchildren. This has caused many elderly people to feel as though they have been “pushed to the side” and forgotten about. This is especially true for family units that have spread across the country and have difficulty making time for visits and even regular communication by phone or mail.
In addition to the damaging mental effects of feeling that one lacks fulfilling personal relationships, feeling lonely can also take a toll on one’s physical health. Participants 60 years old and older who reported feeling lonely saw a 45% increase in their risk of death and a 59% greater risk of mental and physical decline than their more social counterparts. Loneliness is thought to act on the body in a way that is similar chronic stress. It raises the levels of stress hormones like cortisol in the body, which impairs immune responses and contributes to inflammation, mental illness and conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
But fortunately, there are a few ways you can help alleviate loneliness in your elderly loved one:
*Listen and observe – Saying ‘Tell me more’ is a gift you can give from your heart. Encouraging them to express themselves can help you discover what interests and passions lay dormant just waiting to be rekindled.
*Develop a strategy to defeat seclusion – Once you know what your loved one enjoys doing,you can use this information to develop a personalized loneliness eradication plan
*Let them teach you – Caregivers are encouraged to connect with their loved ones by allowing them to pass some hard-earned knowledge on to you.
*Bridge the generation gap – Grandkids should consider their grandparents as sources of valuable wisdom and fun. Try to come up with some ways to help the oldest and the youngest generations of your family spend time together, whether in person, by phone or email or via mail.
*It’s the thought that counts – Urge other family members to reach out to an elderly loved one. Sometimes as simple as sending a card, sharing a favorite meal or calling for 30 minutes a couple times a week can go a long way to making a senior feel loved.