Consistent and engaging social interaction plays an incredibly important role in contributing to the overall state of health and wellbeing we experience at all stages of life. Meaningful relationships with friends and loved ones are a big part of what helps us feel connected to the world around us, reminding us that we not only have the capacity to care deeply for others, but also that others care about and value us.
Interacting with others in fulfilling ways should be an essential aspect of day-to-day life for everyone at any age. Unfortunately, the reality for many seniors is that isolation and loneliness are much more prevalent than one might think. Focusing on the sense of connectedness that is so necessary and valuable to overall health can be extremely helpful for our aging loved ones.
Isolation and Loneliness in Seniors
Growing older impacts some aspects of life that can make it more challenging for seniors to forge or maintain relationships and a sense of belonging. The following are a few examples of possible contributors to feelings of loneliness and isolation among seniors:
- Death of a spouse or partner
- Children or grandchildren are not in close proximity
- Loss of existing friendship groups or networks
- Fears related to leaving the house as a result of diminished mobility or symptoms of illness
- Worries about burdening others
- Greater difficulty communicating as a result of speech or hearing problems
Risk Factors of Senior Isolation
For many seniors, staying at home alone can seem like the easier option compared to attempting to navigate some or all of the factors listed above. Because of this, many seniors allow themselves to sink deeper into feelings of isolation, loneliness, or depression. Some of the risks associated with prolonged feelings of isolation in seniors include:
- Increased Stress or Anxiety
- Suicidal thoughts
- Problems Sleeping
- Increasing risk of chronic disease, particularly cardiac or vascular diseases
- Cognitive decline
- Greater reduction in mobility
- Hesitancy to leave the house for social activities and events
How to Combat Feelings of Isolation in Seniors
Keeping in mind all of the potential risks, it becomes evident just how important it is to help our senior loved ones remain connected and socially engaged in meaningful ways. The following are some suggestions to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness:
- Technology – Modern technologies such as social media and video conferencing make it increasingly simple to maintain a degree of connectivity with loved ones near or far without having to venture outside. Introducing seniors to technology can give them a sense of agency and independence by reaching out and maintaining the relationships they value.
- Pets – While not the same as interacting with other humans, bonding with a pet can offer a sense of companionship to keep spirits up. This provides some form of interaction when arranging to see other people on a regular basis becomes difficult.
- Transportation – Ensuring that reliable transportation is available gives seniors the opportunity to go out and see others or participate in activities whenever they choose without feeling like they are burdening others by asking for a ride. The freedom and independence to travel to activities and dates with friends or family can make a meaningful difference in seniors’ enthusiasm to be social.
- Shared Meals – Visiting your senior loved one to share a meal, or encouraging them to arrange meals together with others, can be a great way to boost social activity. Eating meals with friends and family is an accessible and practical way to incorporate social interaction into existing routines.
- Church Community – Maintaining a sense of connectedness to a higher being, as well as to other people who share a common system of beliefs, is often important for many seniors. Arrangements for seniors to attend services and activities in places of worship can allow them to remain connected to their values, as well as to other people who share them.
- Home Caregivers – Home care services offered by a professional home care agency can provide additional companionship and support for social activity.
Staying connected is something that becomes increasingly difficult for many seniors as they age, and their networks and capabilities change. Maintaining social relationships takes effort, and making time to do so should be a top priority for seniors.
Home caregivers can help establish and maintain the framework needed to develop consistent and meaningful forms of socialization accessible to seniors in Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge. It is crucial to minimize feelings of isolation and loneliness to promote greater overall health and wellbeing.