28 February 2017
Only the Lonely
Senior isolation isn’t just about being lonely. Senior isolation has been linked to a number of physical and mental illnesses, including a heightened risk for falling, depression and dementia. Studies have even shown an increase in mortality rates for isolated seniors because those with a trusted social circle would be prompted to seek medical attention. Despite this, isolation is all-too-common amongst seniors and will continue to increase as the population continues to age. Fortunately, there are ways we can help our family, friends and neighbors age without feeling isolated.
The aging population
As of 2012, 13.4% of the US population were over the age of 65, which equates to roughly 43 million people. This age group will continue to expand as more baby boomers age with projections that this group will nearly double by the year 2050 to 84 million. Of the current 65 year and over club, more than one-third are living alone.
What can you do?
Whether it is someone you know or a complete stranger, someone nearby or faraway, there are a number of ways that you can reach out to someone older to make them feel more engrained in your local community. It could be a parent or grandparent, neighbor or fellow parishioner, former teacher or co-worker – chances are, we all know someone who could use a friend.
Sense of purpose
Once living alone, without a job to go to or a spouse to care for, seniors are looking for a sense of purpose for each of their days. This can easily be fulfilled by providing them with opportunities to volunteer, to start a hobby, or to join a club or organization. Not only do these provide a reason to get dressed in the morning, but the comradery and friendships that result can reduce the feeling of loneliness.
Something to take care of
Often widows or widowers, seniors living alone have abruptly lost their ability to care for someone else. By transitioning this intrinsic caring personality to something else, whether it be a pet or garden, helps fill the void of solitude. If having their own pet is too burdensome, perhaps encourage them to be a part-time caregiver to a neighbor’s pet while he or she is at work, volunteer at an animal shelter or even download an app that lets you play with other people’s pets right from a smartphone!
Often the fear of not being able to get around adequately prompts seniors to remain at home and immobile. Fears of falling, hearing loss, or not being able to keep up often prevent seniors from leaving home, which is counterproductive in helping them stay healthy and active. Therefore, it is crucial that we promote a positive self-body image while also providing them with the mobility equipment they need. To ensure they remain agile, encourage exercise and if falling is a potential risk, look into installing accessibility equipment in the home to prevent injury that may further isolate them, such as a stairlift.
Social interaction is key. Provided they have developed a social circle from one of the aforementioned activities or you live nearby, encourage weekly dinners, potlucks or card games. Drop off a pie every once in a while. If they don’t have a social circle, contact your local Meals on Wheels to ensure they are receiving both a nutritious meal as well as some company each day.
Send a letter
Maybe you don’t know anyone personally or within close proximity that you can help. Then write a letter and mail it! Brighten someone’s day by letting them feel the warmth of friendship through a letter. Don’t have an address? There are websites specifically set up to connect people with seniors and sending letters.
Take care of the caregiver
Often the caregiver is so busy taking care of everyone else that they are forgotten and in turn, become isolated themselves. Many times caregivers are adult children watching over their senior parents, which means they are 50+ and sometimes living alone, too. So busy with mom or dad, running errands, shuffling to doctor’s appointments, they have little time for friendships, hobbies or “me time” that they find themselves in depression. If you know a caregiver, be sure to reach out and remind them that they deserve a break.
As the population continues to age, we are fortunate enough to live amongst those who have years of wisdom and that we can learn from. By reaching out and ensuring they are included members of the community, we can evoke peace and happiness.