As adults age, senior isolation becomes more common. Frequently their social connections decrease due to retirement, lack of mobility, loss of a spouse, or a change in health. Because of this, seniors may experience a greater risk for poor health when feeling lonely for long periods of time. No matter the reason, it is important for family caregivers to determine the best way to encourage socialization. Fortunately, there are a number of strategies you and your loved one can take to reduce this sense of isolation.
Connect with local services.
Identify local senior centers, senior day care centers, transportation services, and other helpful programs for the elderly. In the U.S., you can use the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator website to get in touch with your local Area Agency on Aging, which will provide information on these services. Utah residents can go to Mountainland Association of Governments. If you cannot regularly visit your elderly loved one, an in-home caregiver not only provides assistance with daily need but can also offer personal companionship and encourage social activities, both inside and outside the home.
Plan to use assistive devices and safe transportation.
One of the biggest causes of isolation is getting from point A to point B. It is important to make transportation for outings easily accessible. Whether you drive them, provide a shuttle/taxi service, or provide assistance to use public transportation. In most cases, in-home caregivers can also provide rides to the clients they serve. Make sure they are using whatever adaptive technologies they may require to travel safely. A cane, walker, hearing aid or any other assistive devices are helpful if needed. Make sure they are wearing weather appropriate clothing to ensure their comfort and safety.
It takes a village.
Enlist the help of others who may be nearby and more easily able to visit if the location makes it impossible for you to visit your senior loved one regularly. Ask a neighbor to knock on the door and check in. Can nearby friends make a standing weekly meeting time to visit? If you can’t visit in person, don’t forget to call or email your loved one regularly.
Consider Food Delivery.
Seniors who live alone are often at greater risk of poor nutrition. This is especially true if it becomes difficult for them to leave their home. To combat malnourishment, consider getting food delivered by an organization such as Meals on Wheels, which can provide not just nutritious food but social contact. Recently some companies/grocery stores such as Wal-Mart or Smith’s are offering home grocery delivery, even in more rural areas (such as Amazon Fresh). If you can, plan a weekly meal date so that your elderly loved one doesn’t have to dine alone.
Invest in a companion animal if your elderly loved one can care for and afford a pet. A pet not only eases isolation and provides love, but can also provide a senior with a sense of purpose. Hobbies are also an excellent way for seniors to find purpose. Not only are they fun, they are a great way to get out and socialize with others who have the same interests. Community involvement is a good way to increase your loved one’s sense of purpose and give them a way to invest their time and attention int the people around them.
Combined with the increased health benefits, exercise is a wonderful way to socialize. Doctor approved exercises can boost confidence and purpose while also providing a routine that promotes socialization.
Many people find purpose and motivation through faith. If your loved one is religious, encourage them to attend weekly meetings. Not only are they surrounded by like-minded people, the weekly routine and consistency can be wonderfully beneficial.
Care for the Caregiver.
Remember to take care of yourself as well! Being a caregiver is a huge responsibility. Whether you are caring for a spouse or other loved one, it can still be a weight to carry on your own. Take time to enjoy the things you love and utilize the above tips to schedule in some ‘you time.’ If you’re feeling overwhelmed or isolated yourself, try attending a caregiver support group. It may be just what you need to lift yourself back up and restore your sense of connection.