The golden years- that time of life after retirement from working long years at a job. They are supposed to be “golden” as we envision carefree days spent doing all the things we didn’t have time for in our younger days taking us from one adventure to the next.
For some seniors this scenario is a reality, but for many others, the carefree days they dreamed of have turned into a stark reality of isolation and loneliness. The National Council on Aging reports that one in six adults ages 65 and older is isolated, either socially or geographically. In 2010, an American Association of Retired Persons survey found 25 percent of people ages 70 and older experience loneliness.
Loneliness and isolation for older adults can affect their health and well-being. A 2012 study in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine reported that people who suffered from loneliness were 59 percent more likely to lose the ability to perform tasks of daily living and 45 percent more likely to die early. Other studies have associated loneliness with depression, high blood pressure and a higher risk of coronary artery disease.
Having social connections with others improves the life of elderly both mentally and physically. We are meant to be social creatures engaging with friends and family and when doing so, it tends to keep us healthier, happier and with stronger feelings of connection.
Here are 10 strategies helping older adults fight back isolation and loneliness:
1. Promote a sense of purpose
How often do we hear an elderly person state, “I’m old, I’m no longer of any use anymore.” Having a sense of purpose is vital to prevent falling into negativity. Encourage seniors to remain active in their hobbies and interests, include them in planning for the future, ask them to teach you a skill they are good at, or ask for their wisdom and advice.
2. Give seniors something to nurture
Pet ownership may not be for all elderly people but for some it can make a world of difference. Their attitude brightens, depression is reduced, motivation increases and it can possibly result in less medication use. Other ideas might include taking care of a garden, houseplants or if able, interacting with small children.
3. Have transportation available
Senior citizens who no longer drive can quickly become socially isolated. We all depend and rely on some mode of transportation for shopping, medical appointments, church services, or to visit family and friends. Making sure an elderly person has adequate transportation can help them remain socially connected with a healthy sense of independence.
4. Encourage weekly attendance at their place of worship
There are many studies showing the benefits of churchgoing for seniors – lower mortality rates, sense of purpose, better social interaction – plus other churchgoers can be a second set of eyes on the elderly recognizing any declines that might otherwise go unnoticed.
5. Have their hearing and vision checked regularly
People with hearing or vision difficulties will often avoid social situations because of the problems in communicating or embarrassment. A properly fitted hearing aid or adjustments in glasses can eliminate a barrier between a senior and their social life.
6. Encourage meals with others
One of the best social interactions with others is to share a meal. Food has been used since the beginning of mankind to create a bonding with others by sharing and the expression of altruism. Seniors who can regularly dine with others whether at a senior center, a church group, a diner or with family helps promote better nutrition and appetite crucial for their health.
7. The power of touch
We all need the feeling of being touched – a hug, hand holding, an arm draped across our shoulders – can lower stress and promote a feeling of love and belonging. If elderly people are rarely touched, this can lead to feelings of being unwanted or unworthy. Remember to always give an elderly person some form of touch to let them know you care.
8. Show extra attention to seniors who have lost a spouse
The loss of a spouse who you have spent decades with can shake an elderly person’s world apart. Providing extra support for grieving widows and widowers is necessary to give them the emotional backing they need at this time. Spending time with them can go a long ways toward helping them heal in the grieving process.
9. Join a club or volunteer
Find out what interests a senior – reading, watching old movies, jazz, a collectors club – and encourage them to join an organization associated with that interest. Being around others who share your passion can be socially gratifying. Volunteering is another way to meet other people and keeps them focused outward so they worry less about themselves and care more about others.
10. Reach out by phone or computer
Many elderly people have someone who calls them once a day just to check up on them. That one quick phone call can improve the well-being of someone living alone. Computers are another form of reaching out to others through social media. Those contacts, even if done electronically, can keep an elderly person alert boosting their interaction with others.