Loneliness and isolation are troubling concerns for the elderly population, often leading to more serious problems such as depression, anxiety, and the risks associated with falls, injury, or acute health concerns (such as heart attack or stroke). In 2012, more than 41 million people in the U.S. were age 65 and older, or one in every eight Americans. Among them, 28 percent of men over age 65 reside alone, and 46 percent of women. While the risks of loneliness and isolation are serious for seniors, there are ways that you can help your senior loved ones reduce feelings of loneliness.
- Encourage relocation to a neighborhood or city near family and friends. Seniors are often lonely due to the fact that they live hours away from their children and other relatives. While occasional visits are welcomed, it’s usually not realistic to visit loved ones so far away frequently. However, when you live in close proximity, dropping in for a weekday evening visit can be a frequent occurrence.
- Choose neighborhoods with ready access to transportation. If your senior loved one decides moving to a new city is right for them. Be sure to choose one withconvenient transit options. That way it will be easier for them to get out and about when driving is no longer an option. Transit services for seniors and people with disabilities may offer services such as curb-to-curb transportation to local senior centers and other areas of interest, and this ease-of-access may make your aging loved one more likely to participate in local activities.
- Find family-friendly activities that your whole family can enjoy together. Activities like swimming are fun for all ages, and swimming offers not only physical benefits, but mental health benefits, too. An outdoor swim offers a healthy dose of Vitamin D, which is known for its mood-enhancing effects, and it can provide more energy and even help to combat the effects of depression. When it comes to bridging the generational gap, swimming is one of the mosteffective activities to engage different age groups.
- Adopt a pet. Research demonstrates that pet ownership – or even spending time with a four-legged friend – can have positive effects on older adults, both mentally and physically. Caring for a pet can provide aging adults with a sense of purpose, not to mention constant companionship and unconditional love. Pets are shown to reduce blood pressure, have a calming effect on seniors, and even encourage physical activity. After all, cat litter boxes require cleaning, and dogs enjoy daily walks.
- Teach your elderly loved one how to use social media. When shortening the geographical distance between you and your aging loved one isn’t possible or won’t happen for several months, social media provides a meaningful way to boost social interactions with family and friends. Tools such as Skype make it possible to chat by video, which creates a stronger sense of social connection than a telephone call. Facebook can actually be an enjoyable way for seniors to be more social. If your aging loved one isn’t tech-savvy, enrolling her in a technology or social media class for seniors will help her meet new friends while learning the social media ropes at the same time.
With more seniors living alone and often residing hours or states away from their children and grandchildren, loneliness is becoming a widespread concern among older adults. What’s more, isolation has serious detrimental effects on both physical and mental health. Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce isolation and loneliness for your senior loved ones if you’re willing to tap into your creativity and try new things.
Jim Vogel and his wife, Caroline, created ElderAction.org after they began caring for their ailing parents. Through that rewarding and sometimes difficult process they’ve learned a lot about senior care and specifically the need for more effective senior mental health and support. Their site offers elder-positive resources and other helpful information on aging. In his spare time, Jim loves fishing, reading, and spending time with his kids.
Image via Pixabay by Meridy