The older we get, the more isolated we can become. Isolation often brings feelings of loneliness. Many things contribute to loneliness as we age. Walking may be challenging, and driving may not be possible. When mobility and travel are limited, our opportunities for social interaction are limited as well. Other physical limitations like difficulty hearing or the need for oxygen can also make social interaction more difficult. As we age, we lose more family members and friends to death which decreases our social connections.
Dealing with loneliness in the elderly is a real problem. Loneliness can impact our physical health by contributing to depression and mental and physical decline, according to a study by the University of California – San Francisco. Loneliness affects the body similarly to chronic stress. Loneliness raises the levels of stress hormones, impairs immune responses, and contributes to conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Steve Carr, chaplain with Snyder Village, witnesses the power of loneliness as well as the benefit that social interaction can have on the residents he calls on. The good news, Steve shares, is that families and loved ones can make a difference in the lives of those they care about who may live alone and be isolated. Here are three tips:
- Visit. Steve says while long visits are appreciated, short visits make a difference too. “I know families are busy with full schedules, but if you live relatively close, stop by for 20 minutes after the ballgame,” he says. Drop by before the recital or musical concert when the kids are all dressed up, but the elderly family member is unable to attend the event itself.
- Socialize. When you stop by to visit, don’t simply sit in the same room and read the paper or stare at your smart phone. Find a way to interact and connect through conversation. Ask your loved one questions about their day as well as questions about the past. It can be gratifying when the elderly can tap into their memory and re-live times gone by.
- Interact. Reading to the elderly is often appreciated and enjoyable for both the reader and the listener. Listening to Bible readings can be especially enjoyable for elderly faithful. Also having biographies, novels or historical fiction on people and topics they enjoy can be time well spent. Bring a favorite game or activity such as cards or puzzles and play or complete them together.
If you have a relative or friend who lives in a health center or assisted living community, Steve suggests asking about their participation in activities. “Some residents don’t go to programs or events, but if family members check the calendar and accompany them to an activity or event they think they would enjoy, the resident may be more likely to go and may see the value and enjoyment it brings,” he says. This can help “break the ice” for the resident to attend future events and activities on their own.
Another suggestion is to come and take them for walks, especially when the weather is nice and you can take them outside, Steve says. Include children in your visit whenever you can. Steve says elderly always enjoy seeing and hearing from kids. Another way to lift spirits is to bring favorite foods from favorite restaurants in for a special treat. He shared the joy residents experienced when treated to a simply fast food lunch on one occasion.
Steve also shared some things to avoid on visits with elderly who live alone or in isolation. Don’t bring baggage into your visit. If there is conflict among some family members, try your best to keep that out of your visit. Also try to avoid topics that are controversial or a source of dissension. Controversy can just add to stress and anxiety for the elderly who may already feel like most things are out of their control.
Snyder Village in Metamora is a life plan community that offers independent living in its cottages and apartments, assisted living, skilled nursing care, memory care, and rehabilitation/therapy on its campus. Snyder Village also offers home care to residents in Woodford, Peoria, Tazewell, and Marshall counties. For more information, call Snyder Village at (309) 367-4300.