Ask most American adults how they anticipate aging, and quite a few will respond that they fear loneliness. Living in a culture rich in amenities and technology isn’t a guarantee that seniors avoid feeling lonely. The statistics are surprising, particularly for the homebound elderly, many of whom rely on senior care for social interaction as well as other services. Many specialists in elder care consider senior loneliness an epidemic.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
Although living alone doesn’t always result in social isolation, it sometimes sets the stage for its development and for depression. The belief that having a spouse in later years is a guarantee that a person won’t be lonely is a myth. Two out of three seniors in an ongoing cardiovascular study who reported feeling lonely were living with a spouse or a partner. There is also some evidence that loneliness can be contagious.
How many U.S. seniors are actually lonely? Roughly one in every five seniors lives alone. A whopping 43 percent of them say they experience loneliness on a regular basis, according to a study by the University of California, San Francisco. Lonely subjects were prone to declining and dying faster than those who didn’t report loneliness. Those who were at least 60 and lonely had a 45 percent greater risk of death. The risk of physical and mental decline was 59 percent higher for those who were isolated when compared to those who were more social.
6 Tips to Combat Loneliness
Loneliness among the elderly isn’t inevitable. Here are six ways to help prevent it:
- In-home care providers are often a lifeline for a senior who is either homebound or has limited mobility. These caregivers can help by listening and observing closely while encouraging the elderly to reveal hidden interests. Letting seniors teach their care providers is an optimal bonding experience. If the client has young relatives, a caregiver might foster a relationship between them. This encourages mental stimulation and slows cognitive decline. Prompting adult family members to reach out, even just by phoning for a few minutes twice each week, sometimes thwarts loneliness.
- Volunteering unique skills and experiences can create a social connection and increase longevity. Seniors who are homebound might take advantage of telephone opportunities such as confirming event attendance. Those who like technology might respond to emails or Web site inquiries.
- Taking or teaching a class is a way to learn or share information and socialize with others. Whether the topic is senior aerobics, how to perform genealogy research, or creative cooking, it’s one way to interact with others. Class scheduling also provides structure and purpose to a senior’s day.
- Performing physical activity doesn’t have to mean shooting for the Olympics. Ambulatory seniors might want to join a mall walking group. Developing a stretching routine for those in a wheelchair can foster a heightened sense of both physical and mental well-being.
- Using technology reduces isolation for many seniors, especially those who enjoy social media such as Facebook and Pinterest. Groups exist for just about any kind of bond. Former residents of the same town, fans of certain TV shows, pet owners, collectors, and hobbyists are just some of the thousands of examples.
- Organizing a phone tree provides regular contact for the individuals comprising it. Each person checks up on the next one on the list at regularly scheduled intervals. Shuffling the names every few months and adding new people periodically help boost social interaction.
If you are looking for getting the best in-home care or companionship for your elderly loved one at home, contact ASK In-Home Care today for a complimentary consultation.