Loneliness is a menace. There are plenty of well-known health threats that seniors face, such as heart disease, dementia, and cancer, but the dangers of loneliness are often overlooked or ignored. This is a major problem, because loneliness in seniors can be just as dangerous as any disease.
The numbers don't lie; loneliness and social isolation are major predictors of poor health later in life. Seniors who don't get enough social contact are at increased risk for developing a wide variety of health problems, from cardiovascular disease to insomnia. Loneliness is also strongly linked with depression. All in all, a socially isolated lifestyle has been shown to be more dangerous than smoking fifteen cigarettes a day or being obese.
The good news? Loneliness is largely preventable, and a strong social life has been linked to positive health outcomes for seniors. Spending regular time with other people has a protective effect on mental health and can prevent or slow down the development of illness or cognitive decline.
Here are five ways for preventing loneliness in seniors and tips for staying well-connected.
1. Hire a home caregiver.
Senior living communities help many seniors connect with their peers and avoid loneliness, but these communities aren't for everyone. Many people don't want to move out of the home where they've lived for years. There are many benefits to living at home, such as increased independence and the comfort of being in a familiar place. However, seniors who live by themselves are at increased risk for social isolation, especially if their family members don't live close enough to visit them often.
Home care services can be an ideal way to prevent loneliness in seniors who live on their own. A home caregiver provides regular companionship and conversation, and many seniors end up becoming close friends with their caregivers. A home caregiver can also help their clients maintain an active, social lifestyle by assisting with transportation and event planning.
A home caregiver can also serve as a supplement to family caregivers. Oftentimes, seniors have family members who provide regular caregiving services, but time spent doing chores, running errands, and performing mundane tasks can take away from the social time the family member would otherwise be spending with their senior loved one. Enlisting the help of even a part-time home caregiver will allow seniors to spend more quality, social time with their family members.
2. Participate in social groups and clubs.
Most communities have plenty of groups and clubs in which seniors can participate. Group activities aren't just a good way for seniors to stay in contact with other people — they also help seniors (and everyone else!) stay engaged with their hobbies. Some clubs, like chess clubs or reading groups, are open for anyone to join. Others, such as senior exercise groups, are geared specifically towards seniors. If you'd like to find some social groups to join, your community center or local YMCA may have information.
Enlisting the support of a home caregiver will make it possible for most seniors to participate in social groups and clubs. A home caregiver can help facilitate the participation, can help with transportation, and can even research what is available in the senior’s area.
3. Learn to use social media.
Social media can go a long way towards alleviating loneliness in seniors. Platforms like Facebook provide an easy way to catch up with children, grandchildren, and friends, even if they live far away. Chatting and sharing photos helps people feel involved in their loved ones' lives, even from afar.
Skype is another great tool for staying in touch. With Skype, it's possible to have a face-to-face conversation with anyone, as long as both people have an internet connection.
Learning to use new technology doesn't always come easily to seniors, but it's well worth the effort. Most social media platforms are quite intuitive once a user has picked up the basics. Seniors who want to learn to use social media can ask a family member or home caregiver to show them the ropes. Social media can't and shouldn't take the place of real-life social contact, but it can be an excellent supplement for those with loved ones living far away.
4. Adopt a pet.
Companionship doesn't always have to come in human form. Many seniors who have been feeling a little lonesome can benefit from adopting a furry friend. Having a pet to take care of can give seniors a sense of responsibility and purpose. For able-bodied seniors, having a dog is also a good reason to get out of the house and go for walks frequently.
A home caregiver can help with the care of animal companions. Since many seniors already need help with their own personal care, they think that having a pet isn’t an option for them. However, a home caregiver can work pet responsibilities into their care plans for their senior clients.
What kind of pet is best? Cats and small dogs are good choices, since they provide a level of interaction and warmth that smaller animals (like fish, hamsters, and lizards) usually don't. Large dogs can be physically challenging to take care of, which may pose problems for some seniors. Those with limited mobility may prefer to adopt a cat, since cats don't need to be walked or let out of the house. Of course, it's important for seniors to honestly evaluate their own ability to take care of an animal before adopting one and to work with a home caregiver for support if needed.
5. Get out of the house.
For seniors who live at home, it can be all too easy to fall into the habit of staying in the house all the time. This is especially true for those who have a hard time getting around on their own. If this happens, social isolation (and all the health problems that go with it) can sneak up on someone before they even realize what's happening — and at that point, it's hard to fix.
The solution? Get out of the house as much as possible. Even going for a walk around the block, chatting with the neighbors, or enjoying some fresh air on the front porch will help seniors feel more connected to the community outside their house. Those with good mobility might also enjoy going out to local markets, art exhibits, or parks. A home caregiver can be a big help when it comes to planning outings and providing transportation.
Loneliness is a serious issue for seniors. It diminishes a person's quality of life, and it's been directly linked to a wide variety of health problems. All in all, loneliness is not something to ignore — social isolation usually gets worse, not better, without some kind of treatment or intervention.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways seniors can maintain a healthy social life. Home care services can provide regular interaction and companionship, while social groups can help seniors make new friends and stay engaged with their interests. Social media has a place in an active social life, too. By taking adequate precautions to avoid loneliness, it's possible for seniors to stay connected, healthy, and happy.
California Home Care Services
Are you in need of a home caregiver? The home caregivers at Alegre Home Care receive the best training in the industry and serve locations throughout Northern California. Contact us today to inquire about our home caregiving services!