Many changes contribute to a more solitary life for aging seniors. One of the most significant factors is the shrinking of their social circle as they grow older. Although retirement brings about more free time for favorite hobbies and relaxation, retirement also ends significant interactions with former business colleagues and associates on a regular basis.
In many cases friends, significant others and family members may move away or pass away. It can even become more difficult for friends living close by to get together due to the increasing issues of changes to mobility, especially if the ability to drive is halted due to safety issues. When you add the increasing age related issues such as hearing loss and eye diseases, communication can be made so difficult that seniors feel it may not be worth the effort to stay socially engaged.
Many seniors with serious medical conditions face not only logistical issues but are also embarrassed and insecure when leaving their homes. Problems such as incontinence can create complications to their social life. The need to use medical equipment like oxygen therapy and mobility aids affect their self confidence in public. It’s difficult enough for seniors to maintain their healthy relationships facing these challenges, but when their entire peer group is also being faced with these factors, it can be difficult to keep in touch with friends on a regular basis.
Effects of Loneliness on Seniors
The lack of fulfilling personal relationships for the elderly affects their mental and emotional health and can have a drastic impact on their overall physical health. The feeling of loneliness is a risk factor for mortality among both elderly men and women. Feeling lonely places these seniors at higher risk for their functional decline in addition to the increased risk of death. Loneliness raises the levels of stress which in turn impairs their body’s immune system. Prolonged loneliness can leave seniors vulnerable to mental health issues like anxiety, depression and chronic conditions like heart disease and obesity. Researchers have found there are associations between feelings of social detachment and the development of Alzheimer’s.
How to Alleviate Loneliness
If your love one is feeling socially isolated or lonely, consider using some of the tips below to assist them to feel more connected and supported:
Listen and observe – Encourage someone you care about to express their feelings and thoughts on their interests.
Minimize their isolation – Create a personalized plan to provide them an outlet for their interests. They may need a push to get them into a comfort zone to explore these interests.
Allow them to teach – Seniors can feel fulfilled by passing along their lifelong knowledge to their loved ones and friends. This can provide stronger bonding and restore balance to the child-parent dynamic perhaps lost once caregiving began.
Close the generation gap – Caregivers can play an important role in nourishing relationships between seniors and their younger relatives. Devise ways of helping multiple family generations spend time together.
Simple thoughts – Seniors appreciate small gestures like receiving a card in the mail or a short phone call. Any attention they can receive gives them the feeling they are not being forgotten.
Senior living – Perhaps no effort to encourage a senior to become more social will work, at this point senior living should be considered. Moving to a senior living facility may sound like a good idea, but the adjustment could be stressful. Gentle encouragement is needed to assist them into their transition. The best part of senior living facilities, other than receiving care, is the opportunity for them to socialize and have all their daily needs met.