Loneliness in older age is a common complaint, but far from just being an emotional issue, it can lead to some serious health problems too. While there are lots of contributing factors to elderly loneliness, there are just as many ways, if not more, to tackle it.
Taking into consideration the individual challenges, experience and desires of each senior is always key to getting these things right. With that in mind and their consultation, it’s worth considering some common strategies to overcome loneliness.
As people age, many of their social touch points disappear. Usually, this happens gradually and a series of events can result in the cumulative effect of loneliness and isolation. No longer working; the deaths of friends and relatives; and family moving away can all be contributing factors.
Often, seniors counteract these losses with pastimes that help to fill the void, but getting weaker, illness and a lack of mobility can make these things increasingly hard. The result is isolation and loneliness even in people who’ve historically had lots of friends.
Research from Age UK suggests more than a million over-75s can go for a month without speaking to a family member, friend or neighbour.
Prolonged loneliness can lead to sadness, depression, low self-worth and feelings of hopelessness, but it’s also associated with physical issues too. These include pain, high blood pressure, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease, which are life-limiting and potentially life-threatening conditions.
A number of small changes can help to prevent social isolation and elderly loneliness, so encouraging an ageing loved one to adapt to these practices can make a huge difference. Start slowly and build up over time to avoid overwhelming them with new habits.
While many of the younger generations use mobile phones and messages to keep in touch, speaking on the telephone is more intuitive for seniors. If friends have moved away or an elderly individual can no longer get out of the house independently, encourage them to call instead.
Make sure the landline is in easy reach of the chair your loved one likes to sit in and leave their contact book open on relevant pages. Encourage them to set up a regular time each week to chat with friends and get into the habit of speaking regularly.
It’s a common misconception that all elderly people can’t learn new skills, especially when it comes to technology. In many cases, people who are physically restricted still have all their cognitive abilities and spending a bit of time with them teaching the basics of using a computer can be very rewarding.
Tablets are a great alternative to PCs or smartphones as they’re easy to use and big enough for older eyes to see. If arthritis is an issue, invest in a sponge-tip stylus for more accurate touchscreen usage. From video calling family members to connecting with old friends on social media, the internet will open up the world once more.
The older generation have a wealth of skills, knowledge and memories they can impart to younger people. Teaching others to knit, bake or quilt is totally feasible for those living in care homes or unable to get out into the community, as the people they’re sharing their expertise with can come to them.
This is a particularly powerful way to boost self-esteem and demonstrate how seniors are valued within our society. Projects where the elderly have been asked to share memories of their home towns or historic events have proven mutually beneficial for all parties.
Animals are an effective way to provide companionship to elderly people. They can increase emotional well being, bring back memories and stimulate the mind. Even those who are fairly sedentary will find themselves moving more if there’s a cat to stroke or a dog to throw a ball for.
It may not be practical for some seniors to adopt an animal of their own, but pet therapy or interactions with family members’ four-legged companions can have a big impact. Care home residents who’ve been visited by animals often interact with each other more in the aftermath as they talk about the pets that have been to see them.
A number of organisations, including charities and local authorities, offer befriending services to help tackle loneliness in the elderly. They’re staffed by volunteers who will spend time on a regular basis chatting with seniors to get to know them and establish common interests.
This can either be done over the phone or in person face-to-face, depending on the circumstances that best suit the individual. Having a chat to look forward to can help prevent feelings of isolation and boost the mood of elderly people between conversations.
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