About 14.3 million older adults (28%) live alone and are at risk of feeling lonely.
Exasperated by the pandemic, social distancing further weakened relationships and fostered isolation among many. Senior adult populations are particularly vulnerable due to individuals commonly living alone, experiencing the loss of family or friends, or having a chronic illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that senior loneliness and social isolation increase the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and dementia.
Further effects of Senior loneliness include:
- Increase in unhealthy behaviors such as using drugs or alcohol, not working out, or eating poorly.
- Risk of decline in functional (daily living tasks), cognitive (mental ability), and emotional health (anxiety, depression).
- Higher stress leads to inflammation that can cause an increased risk of illness.
Senior loneliness can be hard to see and even harder to admit. Warning signs aren’t always obvious. It’s important to be alert to changing behavior. Have you noticed the following?
Have you or a loved one …
- Had difficulty sleeping?
- Engaged in unhealthy habits?
- Recently lost of friend or family member?
- Experienced reduced ability (like driving a car)?
If you have observed these signs, a loved one may be at risk for symptoms of isolation. Below are three ways that can help alleviate senior loneliness.
Many seniors enjoy seeing and speaking with new and old friends, telling stories, and reminiscing about shared memories. Coordinating face-to-face (if safe) or virtual visits do wonders for mental health. Whether a family member or caregiver is coordinating visits, be aware of spreading out visits evenly to maintain a consistent schedule. Also, consider using a shared calendar tool, like Google Calendar, to sync visits with those who need to be in the know. Before visiting, it’s a good idea to call to see if your loved one needs anything. If appropriate, check in with the caregiver prior to the visit to get an update.
Use New Technologies
Technology such as Zoom, FaceTime, or Amazon’s Alexa are options for families and friends that cannot visit in person. These tools provide low barrier, user-friendly tools that senior individuals commonly use to keep social, face-to-face contact when not in person. Use of new technologies can also introduce hobbies and experiences that entertain and exercise cognition.
While it can be helpful for caregivers and family to guide a loved one to socialize more, it is essential to allow it to occur organically. Remain patient and encourage connection with others no matter what form that may take. Getting a loved one to take any steps to reduce isolation should be considered a victory. On the other hand, pushing too hard can lead to further isolation or depression.
Many patients, particularly males, will not voice that they are lonely. It is crucial that you or a caregiver proactively visit and be vigilant to signs of isolation (as seen above) and not leave the responsibility to the senior. It can also be helpful to be proactive in conversations with your loved one by preparing thoughtful questions that will foster meaningful dialogue and grow interpersonal relationships.
Alleviating Senior Loneliness with Constellation
For those under our care at Constellation Health Services, recognizing senior loneliness is part of the comprehensive care we provide to those using our at-home services. We work closely with seniors and their loved ones to address concerns and offer solutions. Sometimes all that is needed to prevent senior loneliness is a companion. Constellation’s personal care service provides that and much more.
Heather McGhie, Director of Private Duty & Personal Care summarizes how Constellation strives to connect with everyone under our care to ensure their comfort.
“It’s wonderful,” she says, “to watch the relationship between our caregivers and clients grow. They become part of the family.”
Contact us today to learn how we can support you or a loved one’s unique circumstances.
Constellation’s Complete Care at Home solution is a person-centered model that surrounds those in our care with the tools and resources needed to remain safely at home. Constellation is a family-owned, family-centered organization that has remained true to our commitment to providing the best patient experience and the highest quality outcomes. We believe this is accomplished by ensuring that everyone we connect with feels valued, trusted, and heard.