15 Ways to Combat Senior Loneliness
It is no secret that human beings long for connection and companionship, and in our age of advanced communications technology, one might ask, can seniors be genuinely lonely? Of course, our advanced technology has made “connection” more accessible than ever before… right? Several taps on your phone or laptop, and you can see family and friends. Still, despite these incredible advances in communications technology, it appears we, as a society, are lonelier than we have ever been.
Cigna published a study in 2020 indicating that over half of U.S. adults report feeling alone “sometimes” or “always.” It is easy to assume this is due to the global Covid-19 pandemic resulting in high levels of social isolation. However, the survey collected data before the pandemic in mid-2019. While the data indicate that many U.S. adults frequently feel alone, the age group that feels this ache most acutely is the elderly.
Why Are Seniors Lonely?
Aging, while a beautiful process, can be very challenging. As the years pass, social circles become smaller, and opportunities to connect can become increasingly limited. Retirement does create more free time for travel, hobbies, and passions, but it also creates gaps in daily social interactions. Additionally, the years eventually rob us of our close loved ones.
Decrease in mobility and increases in chronic medical conditions can create logistical challenges concerning leaving the house to meet friends who live nearby. Often, due to countless factors, many seniors experience a dwindling in the quantity and quality of relationships, resulting in intense feelings of loneliness.
Loneliness can result in a mental decline and a physical decline. Chronic loneliness impacts the body similarly to chronic stress and has detrimental long-term effects.
So how does one begin to help combat senior loneliness in their loved one’s life? Here are 13 suggestions!
1. Listen and Observe
Actively listening is an acquired (and challenging) skill often forgotten in our busy society. Simply inviting your loved ones to tell you more about what they care about, their fears, hobbies, and passions is a true gift. Often, you can help rekindle old passions and activities by sparking these conversations.
2. Actively Develop a Plan for Minimizing Isolation
Discover your loved one’s passions, goals, and desires. Once you know this information write out a plan to put some of these hobbies and passions into action. It is intimidating reaching out to new people, regardless of your age. However, offering support and encouragement can help give our elders the push they need to step out of their comfort zone and pursue meaningful interactions. A plan can help propel these goals into action.
3. Provide Opportunities to Learn
Your elderly loved one has lived, experienced, and walked through decades of life. Giving them the opportunity to pass on some of their hard-earned wisdom is an irreplaceable gift. Note your loved one’s hobbies and experiences and ask to learn from their expertise. For example, do you notice your elderly aunt loves to quilt? Ask her to teach you. Asking to learn from the knowledge of your elderly loved one is an opportunity for you and a bonding experience helping your loved one feel valued.
4. Remove the Generation Gap
Encourage your children or the younger members of your family to value the time spent with their elders. Time spent between generations is beneficial not only for the elder but also for the youth to appreciate and value those who have come before them.
5. Break A Sweat
It is no secret that exercising can boost happy endorphins. In addition to providing tremendous physical benefits, encouraging your elderly loved one to join a walking group, gym, or other senior activity groups can provide opportunities to make new social connections. Even if your elder suffers from a physical health condition, try to be creative in finding an activity to engage the physical level they are at with others in similar situations.
6. Having Hobbies & Learning Something New
Whether learning a new hobby or continuing a hobby you’ve enjoyed for years, it’s beneficial to keep pursuing your passions. Encouraging seniors to invest time in a hobby can combat senior loneliness. A few hobbies include crocheting, Tai Chi, dancing, choir, book club, and swimming! Here are some hobby ideas!
7. Digital Home Assistant
A Digital home assistant device can make daily tasks a little easier (and more fun!). For example, Google Home or Amazon Echos can easily share the weather forecast, play a favorite song, or initiate a phone call to a loved one. However, remember that sometimes technology can be a source of frustration for seniors, and patient instruction on using the tool successfully can go a long way.
8. Weighted Blankets
A weighted blanket is a wonderful tool to reduce feelings of anxiety and insomnia. These blankets usually weigh 5-10% of a person’s body weight and provide a hugging or cuddling sensation, promoting serotonin (the happy endorphin) and a sense of calm contentment.
Before purchasing a weighted blanket, it is critical to consult with your loved one’s doctor. Individuals experiencing chronic health conditions such as circulation or respiratory complications could experience health complications when using a weighted blanket.
9. Light Therapy
Countless Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD occurs in the fall and winter when the days are shorter and colder, resulting in people feeling less motivated, sad, and tired. Light therapy can help relieve SAD by mimicking natural sunlight and promoting all-important serotonin.
10. Practicing Gratitude and Meditation
Have you heard the old saying, “mind over matter?” Encouraging others (and ourselves) to train our thoughts against negativity can significantly reduce feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Countless apps serve as a gratitude journal and reminder to practice thankfulness. However, an old-school pen and paper journal works just as well. Journaling and meditating on the positive aspects of our lives boosts serotonin levels (the happy brain chemical) and encourages us to appreciate life in all its beautiful struggles.
11. The Friendship Line
There are several fantastic resources for helping seniors stay connected and offering support. One is the Friendship Line (800-971-0016). Provided by The Institute on Aging (IOA), the friendship hotline is a 24/7, toll-free crisis phone line designed specifically for individuals 60 years and older. The program reaches out to lonely, depressed, and isolated older adults and specializes in offering a caring ear and providing friendly conversation.
Looking for opportunities to volunteer time, skills, and pass on knowledge can create a sense of purpose, an opportunity for connection, and a feeling of usefulness by giving back to others. See if any local after-school programs are searching for someone to contribute time with community kids. Also, soup kitchens, libraries, hospitals, etc., are often searching for someone to donate time.
13. Take a Class
In addition, providing opportunities for furthering education through taking an online course or a class can be a great source of entertainment, social interaction, and opportunity to challenge the mind.
14. Adopting a Pet
We all want to feel needed and like our lives have a purpose. Owning a pet can help promote those feelings, instilling a new sense of purpose in a senior. Consider what type of pet would best benefit the elderly loved one in your life and how you could gift them this joy!
15. Make Time to Connect
We know life can be crazy busy, stressful, and overwhelming. It can feel like you can’t fit one more to-do onto your list. However, think of the time sacrifices your elderly loved one has given you through the years, and remember to carve out time for the people who are important to you. It does not have to be a time-consuming gesture, but something as small as a weekly 20-minute conversation, a bouquet, a card, or quick text can go a long way towards making someone feel remembered, loved, and valued.
We know that while taking care of an aging loved one can be a rewarding joy, we also recognize that it has its challenges. Many family caregivers experience feelings of depression, exhaustion, and isolation. We realize that you work hard and might need time to relax, step away, re-energize, and refresh yourself to enhance your well-being. We long to come alongside you and offer supportive encouragement in this season of life. Hiring an in-home caregiver can give your family peace of mind while providing your loved one with extra help, social interaction, and encouragement. Contact us for a quick free conversation concerning how we can help your family, or click here to learn more about the in-home care services we offer.