As we grow older, one of the greatest threats to our well-being is loneliness. Unfortunately for many seniors, social isolation is inevitable, whether it’s because they lose their ability to drive, are unable to leave their home because of mobility issues, or suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s.
While we can’t prevent many of the health issues that take away our loved one’s independence, we can ease the pain of isolation by ensuring our parents and grandparents stay connected to the meaningful relationships that bring them joy.
The health effects of loneliness
In today’s world, seniors are more isolated than ever before. According to research, 28 percent of older adults live by themselves, and 20 percent say they feel lonely on a regular basis.
While most of us naturally associate loneliness with mental health issues, like anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies, its effect on one’s physical health is just as traumatic. Studies show social isolation is as harmful to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and contributes to a number of serious conditions, including:
- Obesity and Type 2 diabetes
- Higher levels of interleukin-6, an inflammatory factor that can lead to rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease and cancer
- Elevated blood pressure
- Dementia and early on-set Alzheimer’s
- Early morbidity and mortality
On the flip side, when seniors regularly engage in activities with others, they improve their cognitive function, boost their overall mood, have a greater sense of purpose, and even extend their lifespan. By simply visiting your loved one or taking them on outings they enjoy, you become their best medicine in the prevention and treatment of life-threatening loneliness.
Help your loved one build their social network
Just because a senior is homebound or unable to participate in social activities like they used to doesn’t mean they have to be shut out from the rest of the world. There are plenty of ways to stay connected to friends and family as well as meet new acquaintances with similar interests.
- Get them moving – If a senior is still physically active, joining a SilverSneakers® health and wellness program at a local YMCA or gym is a great way to stay in shape and find a new social scene. From yoga sessions to cardio workouts, there’s a class for every interest and fitness level.
- Volunteer – A study by AARP found that 67 percent of seniors who participated in the U.S. government’s Senior Corps volunteer program reported improved social connections within a year of joining. With thousands of opportunities available through churches, nonprofits and schools, seniors can grow connections with their fellow volunteers and those they serve.
- Find a place to play – Adult day care providers and senior community centers pull double duty for families—caregivers get the break they need when caring for their loved one becomes overwhelming, and seniors get the social support they need to overcome loneliness. Aging Ahead, for instance, runs 21 senior centers in St. Louis where older adults can participate in free exercise classes, arts and crafts programs, and workshops.
- Be their cruise director – While you can’t drive your loved one around all day, make a special effort to take them to their favorite places when you can. For instance, invite their friends to join you both for lunch once a month or ask them to accompany you to a play or concert. Too often, those who are homebound feel stuck in their situation, and it takes someone on the outside to pull them out of their slump.
- Sign up for services – If your loved one can’t leave their house, grow their social network at home! Ask their church if they have an outreach program in which members visit with the homebound. Request meal deliveries through the Louis Area Agency on Aging or Meals on Wheels of Greater St. Louis. Or, request a home visit or telephone reassurance call from volunteers available through St. Louis County’s CORP program.
How home health care can help
The team at AccuCare Home Health Care of St. Louis is an excellent resource for helping your loved one regain their independence while easing their loneliness. In addition to caring for seniors’ health needs, the AccuCare team provides companionship to our patients when their families can’t be there. Learn more about our full line of services or contact us today to schedule a consultation for the senior in your life.