One of the more difficult aspects of growing older is dealing with the loss of family members and dear friends. The social activities we cherish, like holiday dinners, reunions, or simply meeting for a cup of coffee, often fall away with the passing of loved ones and time.
Aging creates a personal loss as well, in the form of declining health and sometimes the ability to care for oneself. All these life changes can lead to fewer opportunities for seniors to experience socialization and connection, and that can lead to feelings of senior loneliness and senior isolation.
Your loved one has no doubt experienced feelings of loneliness. They may be the passing sensations we all feel now and again, or they may be more worrisome and lasting – the kind that can have a dramatic impact on your loved one’s health and well-being. Senior loneliness is actually a key risk factor for all-cause mortality in both men and women.
The holiday season can heighten such feelings. Additionally, the pandemic has impacted the percentage of older people dealing with senior loneliness and isolation, so much so that a report by ABC News called the problem “the unspoken toll of COVID-19.”
In light of these facts, it’s vitally important for adult children, whether or not they’re caregivers, to watch for and recognize the signs of senior loneliness and senior isolation in their loved ones.
Even more important is knowing how to help. Here’s a look at some of the key symptoms to watch for and a few simple senior loneliness solutions that anyone can employ with their loved ones.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Senior Loneliness
With adult children, grandchildren and other relatives tending to move away from one another, seniors who live on their own are often left with few outlets to socialize, often because they’ve stopped driving and have no easy transportation, or because of health issues that make them want to stick close to home. And, too often, communication with the rest of the family is spotty – we lead busy lives, after all.
If you do live out of town and a big percentage of your visits with a loved one are via video chats or phone calls, you can still watch for some common symptoms of depression. Remember, loneliness is a huge risk factor for depression, and depression can be a contributing factor for heart issues and other health conditions.
What’s more, studies show that cognitive decline occurs at a much faster rate when a senior isn’t socially engaged or mentally stimulated by interacting with others.
Notice if your loved one complains of feeling constantly tired or lacking energy; if they mention trouble sleeping; or seem particularly irritable or easy to anger more often or longer than normal. All these can be signs of senior depression.
What Caregivers Can Do to Help a Loved One Dealing with Loneliness
There are simple, proven senior loneliness solutions that families can use to help their aging loved ones combat feelings of isolation. All can be accomplished either in person or via video chats or phone calls.
The key is regularity. Committing to a set time for a visit (by phone, video chat or in person) even once a week will give your loved one something precious to look forward to.
Here are three other suggestions:
Stop Talking and Listen
During a visit either in person or by phone, we often feel the need to “catch up” loved ones about our own lives. Keep in mind that your parent still has a life and experiences worth sharing, even if it means asking about past events and encouraging them to talk about those events at length.
Bring Young and Old Together
Encourage children to regard grandpa or grandma as a source of fun and good conversation. They can read your child a bedtime story … or tell tales of what it was like when they were kids. Take the opportunity to let young and old bond, and make sharing a regular event.
Play Student & Teacher
Grandma knows everything about knitting … why not let her teach you and your child to make a scarf? Passing on wisdom gives seniors a sense of worth and a feeling that they still have something to contribute.
The Buckingham has even more great suggestions to stay connected, especially in times when face-to-face visits aren’t possible. Read here for inspiration.
How to Encourage Your Loved One to Be More Social
Sometimes, all it takes is a suggestion and some encouragement to get your loved one more engaged and active. Getting involved together is even better.
What hobbies did your loved one enjoy in the past? Find a class or a group and help them get started again. Or discover something new together. Take a tai chi or painting class. Or learn how to cha cha – you’ll have a built-in partner.
Pet shelters are full of great companions for seniors. Small dogs are wonderful lap warmers and encourage short walks in the fresh air if your loved one is so inclined. Cats are easy to care for and give seniors something to focus their love and attention on. Plus, they make good conversationalists!
Senior Living Communities: The Perfect Antidote for Loneliness
Perhaps the best solution of all is to encourage your loved one to move to a senior living community. It’s a great place to build friendships, have adventures, and fill the next chapter of life with memorable moments. Best of all, many senior living communities, like The Buckingham, are designed to meet your loved one’s needs as they age, offering a full range of options from independent living through memory support.
According to Senior Living Link, of those 65+ years old, 18% live alone, and 43% reported feeling lonely regularly. But living in a senior living community means stimulating, fulfilling opportunities to socialize and get involved are right outside your door.
Your loved one deserves a life filled with connections instead of isolation – and now you know how to help make that happen!