The list of physical and mental conditions affecting the senior population appears never ending. However, those who work day-in and day-out as home caregivers and aides know that loneliness is one of the most devastating and unspoken medical conditions suffered by seniors and others who are housebound.
Not only is loneliness linked to other mental and emotional conditions such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia, medical experts now know these negative emotional states exacerbate existing medical conditions.
Humans are programmed to be socially connected and we are beginning to see what a toll being disconnected takes as we evaluate the ways western families have shifted over the past few decades – leaving more and more seniors isolated from their family, friends and social circles.
Seniors Benefit from Continued Circles of Connectivity
The evidence supporting the importance of keeping seniors connected is so overwhelming that major healthcare networks, like Anthem Insurance, are now creating campaigns to get the word out about the perils of loneliness and its negative effects on senior health.
According to AARP’s Connect2Affect website:
- More than 50% of adults 75-years old and older live alone
- Feeling lonely increases your risk of dying by 26%
- 17% of adults 65-years and older are considered isolated
These statistics are something those of us in the home health care system are well aware of, which is why companion care is one of our most recommended services for seniors who live alone (more on that below).
What Causes Senior Loneliness?
There are a wide range of factors that make seniors lonely. They include everything from the death of a spouse and close peers, to the geographic shifts that move families hundreds or thousands of miles apart from one another.
Age-related loss of physical ability – like eyesight, hearing, mobility, agility, endurance, etc. – can make it difficult for seniors to participate in their favorite pastimes or hobbies.
Senior social circles are often interrupted as a result of aging as well. Close friends may relocate to be closer to their own family members or require care that moves them into an assisted living facility or nursing home.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s also cause social disruptions for seniors diagnosed with these conditions and/or can affect the quality of their friendships if members of their inner-circle are are affected by age-related cognitive deficits.
Finally, seniors who do live alone and have to move to an assisted living or nursing home community, may have to leave beloved pets behind, which can greatly exacerbate their loneliness and grief.
As social connections and daily activities wane over time, seniors can plummet into a slump that causes them to lapse when it comes to daily living routines, like dressing, bathing, eating regular meals, taking their medications on time and remaining active.
Another downfall of living alone, or isolating oneself from social activities is the inability for others to notice noteworthy changes in appearance, physical or mental ability deserving of a check-in with health professionals. This causes seniors to live with Alzheimer’s or dementia, Parkinson’s, diabetes or other serious medical conditions without getting the medical treatment required to remain healthy, active and independent.
Protect Senior Loved Ones From Getting Lonely
Fortunately, there is plenty you can do to protect senior loved ones from becoming lonely in the first place.
Know the risk factors
There are several factors that place a senior at higher risk for loneliness. These include:
- Being widowed or divorced
- Living apart from nuclear family members
- The loss of a pet or close friends
- Living alone
- Being the sole care provider for a spouse
- Older age (the older seniors are, the more likely they are to report feeling lonely, isolated and/or depressed)
- Living in a rural or non-metropolitan areas
- Prior history of depression
Knowing and identifying risk factors means family members can create a support plan to prevent loneliness before it sets in.
If you have the ability to communicate with your loved one’s physician, request a screening for loneliness or depression at the next appointment. Often, seniors will be more honest with healthcare professionals because they are afraid of being honest with children or close loved ones will cause “unnecessary” concern.
Make it a point to call or visit regularly
Once your relative or friend is living on their own, or is the caregiver for a mate who requires serious attention, make it a point to call or visit on a regular basis.
Family members and friends can create a calendar where people rotate weekly visits, breakfast dates or attendance at activities connected to the individual’s interests and passions. By sharing the responsibility, everyone takes an active role and no one person becomes overburdened by the responsibility.
If geographic proximity prohibits in-person visits, make it a point to have a weekly phone date. FaceTime, Skype or Google Hangout dates are even better, allowing you to see one another and for grandchildren and great-grandchildren to participate more regularly.
It might be time to invest in a reliable tablet, pared down to very simple, easy-to-use functions, including the video-chat app of your choice. It can make a world of difference in terms of connectivity, and will help to bide the time until you can visit together in person.
Enlist the help of professional care providers
If regular, in-person visits aren’t possible, it might be time to enlist the help of professional care providers. With Care Advantage, the first step is to schedule an in-home consultation where we can get to know your loved one a little better and get a feel for where and how they live.
There is no obligation for these visits, but the information you can reap from them is invaluable.
We can make recommendations regarding:
- Whether or not the individual shows signs of loneliness or depression
- Tips for making the house safe for the individual, which also increases independence and safety
- The creation of a short- and long-term care plan
- Suggestions for local activities, services, resources and senior-specific events to facilitate the individual’s social network.
As we mentioned above, companion services work wonders for keeping seniors active and vibrant. Not only do companions help to enliven day-to-day life, they also provide additional assistance in the form of housekeeping, grooming and bathing, meal preparation, medication reminders, personal driving and errand running – all of which promote the health and well-being of their client.
In addition to improving a senior’s daily living conditions, personal care services also provide peace of mind for the senior’s family members. Now you have experienced professionals who understand your loved one’s physical and mental well-being and who can alert you if anything seems out of the norm or is cause for concern.
These services can be provided daily, a few days a week or simply once a week – tailored according to your senior loved one’s needs and desires.
Don’t Let Loneliness Remain Unspoken in Your Family
Loneliness and depression can be the quietest of companions, so a proactive and diligent approach makes all the difference. Contact Care Advantage to discuss your concerns or to schedule a consultation.