Humans are social beings. The majority of people yearn for some kind of daily face-to-face interaction or companionship. Later in life, relationships change or break off and loved ones begin to pass away. Losing a close friend or specifically a spouse can take a toll on your elderly loved one and may even cause him to feel alone with no one to turn to. Loneliness and the effects of social isolation in the elderly can negatively impact your loved one’s well-being. Let’s figure out why your elderly loved one may be feeling lonely and how you can take care of him.
Why Does Your Loved One Feel Lonely?
Your elderly loved one may be in a state of social isolation or loneliness. However, there is a difference between the two. A person experiences social isolation when she has a few or no interactions with other people. Social isolation can be voluntary or involuntary. This tends to occur as you get older due to losing a spouse, not being able to drive, and general immobility. Even if your loved ones thrive on independence, they probably wish for a few strong relationships. Therefore, social isolation can easily lead to feelings of loneliness.
Loneliness is the feeling “felt by individuals who are not satisfied with their social connections.” Your loved one could be in a room full of family and still feel lonely. One major reason why elderly loved ones feel lonely is because they lack meaningful relationships. Perhaps your family is very close-knit, but many families lack an emotional connection. An article in the PubMed explains that “relationships with family tend to be obligatory whereas those with friends are a matter of choice.” Not being able to connect with anyone may leave your senior loved one feeling lonely. At times, older adults may feel like they are a burden to their caregivers, especially if they have chronic illnesses like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, heart disease, etc.
Loneliness can lead to serious mental health issues, such as depression. Depression in the elderly is common, but it is not inevitable. So if you see that your loved one is unhappy, lacks the motivation to carry out daily activities, or shows a withdrawn attitude during your visits, bring your loved one to her primary doctor or a qualified mental health professional. Social Isolation may have left your loved one feeling lonely for a long period of time, which may have then lead your loved one to sink into depression.
Loneliness not only affects your loved one’s psychological well-being, but it also hurts his physical health as well. Lonely seniors tend to die sooner than seniors who are socially content. A study based in California found that 22.8% of a group of seniors who felt lonely and isolated died over the course of six years. By contrast, of the those who did not report feeling lonely, only 14.2% had died.
Ways to Help
Have an honest conversation with your elderly loved one about her satisfaction with her social life. Find out if there is something you can do to help. Often, we think we know what our loved ones like to do, but their favorite hobby may be their least favorite activity now. Ask your loved one to tell you what his interests are and listen to what he enjoys doing now, and see if he would like company.
Encourage your loved one to attend a class where her favorite activity is held and add this to her schedule so she has something to look forward to. Your loved one may be shy going to a class filled with people he doesn’t know. Accompany him so he knows that you’re right beside him if he begins to feel uncomfortable. The Dorothy C. Benson Senior Multipurpose Complex has a weekly schedule dedicated to programs for older adults like water aerobics, watercolors, knitting, jewelry making, computer classes (such as intro to Facebook), and much more. Hopefully, your senior loved one can meet people his age who share the same passion. If he rather visit a local event, there are multiple activities to do in the Atlanta area.
One way to keep your loved one company for a little while at home is by listening to audio books or podcasts. Listening to stories can also help to stimulate your loved one’s mind. Teach your loved one how to navigate social media. Since Facebook is popular among the elderly, hopefully your loved one can rekindle old friendships.
Not being able to visit friends can leave your loved one feeling lonely. Talk with your family members about setting up a transportation system to take your loved one to her favorite places. Also, if your financial situation allows it, ordering him a Lyft or an Uber, a form of taxi, to take him somewhere nearby his home could be $10 or less.
Simply stating that you enjoy spending time with your senior loved one can go a long way. Everyone wants to feel like they matter. And after all, seniors have done a lot for our community; they deserve to know they have value to you