Understanding and Combatting Loneliness
The older you get, the more obstacles there are in your way to maintaining a social life. Just some of these are related to the toll old age can have on our bodies, limiting our mobility, hearing and sight. To add to this, your social circle also beings to shrink as each year passes. Close friends and family members may immigrate, move to another city or even pass away.
Despite trying to maintain a healthy social life, many seniors also tend to develop reclusive behaviour due to feeling self-conscious or embarrassed about certain ailments or just overall exhaustion.
So what are the consequences of loneliness in the elderly?
Basically, loneliness is thought to release the stress hormone, cortisol, reacting with the body in the same it would when caused by chronic stress. Cortisol is known to impair the immune system. This can lead to the development of inflammation, heart disease, diabetes and even stimulate the onset of mental illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Simple Ways to Combat Loneliness
As a caregiver you will need to take it upon yourself to alleviate loneliness with some these simple tips:
1. Listen Carefully
How well do you know the person you are caring for? If you notice they are overly withdrawn and seem depressed, take some time to get to know them better rather than simply ‘caring’ for them. Listen carefully to what they speak about, find out where their interests lie and encourage them to express what they enjoy and would like to do with their time.
Do your best to help your care receiver adapt their likes and interests into real-world hobbies which are practical and sociable.
2. Get Creative when Combatting Seclusion
Sometimes an elderly loved one or care receiver may be reluctant to begin a new hobby or join a new social circle. This is where you may need to get creative. Sometimes a little push out of their comfort zone is all it takes to change habits and combat seclusion. E.g. if your care receiver loves to paint but is reluctant to begin, organise a surprise private paint class.
All it takes is one small reminder and the cycle of seclusion can be broken.
3. Encourage Them to Teach You
With the same thought as above, perhaps your loved one or care receiver is shy, uninspired or reluctant to re-begin a hobby they once loved. Asking and encouraging them to teach you how to do what they love most can be a simple way to re-ignite that spark. If for example they enjoy knitting, playing piano or sewing, let them teach you the basics.
Convincing the person you are for that you are keen to learn can help them overcome their reluctance and even feel re-inspired.
4. Fostering Family Connection
As a caregiver try and reach out to other family members for their support in combatting loneliness in an elderly loved one. Ultimately, it’s the thought that counts and will go a long way to making a loved one feel remembered and important.
Simple gestures such as a phone call once or twice a week, sharing tea and cake or a chat in the sunshine can be incredibly effective at combatting loneliness.
These are just a few of the simple ways a caregiver can make a real difference in a senior’s life. A senior living community is another great way to combat loneliness in the elderly as a social environment is only steps away.