Watching an elderly loved one struggle with senior isolation is a heartbreaking experience. You want to give them the care and attention they need. However, with your own personal and work obligations, it can feel like an impossible situation.
Now, in the age of COVID-19, you have the added risk of potentially exposing them if they have yet to be vaccinated. As a result, while your loved one has been staying inside to stay safe, they’ve been cut off from socialization and stimulation.
This has come at a cost for so many seniors in the form of unhealthy isolation. In fact, according to the National Poll on Healthy Aging, recently conducted by the University of Michigan, loneliness among older adults has doubled during the pandemic. In June 2018, 27% of people over 50 years old said they sometimes or often felt isolated from others. By June 2020, that number soared to 56%.
While isolation impacts the social and emotional health of seniors, it also has physical implications. It’s been linked to a weaker immune system, an escalation of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, overall cognitive decline, cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and more.
As both the pandemic and winter continue on, it’s vitally important to support the social and emotional needs of the seniors in your life. How can you do that, while keeping them safe? Below are some tips to consider.
If your loved one isn’t familiar with a smartphone or tablet, it can be an intimidating experience. However, now’s a good time for them to learn. It can truly open up a whole new world, one filled with podcasts, videos, movies, games and more.
It can also help them stay in touch with family and friends through emailing, texting, video calls and on social media. If they’re interested, work with them to set up a Facebook profile and show them how to use it. They’ll have a chance to regularly see pictures and videos of those they know and love, like their grandchildren, which will be immensely encouraging. If they’d prefer to text or email, show them how and then schedule regular times for family members to reach out.
Connect Without Technology
If your senior prefers a different way to connect to avoid isolation, there are still many options. You can pick up the phone and spend some time updating them on work, your kids or a new recipe you tried. You don’t need to have deep conversations every day. Just setting aside some regular time to chat with them for just a few minutes will make a world of difference. Besides the phone, consider writing a letter or having grandchildren draw pictures, write notes and cards to brighten their day.
Help Them Stay Mentally Fit
Senior isolation can also lead to cognitive decline. It’s why engagement is so important. To promote mental engagement, you can purchase playing cards, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles or Sudoku for your family member. If they’re online, there are endless apps and games to explore. If there’s a place they’ve always wanted to travel to, encourage them to go online and learn about it. They can visit museums, national parks, cities and even go on safaris, all virtually, from the comfort of their own home.
In addition, reading and writing are other ways to stay mentally fit and stimulate the imagination, while offering respite from the dreariness of winter. Regularly bring your loved one books from authors they enjoy and if they like to write, provide them with a journal, too. If they have a hard time reading, set them up so they can listen to books or even podcasts. There are many new releases every day, covering a range of topics, from cooking and politics to true crime and spirituality.
Help Them Stay Physically Fit
Movement is another key to remaining healthy and active. It releases endorphins, reduces stress and can improve mental health. It also gets blood flowing and increases flexibility and strength.
It’s why, if their condition allows it, you should encourage your loved one to stay active physically with exercise. This can include anything from a couple of 10-minute walks each day, gently stretching or doing yoga to taking advantage of exercise videos on YouTube. There are also many virtual exercise classes offered at local gyms. Just make sure whatever your loved one is doing, it’s at a pace that’s comfortable and healthy for them.
If weight is an issue, it needs to be addressed. Many people cope with stress by eating, which can lead to an unhealthy weight gain. If your loved one is dealing with this, talk to them about working with their medical provider to begin a healthy diet.
Encourage a Sense of Purpose
Having a sense of purpose each day is vital for healthy living. Yet, this can be difficult for seniors who are isolated. To help your loved one through this, encourage them to try out new hobbies that interest them. It can be anything from knitting to scrapbooking to playing bridge.
Another way is to volunteer to share their skills from home. For example, there are agencies that offer opportunities for mentoring relationships with students through local colleges. You can use the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator website to find such opportunities in your area.
They can also sign up for a class to learn a new skill, like a second language. There are many online options for continuing education, whether through a local institution or a national or international one. Some are even free.
Keep Up on Wellness Checks
While months of social distancing may prevent the spread of COVID-19, it’s now created a situation where many older adults aren’t getting the care they need to diagnose new conditions and manage existing ones. This can cause a minor issue to escalate into a life-threatening one. To avoid this, make sure your loved one is keeping regular doctors appointments.
Consider a Pet to Prevent Senior Isolation
If your loved one is able to care for a pet, an adult cat or dog could bring some joy and purpose to their life. It will also require more activity, which can promote a better sense of physical and mental well-being. If a pet isn’t an option, consider pet therapy. It’s proven to lower anxiety and blood pressure, improve memory and contribute to an overall sense of well-being.
Hire a Professional Caregiver for Companion Care
If you’d like professional help preventing senior isolation, FirstLight® Home Care is here for you and your family. We provide companion care services that ensure your loved one gets the support and attention they need, from regular conversation and company to medication reminders and more. It will dramatically improve their quality of life and your peace of mind.
If you’re concerned about issues like senior isolation and would like to hire a professional caregiver, contact your local FirstLight Home Care today. We can ensure your loved one gets the companionship, conversation and attention they need to thrive.