Unfortunately many of today’s seniors live alone. Maybe they have gone through the death of their spouse or partner, have experienced divorce, or over the years their children or relatives moved away. Often, these elders who live alone become socially isolated. This is especially true if they are no longer surrounded by close friends, peers, or loved ones for whatever reason, And, in the new normal of life during the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting social distancing, seniors are even more isolated than ever – regardless of whether they have friends and relatives nearby.
If this is the case, you may be wondering how you can help your senior parent feel less lonely. Among other things, you can help an older family member reduce isolation by engaging with them through regular phone calls, a weekly video call, or by playing video games together online. Pets can help ease loneliness. Taking online classes or safe, physically distanced in person classes can also improve their quality of life.
Of course, since we’re living through a pandemic, the elderly people in your life should not attempt in-person social interaction until they have been fully vaccinated.
Seniors Living Alone: Facts And Health Risks Of Chronic Loneliness
Many seniors live alone – and that’s okay – but nowadays with Covid-19 in our lives, many of these older adults are also in social isolation. Which means that not only may these individuals be living alone but they may also be dealing with both the normal uncertainties of life and the Covid pandemic – all on their own.
It’s a difficult situation to be in which can lead to depression and possibly suicide.
(12 million) – The number of Americans over age 65 who live alone, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. The percentage of older adults who live alone quintupled from 6 percent in 1900 to a peak of 29 percent in 1990, and has slowly declined since then, to 26 percent in 2014.American Psychological Association
Sadly, the impact of loneliness is something that many seniors will continue to struggle with after the pandemic is behind us.
Even if a senior is surrounded by others, they may be very lonely. After all, look what happened in the United States during the beginning of the pandemic last year; long-term care facilities and senior centers were shuttered to protect the residents.
Older people in care homes were shut in their rooms and social activities came to a halt. Thus, they lost their social connections with friends and loved ones – and even from other seniors within their own facility.
For many seniors, especially those in memory care facilities or who may have difficulties communicating via the phone (hearing aids!), quality of life suffered – yet they were surrounded by people every day.
Chronic loneliness increases stress. In turn, the higher stress levels lead to decreases in physical health and increased health problems, such as high blood pressure, a higher risk of heart disease, and other medical conditions. Additionally, chronic stress leads to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease, mental health issues, and general cognitive decline.
Furthermore, a 2010 study found that “the influence of social relationships on the risk of death are comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity.”
Likewise, 2016 French research finds that senior isolation in the form of living alone, combined with feelings of loneliness “were independently associated with higher risk of mortality” in senior citizens
5 Tips For How To Help The Elderly With Loneliness
1. Purposeful Activities
A few years ago my mom-in-law, who was in her mid 90’s at the time was living in a 55 plus community. She was playing bridge, attending the social events in the clubhouse and going to ladies lunches. After a couple of years of doing this, she remarked that although she was “busy” she felt that she was frittering her time away.
In other words – her activities didn’t give her a sense of purpose. They did not give her the kind of satisfaction that comes with being useful in life.
So, she joined a choir which did performances in nursing homes and assisted living facilities and she joined a book club so that she could discuss the books on history that she loved to read.
Being in her mid 90’s already she was limited in what she could do but the point is, she sought out activities that gave her a sense of satisfaction of “doing something” vs. the more passive types of activities that were being offered at her community center.
The good news is that being of use to others is one of the best ways to fight feelings of isolation and loneliness. The added bonus is that you are giving back to your community.
There are multiple types of purposeful activities that older adults can participate in.
- Mentoring – there are many skills that older adults have that can be used to mentor the younger generation. Everything from learning a language to academic skills such as math or grammar. Cooking skills, balancing a checkbook, choosing insurance, basic car maintenance, basic plumbing skills and so much more! The kinds of things that I honestly believe should be taught in schools, but aren’t. Mentoring can be a wonderful and extremely useful way to spend your time.
- Self Care – too many older adults ignore their own personal health and this can easily spiral into depression, isolation and of course loneliness. Participating in a daily activity of Tai Chi, Yoga, Chair Exercises or using a stationary bike or treadmill are all excellent ways to keep your body and mind healthy.Joining a group like Silver Sneakers can be of great benefit. And yes, it can be difficult these days with Covid-19 in our lives but it doesn’t have to be impossible. Going for a walk with 3 or 4 other seniors, wearing a mask and keeping socially distanced from each other can still be accomplished.Also, using Amazon’s Echo Show or Skype or Facetime to do your exercises at home WITH a friend is another excellent way to help combat isolation but still keep yourself active. Note that there are other video conferencing, communication services and tools as well.
- Cooking For Others – there are some of us who love cooking, and these days of Covid-19 it seems that many adults are getting into gardening, which is an excellent compliment to cooking! But cooking for just yourself can be a bit boring – so why not expand this wonderful skill by cooking for others?Cooking a meal or baking a snack for neighbors, first responders, medical personnel, shelters and so many others is a great way to do for others! Look for families with children who rely on school meals (these days going to school many not be the best option for many children). Look for shelters in your area for battered women (domestic abuse victims are trapped in their homes with their abusers these days) – and any other organization in your area where you can provide food to help others.
- Education – you truly are never too old to learn new skills! I have always firmly believed that being a perpetual student is the best defense against depression, anxiety and loneliness. The trick is to keep learning what you love to do.My father-in-law was a financial planner and 2 weeks before he passed away at the age of 92, he was still working with clients, still studying the art of financial planning, researching new investment vehicles, etc. He loved it and I do believe it kept him alive and excited about life.Of course, learning something new is also wonderful, a new language, a musical instrument, how to bake that perfect chocolate cake! Of course, as you are learning, I would recommend to pass on what you learn via mentoring!There are multiple companies providing online courses – one I can recommend is the International Open Academy – they seem to have a large array of courses!
- Volunteering – if it’s safe and possible for a senior to participate in a volunteer activity, I would encourage it. But I certainly do understand that in these days of Covid-19 that may be difficult. There are multiple ways that you can “virtually volunteer” but also contact your local organizations to see if they need any help that you can provide in a safe manner.
- Donating Your Craft – if you enjoy and are skilled at knitting, crotcheting, sewing then you can create and donate your projects to organizations such as Warm Up America or Bundles of Love or many others. Here are 10 organizations that can use your help.
- Helping The Helpless – if you are an animal lover like me, then there is no greater joy than working with animals. Many volunteers at local animal shelters are needed and oftentimes, there are only one or two individuals in the building – which minimizes the chances of contracting and/or passing on Covid-19.
There are some wonderful books on living a Purposeful Life and I encourage you to take a look at them.
2. Pets Can Give Purpose And Companionship
If your senior loved one is able to and is willing to care for a pet – then I highly encourage you to help them to adopt one. A cat, a dog, a bird, fish, whatever!
Having the responsibility of caring for another living creature on a daily basis provides purpose to one’s life and additionally, some pets can certainly bring about a great deal of companionship to lonely people..
True – it’s not the same as human companionship but there are organizations (and many on Facebook Groups) that you can connect with. Here are just a few of the Facebook groups that I found online:
- Goldendoodles of Georgia – a group of goldendoodle lovers
- Canary and Finch Breeders
- North Carolina Dachshund Owners/Lovers
- Tortoiseshell, Tortie And Calico Cat Lovers Worldwide
- I Love Persian Cats
- Amazon Parrot Lovers And Owners
There seem to be groups about almost any hobby or area of interest!
3. Scheduled Calls
I call my mom-in-law every Sunday morning. It’s our ritual. I look forward to these phone calls and I hope that she does too.
Having a scheduled “call date” can help many older adults get through the day. Knowing that they will be talking to someone at a specific time (especially if they live alone) can be something to look forward to.
If there can be multiple calls per week by different family members and friends – even better!
And of course – this doesn’t have to be just a phone call. Having a video chat is a nice way spend time with an elderly person because it is as close as you can get to being there with them.
You can use a variety of methods to make that connection.
- Use the Echo Show and their Drop In Skill
- Use FaceTime via cell phone OR on Windows PC (here’s a great guide on how to set up FaceTime on Windows)
- Use Skype on either cell phone or computer
4. Video Games
This may seem like a contrarian idea – playing video games to combat loneliness. After all, many adults have always heard that video games can encourage loneliness.
Well – not necessarily.
Video games were once widely perceived as inherently anti-social. However, the World Health Organization,which has warned about the risks of too much gaming,recently launched #PlayApartTogether, partnering with major gaming studios to encourage people to stay home.Theconversation.com
There are video games that seniors can play online with others and I would highly recommend it for any senior who is willing to give it a try. It can cost absolutely nothing and can lead to many hours of fun and stimulation.
One of my favorite video games for older adults are the Wii Consoles – there are a nice variety of games geared towards sports or puzzles and more.
5. Correcting Medical and Mental Issues Preventing Socialization
There are some medical and mental issues that may be keeping a senior person from attending some family functions or taking a walk with a friend. This could include…
- Joint pain
- Back pain
- Foot pain
- Dry eye syndrome
There are many more – I would encourage you to look into these issues, speak with your doctor about them and see what can be done to alleviate these problems so that you can help your senior loved one to get out a little bit and socialize.
All of these tips can hopefully help some older adult that you know and/or love to become less isolated and lonely. Choose one or two or maybe all of them!
Covid-19 seems that it will be with us for a much longer time than any of us want – so let’s work together to help each other combat loneliness and isolation so that we can someday look back and marvel at the fact that we survived a historical world event.