Social interaction is often considered a component for living a longer, healthier life. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Lisa Marsh Ryerson, President of the AARP Foundation said research demonstrates “people have increased risk of death due to loneliness.” Dr. John Cacioppo, an MD and Psychologist, at the University of Chicago, reports a surprising social component related to loneliness is “poor cognitive performance and quicker cognitive decline.” Many seniors struggle with maintaining ongoing relationships with others for a variety of reasons.
Items included in the reasons seniors may find themselves more isolated are:
- Poor Health
- Loss of spouse or significant other
- Non-Accessibility to transportation
- Impaired mobility
- Low Income
- Living alone
- Death or loss of close friends and/or family members.
So what are some things that can be done to reduce this isolation and enhance the quality of life for the seniors in your life? Here are some suggested actions that can be taken:
Offer Transportation Options
Identify people that would be able to drive a senior loved one when needed. Identify local transportation options like cabs or Uber that can transport people even those in a wheelchair. Locate senior programs like Adult Day Care Centers that offer transportation to participants. Consider hiring someone who might be available to drive when necessary.
Seek Out Programs/Activities of Interest to Your Senior
Find senior programs that offer group activities of interest to your senior. For example, libraries, Adult Day Centers, or senior centers might have bridge groups, book clubs, movie events, or guest speakers discussing areas of interest. There may be places that they can volunteer like local hospitals or schools. We all need meaningful activities to engage in our lives to give our lives meaning and purpose. Connecting with other people can be the end results with these activities.
Have a Thorough Medical Health Check Up Done
Sometimes seniors are reluctant to leave home or interact with others for a variety of reasons. They may have trouble hearing or seeing. There may also be issues around blood pressure causing dizziness or medical problems impacting balance, endurance, and the ability to walk. Finally, bowel and bladder management may need to be addressed to make it more comfortable for a senior to get out and participate in activities. Have a physician do a thorough medical examination to determine any areas of concern and get recommendations on treatment options.
Investigate Technology Options
Look into computer, telephone, and other technology options that may be available. For example, my father was hard of hearing. I found a local program that offered him a special telephone with sound amplification. It also converted what people said into words so he could read what they said and he could respond appropriately. This phone was free. Skyping is another possible way to stay in touch both verbally and visually. Using a computer can open up a new world for seniors where they can participate in chat rooms with people of similar interests. This may involve some extra expense and training the senior to use a computer but the benefits can be enormous.
There may be neighbors who would be willing to stop by and visit your senior loved one. These visits can offer companionship. It also can be a very good way for you to have a wellness check done. Some of the things they should pay attention to are making sure your senior is eating properly, they are maintaining their home, personal hygiene, and have no issues with falling.
Encourage Participation in Religious Groups
If your loved one has an interest in participating in a local religious organization like a church, encourage them to follow through. Religious organizations are a wonderful place to connect with others, find volunteer options, group activities, and find meaning in their lives. The leader of this organization may be able to connect you with participants who would be open to facilitate these connections and be a point of contact for your loved one. In addition they may be able to help with transportation.