Loneliness is not the same thing as being alone. Even if we have a spouse or other family members nearby, there may be something missing—a lack of connection or communication. Maybe we feel like we’ll be a burden to others and want to spare them, or perhaps a decreased mobility has made us more isolated. We could also feel embarrassed because we are unable to do things we once could. Or maybe we’ve lost someone and are having a hard time recovering.
These feelings of social isolation and loneliness have a big impact on our physical and mental health. A Brigham Young University study found that loneliness was a stronger predictor of early death than alcoholism or smoking fifteen cigarettes a day, illustrating how our feelings can affect us physically, altering the way our body functions.
We make even make the situation worse by pushing away opportunities for social interaction. But by taking a chance on the unknown, we just might move beyond loneliness and into connectedness.
That’s why it’s important to take a proactive stance in the emotional area of our wellbeing, so that our lives can be fuller, happier, and safer. Just as we would care for our physical bodies to nurture them back to a healthful state, so too we should care for our hearts and minds.
Join a Group
Human beings are social creatures who need a community to thrive. You can find a community that’s right for you through clubs and organizations that share your interests and values. Some examples might include churches, health clubs, travel clubs, educational classes, and volunteer groups. Support groups may also be a great way to deal with loss while meeting people who understand what we’re going through.
The AARP Community, run by the well-known association AARP, is a free website where you can introduce yourself and connect to other people with similar interests, experiences, and needs.
Stitch is a website where older adults can meet each other for companionship, traveling, group activities, and even love! This website emphasizes safety and verifies each member’s age and identity.
Care for Someone (Two-Footed, or Four)
The routine of caring for a pet or another person can provide structure and meaning to our day. A commitment to care for another gives us a sense of purpose, and we realize we are needed and useful. Furthermore, these relationships deepen our sense of connection and companionship in the world around us.
Paws’ Seniors for Seniors is an adoption program that places cats and dogs (typically over seven years in age) with adults 60 and over. Adoption matchmakers help you choose an animal that fits your lifestyle and living situation.
Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) is one of the largest volunteer networks in the nation for people 55 and over. Commitments range from a few hours a week to full-time and cover a wide variety of causes.
Develop a Hobby
Hobbies give us an opportunity to set goals and wake up each day excited for new challenges, which leads to long-term satisfaction and personal growth. Gardening, for example, is one hobby that offers exercise and a connection with nature. For those with minimal mobility, reading or listening to music are classic ways to explore the world from the comfort of an armchair.
edX.org is a website that offers online courses from top universities and educational organizations. Courses are available on a wide variety of subjects, including design, history, literature, and computer science.
Pandora is a website where you can listen to almost any song from an era you can think of. The free version is available, if you don’t mind listening to a few commercials.
Loneliness often begins when we lose our ability to get around freely. Try to think of someone in your life you can help you by giving you rides to places you would like to go, such as a family member, neighbor, or caregiver. Sometimes we can avoid asking favors of others, but let’s remember that most people feel good when they can be of assistance. Of course, public transportation or car services might be an option as well.
The National Center on Senior Transportation (NCST) works to increase transportation options for older adults to support their ability to live independently in their homes and communities throughout the United States.
Eldercare Locator can help you find transportation resources in any U.S. community and it’s a free national service of the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA).
Whether you take a daily walk around the neighborhood, visit an exercise facility, or join a group for active people, exercise can offer both physical and mental well-being. It releases chemicals in our bodies that lift our moods, help us process grief, and combat day-to-day stress. It really doesn’t matter how we stay active, as long as we do so at our own pace and abilities.
The International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) has a facilities locator that can help you find senior centers and other resources to keep you active.
Connect with Friends and Family Online
Technology has brought us to a very different day and age, where now, without being connected online in some capacity can leave us feeling more isolated than ever. However, your local library is a wonderful place to learn how to get online and get connected. If you have little mobility, a caregiver or a family member can help you get started.
Facebook is a free website that helps you connect with other people. You can view their photos, for instance, and send them messages. You control who sees the information you choose to post. Check out the Caregiver’s Guide to Facebook.
Skype is a free website where you can video conference with other people. Seeing your family and friends can be more intimate and satisfying than a phone call. All you need is an affordable web camera connected to your computer.
by Joey Azoulai, Hometeam
Home-based healthcare is a growing job market for professional caregivers. If you are comfortable performing intimate tasks for people in need, then you may want to consider a career as a Home Health Aide, Certified Nurse Aide, or Registered Nurse. Training and certification requirements will depend on which path you choose and where you get certified.
Becoming a Home Health Aide (HHA)
Home Health Aides provided basic personal care to patients, which may include assisting with hygiene, dressing, preparing meals, housekeeping, and transportation. In some cases, HAAs may also provide limited medical assistance, like administering medications, dressing wounds, as well as checking vital signs under the supervision of a nurse.
In the United States, certification requirements for Home Health Aides include 75-180 hours of classroom training and 16-80 hours of clinical training, depending on the state. You may be able to receive free training, so check with your local labor agency.
Becoming a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA)
Certified Nurse Assistants often have more contact with their patients than anyone else on a caregiving staff. Like Home Health Aides, CNAs also help patients with feeding, bathing, and dressing. CNAs may also listen to their patients’ health concerns, note symptoms and changing conditions, as well as report information to supervising doctors and nurses—so communication skills are key.
Before entering a certification program, you must have a High School Diploma or GED. Certified Nurse Assistants must complete at least 75 hours of training, as well as pass an examination. Contact your state nurse aide registry or licensing board to find out more information.
Becoming a Registered Nurse (RN)
Registered Nurses can work in a wide variety of facilities, and should be prepared to supervise Home Health Aides, Certified Nurse Assistants, and even less experienced RNs. Registered nurses may perform health assessments, make health recommendations to patients, and execute medical regimens as prescribed by a licensed physician.
Registered nurses must graduate with at least an associate degree in nursing. You may choose to pursue additional credentials through a bachelor or master of science degree in nursing. Upon completion of an accredited training program, an RN must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).
Where to Get Trained
Training programs for Home Health Aides and Certified Nurse Assistants may be offered by the American Red Cross, community colleges, technical and vocational schools, online training programs, as well as local health care providers.
Registered Nurses must train at a college, university, or in-hospital training program.
Things to Remember
- Make sure the training program you choose is accredited by checking with the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission.
- Learn about local certification requirements through your city or state health department.
- Find out about free training through your city or state labor department.
by Joey Azoulai
When taking care of older family members, it’s natural to be surprised when there is a change in behavior—something in your loved one that you don’t recognize. And even if you’re able to show compassion and understanding when they are forgetful, or can no longer walk on their own, or even become depressed, it can be quite disconcerting or disheartening if all of a sudden you begin to see their homes filled with trash, notice they’ve stopped bathing, or discover they are avoiding care out of a sudden distrust of doctors, caregivers, or even you. However, if you keep a few things in mind, it can make it easier for you as you work towards a solution with family, caregivers, and physicians.
1) Know They’re Not Doing It on Purpose
It’s important to understand that older adults who have begun hoarding and not taking care of themselves are not doing it out of personal choice or rebellion, but may be displaying signs of a condition commonly associated with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia called, Diogenes Syndrome, or Senile Squalor Syndrome.
Signs and symptoms of this syndrome include extreme self-neglect, social withdrawal, domestic squalor, compulsive hoarding, apathy, and lack of shame. They may also become catatonic, exhibit self-imposed isolation, and begin to possess a deep suspicion of doctors and authority figures, which makes them unlikely to seek and follow medical advice.
However, not all hoarding is due to Diogenes syndrome, but can still be rooted in a deeper cause: loneliness, anxiety, and depression can all contribute to the behavior and should be addressed with compassion and care.
2) Understand They May Have Lost Certain Brain Functions
A family member with diagnosed dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may lose their capacity for sequential tasking. For example, they may no longer be able to manage bills and paperwork in the house, and as they are more and more overwhelmed, leave the papers to accumulate.
Some older adults may stockpile medications because they no longer have the ability to remember why they are taking them, and not wanting to seem unable to care for themselves, hide the medication instead of asking about it.
In addition, they may struggle with remembering where to put things, get lost in their homes as they move objects from one place to another, and not remember where things are kept or where they can find them. It is incredibly overwhelming for an older adult with a loss of brain function to keep things in order, and may feel embarrassed to ask for help with something that was once such a simple task.
3) Hoarding May Stem from Grief
Approximately one third of all Diogenes Syndrome cases begin with a close personal loss, triggering the syndrome.
It’s even more common for those suffering from depression at any age to show more apathy, neglect personal care, or be willing to manage things within their surroundings. If they are not showing signs of paranoia, helping them move past their grief in a loving and caring way, may improve their condition greatly, and hoarding can be avoided.
4) It Could Be a Senior Form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Some older persons who were diagnosed at an early age with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder, or OCD, may find an increase in the severity of the disease after the age of 65. If so, compulsive hoarding may be a result.
If this is the case, a psychiatrist can help the family and their older loved one move past the clutter with therapy or medication to gain their freedom from the disorder once more.
5) Being Present and Patient Is the Best Medicine
Whether older family members are in the beginnings of Diogenes syndrome, suffer from OCD, or have become depressed, anxious, or fearful, gentle and loving persistence in getting them to accept care is key. And home care and community care are the most effective in managing the situation over hospitalization.
It is important to note that in the worst cases—where paranoia and distrust have occurred, and where Diogenes syndrome has severely taken hold—loved ones are at an increased risk of death. Know it is not their choice, and that it is a form of suffering. Compassion is indeed key to their safety, happiness, and relationships.
Written by Elise McMullen-Ciotti, staff writer at Hometeam
Disclaimer: You should always check with your doctor or professional healthcare provider before starting or changing any medical treatment. All information provided on The Caregiver Space, including this post, is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional or medical advice.
Image by Michael Basial, via Flickr
There are so many misconceptions about home care. The more I talk to family caregivers, the more I hear people expressing how they wish they’d turned to home care sooner. People resist accepting outside help for a wide range of reasons, many of which are based on not being familiar with what home care really is.
One of our goals at The Caregiver Space is to help people make informed decisions. My experience with professional caregivers at home and in residential settings has been very positive — allowing my family to provide a higher quality of care than we could have done ourselves.
This is why I asked Hometeam to walk us through the benefits of home care to help family caregivers supporting someone undergoing cancer treatment better understand their options. – Cori
Two types of home care
Home care can fall into two categories: acute (short-term) or long-term care. The former is for physical rehabilitation from illness or injury, while the latter is for adapting to lifestyle changes that arise from diseases such as cancer. While some care options focus solely on the patient’s physical health, this article will define other ways cancer patients can benefit from working with home caregivers.
On the most basic level, home care is for those who need help with activities of daily living, or ADLs. Meeting a patient’s physical needs is a caregiver’s primary responsibility. This includes managing medication, as well as assisting with mobility, housekeeping, grooming, running errands, and even light physical therapy. A caregiver should also have a driver’s license to bring the patient to the hospital when necessary. While caregivers help with activities of daily living to maintain clients’ independence, they can also make changes within the home to promote long term self-sufficiency. Removing potential fall causes is one way to do this. A fall that results in a broken hip can be a death knell for cancer patients, who often don’t have the strength to recover from such a devastating injury while fighting a malignant disease.
Being diagnosed with cancer can take a major mental toll, especially during the treatment process. A benefit of home care, instead of say, a hospital or nursing home, is having the comfort of a familiar place and a friendly face. A caregiver can boost a client’s mood after a difficult day by providing physical support, conversation, or simply by being there to make life easier and more comfortable. Having a personal attendant can make a patient feel like an individual with a unique plan of care rather than just another sick person in a hospital bed. Greater comfort, control and security are major morale boosters for a cancer patient living at home with a caregiver.
Above all, it’s important for cancer patients to feel like they have led valuable, important lives, and to have a sense of belonging within their community. A caregiver can encourage clients to share life experiences and to feel valued and respected. Caregivers can even help sick patients care for a pet or a plant, something as simple as which can encourage and offer purpose to someone at the end of life. If adults both with and without cancer have a reason for living while being able to control their life story, it’s easier for them to come to terms with being sick and the life they’ve lived.
Choosing home care for cancer patients can have a number of benefits, from providing affordable health care to offering feelings of social belonging and self-actualization. As many patients find out, having their physical needs met is just the beginning of their fight against cancer. A home caregiver makes it easier to wage the battle.
Worried about home safety? Start here
Most seniors want to stay in their homes and remain independent until the end. Of course, families worry about seniors living at home alone. A fall can be debilitating for an older adult, especially if it leads to a broken hip. With a little planning — and outside help — many seniors can safely remain at home.
Here are some room-by-room tips for making the home as safe as possible and ideal for aging in place.
Rugs: Sliding throw rugs can be dangerous. Even if they’re locked in place, a throw rug’s little corner that won’t lie flat can be a big hazard. Use carpet staples, glue or double-sided tape to stick them down. Or just get rid of them altogether.
Clutter: It’s common for older adults to accumulate things like furniture and clothing. Too much clothing can make it hard to get dressed, especially if bulky items such as sweaters are stacked high in closets, ready to fall. Donate old clothing that your loved one doesn’t wear any more. Freed-up space makes it easier to stay organized, and getting rid of old furniture clears up walking paths. Shelves can do wonders.
Emergency Contact: Cordless phones are pretty much standard for those who still have a house telephone line. However, it may make sense to simply use a cell phone in place of a landline. This way seniors can avoid an extra bill. An emergency alert system could be even easier.
Nightlights: For hallways and bathrooms, nightlights are perfect. Another option is LED rope lighting, which can be draped around handrails or along a corridor. It comes in different colors and is low wattage to save energy.
Bed height: If a senior’s knees are above their hips while sitting on the edge of a bed, it’s too low. It’s too high if their legs don’t touch the floor. Adding or subtracting a box spring can raise bed height accordingly.
Cords: Extension cords are a major fall hazard. Run them behind furniture or try a power strip to plug a number of cords into one source.
Towel Racks: If these are loose it could be a sign that your loved one is grabbing onto them for stability. Add a grab bar near the toilet, in the shower, and on the wall to enhance safety.
Rubber Mat: One of these should be in every senior’s shower or tub. Non-stick decals also work.
Seat: Add a seat to a shower if seniors have trouble standing for long periods of time.
Medication: If cabinets are too high, seniors could have problems accessing their pills. Keep medications in a daily pill organizer, and if the bathroom counter is cramped, move medicine to the kitchen, where it’s easier to remember to take it with meals anyway.
Toilet Seat: A raised toilet seat can make life easier for seniors. Choose one with removable arms.
Water Temperature: The water thermostat should be set to 120 degrees Fahrenheit so that water cannot become dangerously hot. Make sure hot and cold spouts are accurately labeled.
Chairs: These should be the right height, so that senior’s legs can touch the floor. Add cushions if the chair is too low. They should be stable and should not wobble.
Lights: Clappers are a great option for older adults who have mobility issues. Make sure that other lights are bright enough and working properly. Add more floor lights or contact an electrician to install more overhead lighting, if necessary.
Temperature: Make sure that the windows are properly insulated to keep rooms warm during the winter. During summer, heat-control window film, shades or curtains keep rooms cool.
Smoke detectors: Check on fire detector and carbon monoxide detector batteries annually to make sure they work properly.
Carpets: Stairs become increasingly slippery and steep as we age. Consider low-pile carpet runners or socks with grip on the bottom to enhance traction.
Banisters: Railings are crucial. If any stairway lacks them, it’s time to visit the home improvement store. If they’re loose, have a handyman or contractor tighten them to the wall. For low-light areas such as the garage or basement, it may help to have two, one on each side.
Basement & patio: Low steps, or those at the bottom of a dark stairwell are made more apparent with caution tape or spray paint. Extra light may be necessary too.
Cabinets: If items are in cabinets out of a senior’s reach, move them lower. For pots and pans below waist height, hang the most-used ones on nails or leave them on the range.
Lazy Susans: For cluttered cabinet areas where spices, oils and vinegars are hard to extract, Thomas Jefferson’s greatest invention is very convenient.
Unsafe Food: Explain the dangers of eating expired food to your loved one. Encourage them to smell any food that wasn’t bought recently and pay closer attention to expiration dates. Throw away old items.
Emergency: Keep emergency contact numbers on the front of the refrigerator, as well as any other important information.
Fire Extinguisher: Make sure that the senior’s kitchen has a working fire extinguisher near the stove.
Laundry Room & Garage
Detergents: Big laundry bottles can be heavy for older adults to manage, so break them up into smaller bottles.
Containers: Are there enough containers for proper trash disposal? If it’s hard for your loved one to go outside, make sure they have help taking trash to the curb. Keep trash outside the garage to minimize bug and rodent infestations.
Tools: Make sure tools and chemicals are safely put away. Seniors with dementia could become confused in how to use them and wind up injuring themselves.
Burglaries: Keep the garage door closed, and front and side doors locked. Burglars and con artists prey on older adults.
Snow Removal: Older adults should have help shoveling snow and clearing their walkways. Yard services are often the best solution.
Motion-Sensor Lights: These lights can provide reassurance to older adults when entering or exiting their home at night. They can also be a deterrent to potential intruders.
Anti-Wandering: For older adults at risk of wandering, build a fence around the yard. Big flower pots can serve as markers near entrances to remind them of where to go. Quiet, sunny outdoor spaces can be tranquil places for seniors to enjoy nature.
Doorbell: A flashing light that goes off when the doorbell rings can alert seniors hard of hearing that someone is at the door.
One of the keys to maintaining independence is learning to accept a little help. Hometeam can help your parents stay at home and lead the life they love.