Is your senior loved one changing before your eyes – – in a way that worries you?
Many caregivers become concerned about their family members as they age.
We can all see how our seniors’ lives change as they get older. They may have to move into a different home, lost loved ones, such as siblings and close friends, have a decline in their health, change their daily activities or lose interest in their hobbies.
A major concern for family caregivers is that our seniors spend too much time alone. They don’t drive as much as in the past and many won’t drive at night, while some stop driving altogether for safety’s sake. Losing this independence lessens the time spent with friends and family members like they used to do.
Loneliness Increases Risk of Dementia
One consequence of withdrawing from their old activities and social engagements is that seniors doing so are very likely to lead to many days on end spent alone. Some seniors don’t mind being alone and can find things to do to keep themselves entertained, including the internet, reading, small household jobs or other activities, and are seemingly unaffected by isolation. For others, however, being alone that is joined by a feeling of loneliness can be a harmful combination.
We recently found a new study that confirms elderly people who feel lonely are at increased risk for dementia. Researchers stress there is a difference between living alone and feeling lonely.
The results of the study show that, after three years, dementia had developed in about 9% of seniors who lived alone versus 6% in those not living alone. About 11% of those without social support compared to 5% in those with support and 13% in those that said they were lonely compared with 6% in those who did not feel they were lonely went on to develop dementia.
That relates to a 2.5 times greater likelihood of elders developing dementia who were lonely. These statistics are equal for men and women. From this research, it appears that the feeling of loneliness influences the development of dementia.
Seniors Loneliness Can Be Improved with These Strategies
We can help our seniors feel less lonely so that they live a healthier life as they age, no matter how they choose to age in place – alone or with another person.
- Get them connected to social media so they can talk with others and meet new people, all from the comfort of their home. There are great interchanges that can take place through social media to keep our seniors’ brains active and help them feel less isolated.
- Show them how to use Skype for calling friends and family members no matter how far away. Or you can help them use Facetime on their smartphone to see the people with whom they speak regularly, especially grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Seeing someone’s face when they talk may help make them feel like they aren’t as alone and reduce loneliness.
- Sign them up – and get them transportation – to a senior center near you to keep them connected to their community and their peers. They will be able to participate in a variety of programs, activities and events that will keep them physically and mentally stimulated.
- Enroll them in a lifelong learning class. Learning something new like how to cook, how to speak a new language, learn to dance, learn to play a musical instrument, how to use their computer, or any other class that will keep them stimulated.
- Get them an e-reader that they can use to read new books, travel virtually to remote places of the world, play games and read any magazine they desire. Don’t forget to teach them how to use the e-reader and upload new books or games so they can keep it fresh!
- Visit your senior as often as you can and set up a schedule of other visitors who can keep your senior from feeling lonely. Each different visitor will bring a fresh approach and perspective, will tell new stories and can be a great listener for all your senior’s stories.
- Set up a calendar with all family near and far, including family friends, church friends and anyone you can count on who also loves your senior, assigning each person their week to send a note, drop a line, or send a funny card to brighten the day for your senior. This one works great — we’ve done it ourselves! Who doesn’t love to get a special delivery in the mail! This will definitely keep the loneliness at bay.
- You can also set up a phone tree with family and friends, having each person make a special phone call each week at random times.
These are just a few suggestions to help you keep your senior engaged and help fight off the development of dementia as a result of loneliness. We all need time to ourselves, but too much alone time that leads to feelings of depression or loneliness is not healthy for seniors (and probably not us either).
We hope you will share with us and the community your suggestions for keeping your senior loved one engaged and happy too!