Loneliness isn’t just a feeling.
It can cause depression, anxiety, chronic pain, sleep problems and other health issues. And it currently affects 43 percent of adults age 60 and older. With the senior population projected to increase to more than 79 million by 2040, understanding loneliness and how to prevent it is increasingly important.
Here are five ways you can keep your senior parents connected with others.
1. Foster a sense of purpose
Get your parents involved in the community, find hobbies that interest them, or give them a houseplant or low-maintenance pet to help foster a sense of purpose. Learn more about their interests and find volunteer opportunities that match them. When possible, ask your parents for help with daily tasks or solicit their input on life decisions. Joining a local church can help your parents develop friendships with others and can help bring more meaning to life.
Click on the infographic above to view a larger version.
2. Make time for family and friends
A significant contributor to loneliness is a lack of meaningful relationships. Finding ways to spend more time with your parents may help strengthen your bond. Start a tradition of weekly or monthly family dinners — eating meals together encourages conversation and fosters deeper connections. If your parent has a hobby such as knitting, ask to be taught how to do it. Send monthly updates regarding your parents to extended family members and encourage everyone to regularly touch base with phone calls, letters and in-person visits.
3. Encourage health care
Health concerns such as hearing and vision loss and fear of falls can lead to isolation and loneliness. Encourage your parents to schedule regular checkups with a physician, or discuss home care with them. A healthcare professional can pinpoint risks to your parents’ health so they can address and overcome them. Some seniors resist using assistive devices—such as emergency response pendants, canes or walkers—but these devices can be the difference between a social life and isolation. Learn more about the options for assistive devices and frame the conversation with your parents around the benefits of those devices.
4. Consider transportation
If it’s time for your parents to hang up the keys, explore transportation alternatives to prevent isolation.Create an on-call driver schedule among family members to ensure someone is regularly available to take your parents to activities and appointments. If your parents live in an assisted living community, learn more about the facility’s transportation services. If they live at home, research if any local community transportation options are offered specifically for seniors.
5. Introduce technology
Technology isn’t a replacement for in-person contact, but it can help your parents feel more connected to family members and friends. Introduce them to the basic benefits of a tablet equipped with Wi-Fi for email, or teach them how to text and share photos on a cellphone. If your parents are willing to explore other technological outlets, set them up with basic social media profiles and teach them how to friend family members on social media. The causes of isolation and loneliness are different for every senior. Create an open dialogue with your senior parents regarding possible causes of loneliness so you can develop a solution together.
Vivo, Good Samaritan Society’s innovation program, has partnered with Verizon and Logic PD to help seniors avoid isolation through Window to the World. Click here to learn more.