Are you caring for an elderly parent? Many of us in the “sandwich generation” are caring for our parents, while still parenting our own children, and it can be overwhelming. We worry about living arrangements, driving, and medical issues, but researchers are saying that we can’t forget loneliness. Affecting both their longevity and quality of life, it’s a factor we can address in a variety of ways. Here’s eight suggestions for combating loneliness in an elderly loved one.
Caretakers of elderly parents and relatives often feel relieved once they’ve resolved the housing and aging-in-place challenges. But a key missing piece of that care puzzle could be the seniors’ social and mental well-being.
Study results released in June 2012 by the University of California San Francisco show a direct correlation between loneliness and poor health among the elderly.
It found that loneliness can affect a person’s ability to perform daily activities, such as upper extremity tasks, climbing stairs, and walking. Moreover, people who identified themselves as lonely had a 59 percent greater risk of decline and a 45 percent greater risk of death.
If you suspect that your loved ones are lonely, getting them out and involved could help them fend off boredom, isolation, and loneliness.
Here are eight ideas:
- Art as therapy. Try an art class, but one that isn’t strictly for seniors. Your loved ones will meet people of all ages, broaden their social horizon, and learn a new skill. And just because someone can’t draw doesn’t mean they can’t be a successful artist. Other media include pottery, printmaking, and fiber arts.
- Computer literacy. Widen your parents’ and elderly relatives’ world by teaching them how to use a computer, and introduce them to Facebook, blogging and Twitter. A Pew Research report found that seniors really take to the online life. For many, using the internet and e-mail has become a daily habit. Before they make their online debut, be sure that seniors know the risks and what precautions to take to protect their accounts and their privacy. Provide some basics on searching for sites specific to their interests. There’s www.anobii.com for bookworms, www.ravelry.com for knitters, and www.care2.com for eco-minded people.
- Meet-ups. The site, www.Meetup.com, lets people interested in a given topic or activity find one another online then organize in-person get-togethers. You can find book clubs, art outings, and political activism events, as well as people who are interested in discussing Shakespeare and practicing ballroom dancing.
- Man’s best friend. There’s a reason that dogs are called man’s best friend. They bring joy and laughter, they’re affectionate, and they provide companionship. In addition, daily walks with dogs force seniors to get all-important exercise and help them connect with other dog owners. Just take a look at local parks during dog-walking hours. You see dogs romping and pet owners schmoozing. A dog could be the gateway to better health and stronger social connections for your loved one.
- Mind share. Suggest volunteering, but not at a place where there are sad, distressed people. Hospitals, for example, might not be the place to lift a persons’ spirit. But zoos, conservatories, and kid-centered activities all can be uplifting. And if your relatives have special talents to share, help them find places where they can teach their skills to others. Search for volunteer opportunities at www.seniorcorps.gov/Default.asp.
- Tutoring. Your relatives’ knowledge could be helpful for tutoring programs for kids needing math and reading help or to participants in adult literacy programs. Plus, the one-on-one relationship that develops can be satisfying and beneficial for both parties. Find opportunities by getting in touch with local schools and religious institutions or search for U.S. opportunities at www.volunteermatch.org.
- Political activism. This is an election year in the United States, so campaigns are on the hunt for volunteers. If your relatives are politically active, there’s likely a campaign that can tap their skills over the coming months.
- Inclusive celebrations. Invite elderly neighbors to dinner parties, backyard BBQs and neighborhood social events. If transportation or walking is a problem, they may decline. So when you extend the invitation, offer to pick them up and take them home.