Do you wish you had stronger social connections with family and friends? According to Psychology Today, social connections are the most important factor in someone’s happiness. Unfortunately, some parents and senior loved ones in assisted living communities lack these enriching connections.
Learn more about how we can identify loneliness in assisted living.
Loneliness in Seniors
Seniors who are lonely are more likely to be anxious, depressed, unmotivated and withdrawn. These physiological woes increase a senior’s mortality rate. One study found that those who are 60 years or older and feel lonely have a 45% increased chance of death.
Seniors who are lonely are more vulnerable to infectious diseases, too. There is some evidence that feeling lonely raises cortisol and other stress hormones in the body, which can cause problems in a person’s immune system. Specifically, the monocytes that protect people from infections do not properly develop in lonely people.
Loneliness has also been linked to long-term conditions including Alzheimer’s, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and various cardiovascular diseases.
There is also evidence that being lonely increases the rate at which seniors decline. Lonely seniors are less able than their socially confident peers to perform their activities of daily living (ADLs), including bathing, dressing, feeding, walking and more.
Ways to Identify a Lonely Senior
As loneliness causes such dramatic physical effects, it is critical for caregivers to identify loneliness in seniors and if possible, intervene.
There are several signs you can watch for that can indicate a senior is lonely:
- Avoidance: Seniors who are lonely will withdraw from the activities they usually enjoy. They may not answer calls or may resist visits. They may also miss activities, events and meals they may have enjoyed before.
- Depression: Lonely seniors may express depressed or negative thoughts. They may talk about death or express feelings of helplessness. They may also seek to self-medicate their depression by abusing alcohol, drugs or medications.
- Embarrassment: Seniors who are lonely may be isolating themselves out of a feeling of embarrassment. They may try to hide their medication, oxygen tank or equipment from others. They may feel self-conscious about incontinence or other ailments.
- Fatigue: Seniors who are lonely also feel frequently tired. They may sleep longer than normal, whether they go to bed early or sleep in longer than normal. They may also complain of general aches and pains, neglect their hygiene or refuse to eat.
The good news is that research shows that loneliness in seniors is not inevitable. There are things caregivers, family and friends can do to increase a senior’s social bonds.
Ways to Mitigate Loneliness in Assisted Living
Lonely seniors tend to withdraw from those people that they interact and live with. This creates a cycle where lonely seniors feed into their own feelings of isolation. In order to mitigate their feelings, caregivers must break through this cycle and get a senior to feel comfortable reaching out to those around them.
Here are some ways to strengthen bonds with a senior:
1. Address mobility.
Some seniors first develop loneliness when they lose the ability to go where they wish. If your parent has mobility limitations, try to find solutions that can help them regain some independence.
In an assisted living situation, your parent is nearby other seniors who can become their social supports, if you facilitate their connection. Arranging for activities where seniors can cooperate with one another is a great way to help them connect.
Lonely seniors will frequently express how they are feeling and what is preventing them from socializing. As a caregiver, it’s important to be there when your senior opens up, and listen to what is truly bothering them.
4. New activities.
Whether it’s a parent or other loved one who’s feeling lonely, use your knowledge about them to help mitigate their loneliness. Help them reconnect with their hobbies or other activities they used to enjoy. Through those activities, they can connect with your or other seniors they live with.
5. Physical Care.
Seniors who are isolating themselves because they feel embarrassed about their physical condition need special support. Ensure your parent has solutions for incontinence, mobility and oxygen delivery that they feel comfortable with. Plus, have them meet other seniors who use the same equipment to remind them that they are not alone.
If you’re having trouble reaching out to a lonely senior, don’t forget to use the support systems available to you. Encourage the rest of your family to get involved or ask the staff at their assisted living community to make a plan to reengage your parent in the community.
Lastly, remember that helping a senior out of loneliness is a long-term project. Don’t give up if they withdraw, and you’ll soon see them more engaged.
In what other ways have you mitigated loneliness in assisted living? We’d like to hear your stories and tips in the comments below.