How You Can Tackle Loneliness for Older Relatives
Loneliness can be a huge issue for older people. As you get older, there are several reasons someone might become less socially engaged. Firstly, they’re no longer working, so don’t have a reason to leave their home and communicate with people every day. They might struggle to leave their house or find it hard to feel motivated to do so. Children and other relatives can move away, and friends might die or also choose to move elsewhere. Many older people decide to move somewhere new when they retire, but even that can mean it’s difficult to make new friends. If you have older parents, grandparents or other relatives, you can do some things to help prevent them from getting lonely.
Visiting and Keeping in Touch
The first thing you can do to help prevent loneliness for your relatives is to be there for them. Obviously, you can’t be in constant contact with them because you have your own life. However, you can still visit as often as you can and keep in touch when you’re not visiting. You might live away from them, which makes it difficult to make regular visits. But that shouldn’t stop you from seeing them occasionally, even if only once a year or less. It also shouldn’t stop you from talking on the phone or emailing. It’s easy to talk on the phone once a week or to exchange regular emails.
Many older people are now perfectly capable of using emails and cell phones. Even if they can’t, it’s not too late to learn. If you can’t (or won’t) teach them yourself, you can often find community computer classes. But there is also technology beyond emailing that can help you make your communication even better. If they can learn to use a webcam or perhaps use an app like FaceTime, you can talk face to face. It’s a great way for people to stay in touch with their children and grandchildren.
Go on Vacation Together
If you’re planning a family vacation, think about asking older relatives along. One or two more people along for the ride can be fun, and intergenerational vacations are great for making memories. Of course, your older relatives might much prefer to take vacations on their own! But traveling together can be a good way for grandparents to get to spend some time with their grandchildren – and could get you a free babysitter for a night or two. As well as going on vacation together, invite them to spend holidays with you, as they can be especially lonely times of the year.
Help with Getting Around
Your relatives don’t necessarily want to spend all their time with you! They want to have other people to spend time with. One of the things that can make this difficult is if it’s hard for them to get around. They might not have a car or be unable to drive, and might not be able to rely on public transport or afford taxis. If you want to help your relatives to get out more, you can help them to get where they need to be. If you live close enough, you can help out by picking them up and dropping them off. If not, you might want to help pay for transport, communicate with neighbors who could help, or maybe look for community transport options for the elderly.
Look Into Companions and Volunteers
When it’s difficult to leave the house, some people would rather stay in. On some occasions, it’s almost impossible to get out, which means finding a way to talk to people at home. If you want to connect an elderly relative with people who can talk to them, apart from you, you can look into companions and volunteers who can visit. Sometimes these people are provided by charities, and they can also make regular phone calls. Another option might be a live-in companion or care assistant, or simply a lodger who rents a spare room and can also provide some company. Of course, you’ll want to make sure that these people are trustworthy and reliable first.
Look For Community Resources
You can often discover that there are some excellent local resources that help older people to get out more and be more socially active. Some of the things you can find include community centers, clubs and activity groups. You can help out by seeing what’s available in your relative’s area and helping to connect them with these resources and groups. Sometimes you might need to help with things like filling in forms, qualifying for funding and eligibility for a service, or paying membership fees. This helps to connect your relative to more people and get them to be more active and engaged with the community.
Finding a Residential Community
Sometimes, the best option for older people is to move home. It often makes sense financially, they might need some extra care, and it can help them to be less isolated too. Retirement communities and assisted living communities are excellent choices for someone who wants to be around other people their age. Some places offer a choice of care levels, which is ideal if you think someone might need further care in the future. McKnight Place is one such residence, where both assisted living and skilled nursing are available. In assisted living, residents can remain independent but get any extra help that they require. Plus, they have other people to socialize and stay active with.
Offer Encouragement and Support
As well as doing practical things to connect your relative with things to do and people to meet, you can also encourage them to put themselves out there. Everyone can get shy and reluctant to meet new people, especially if it has become more difficult to be mobile or to communicate. You might have a relative who is worried about meeting new people after getting hearing aids, for example. You can help by offering encouragement and support for them to put themselves forward and be confident about meeting people. Even when they have friends, they might need some encouragement to meet up with them or stay in touch with them.
Suggest a Pet
Pets can be amazing companions for older people. While they’re not a replacement for human interaction, they do provide companionship to prevent people feeling so isolated. A pet is also something to take care of, which helps to give a sense of purpose. If you want to suggest a pet to an older relative, you could help them find the perfect companion. Adopting is always better, but it’s an especially good idea for older pet owners. You likely don’t want to look at high-energy kittens and puppies, and you can assess the personality of an animal before adoption. An older dog or cat could be the perfect choice, as they too are getting on a bit and want to slow down toward the end of their life. Dogs are also great for getting people outdoors because they need regular walks, but cats can help to keep people active too.
Encourage Regular Hearing and Vision Tests
Being unable to see or hear well can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. One of the things you can do to help prevent loneliness in older people is to encourage vision and hearing tests. These become more important for people over 50 years of age because hearing and vision problems are more likely. It can be hard to keep up a conversation if you can’t hear well. Getting out of the house or even contacting people through text or email becomes hard if you’re having vision problems. A new pair of glasses or hearing aids could help someone to connect to people again and get their social life back. It’s not always easy to get someone to attend appointments for hearing and vision tests, but it could make a huge difference to their life.
Know the Signs of Loneliness
You can help older relatives by knowing how to recognize the signs of loneliness, depression and other mental health problems. If you can spot the signs, you’ll know when help is needed. Of course, you shouldn’t wait until someone seems lonely to check in on them or help them out. If you want to make sure you can spot any issues, keep an eye out for these things:
- Sadness, depression, negative thinking or anxiety
- No interest in socializing – this might seem backwards, but is often a sign of depression
- Low energy levels or lack of motivation
- A drop in appetite or weight
- Neglecting personal care
- Memory problems
- Life changes such as the loss of a pet or loved one, or even the loss of driving license
Some of these signs could be symptoms of other issues, including dementia. If you suspect a medical problem, some gentle encouragement to see a doctor could be necessary.
You can do your part to help prevent loneliness and isolation for your older relatives or even for friends and neighbors. Use the advice below to offer your assistance.