Over the last decade, research has exposed a critical relationship between the loneliness, feelings of isolation and both mental and physical health. The results are undeniable: Lonely people are far more likely to die earlier than non-lonely people. Much of the research around this topic has been geared towards geriatric studies. This is because feelings of isolation and loneliness make senior citizens at risk for earlier death.
Preventing Feelings of Isolation
One of the most referenced studies in this field was one conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University. The verdict is that loneliness kills, but the truth gets more granular. Researchers found that people who reported being alone but feeling happy were just as high at risk as those who reported many social connections, but self-described feelings of loneliness. This means that just asking people to be more social is not the answer.
Experts are stressing that a diverse set of social connections is needed, along with multiple meaningful relationships that are close and personal. The research has shown that increasing these kinds of relationships and connections can improve health, manage stress, improve the immune system, and give purpose to people’s lives. From the study:
“We found no differences between measures of objective and subjective social isolation. Results remain consistent across gender, length of follow-up, and world region, but initial health status has an influence on the findings. Results also differ across participant age, with social deficits being more predictive of death in samples with an average age younger than 65 years. Overall, the influence of both objective and subjective social isolation on risk for mortality is comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality.”
Encourage Active Interest in Shared Hobbies
We all get a little bit happier when we get to do the things we like best. Hobbies are an excellent way for seniors to achieve purpose and increase their sociability. If your senior enjoys painting or drawing, you should encourage them not only by praising their efforts but perhaps sign them up for art classes nearby. Even if they don’t believe they’re good enough, there are plenty of beginner options and other art mediums such as scrap-booking, pottery, photography, knitting, or sewing. Art therapy is an excellent modicum for expression and a great chance to get out there and make friends. Whether you enroll in local community classes, or join a senior community offering all kinds of classes and amenities, you’re practically guaranteed a great time. The key behind finding the right activity is getting your senior actively engaged in a fun hobby that they will enjoy, and that encourages physical activity and social participation. There are plenty of other great hobbies to assist a senior in developing. Try exploring options related to:
- Arts and crafts
- Playing card games/board games
- Collecting Items
- Furniture restoring
- Bird Watching
- Learning a new language
- Crossword Puzzles
- Appliance Repair
Find A Low Maintenance Pet
A lot of this point has to do with your senior’s current feeling towards pets. If they’re not averse to the notion, are capable of taking adequate care of the pet, and have no allergic reactions or restrictions from their doctor, then consider finding a furry little friend (or scaly) for them to care for. In addition to providing the occasional snuggle, pets like cats and dogs can give people a sense of purpose. Maybe take your senior to the local shelter to see if any animals stick out to him. It’s best to find an animal that will not require a lot of physical activity, so if you’re considering a dog, it would perhaps be more suitable to find a small dog or an older one who will not need a daily workout just to get tired. If your senior is mostly immobile, it might be better to find a cat, which are more self-sufficient and independent. Also be sure to have the animal checked out by a veterinarian.
Encourage Dinner Plans with Family and Friends
Visits from friends and family help not only to increase senior health, but it also strengthens family ties and bonds. As human beings, we’re wired to crave social interaction. But as we age we can often become mired in our own health and concerns. Plus, with age comes decreased mobility and energy. This can make it difficult for the elderly to keep up with the fast pace of the youth. The act of eating is one of the most integral elements of social interaction that we have available. When we gathered around the fire to share in the spoils of the hunt, it was just strengthening to our health as it is to gather around the dinner table. Across senior living communities, assisted living, and senior apartments, sharing in dinner is one of the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy attitude and physical health.
Check in Often
Frequent check ins with your elderly person can go a long way towards making them feel valued. Phone calls are better than a text message or email, but in person contact is always best. Checking in on the person will make your elderly person feel valued. And they may feel like expressing the feelings they may otherwise have had to hold in. Try to engage with your elderly person as often as possible, but also respect their wishes for privacy if that is what they ask for. If an in person visit is not so easy to make, you ca always substitute with a phone call or video chat. Programs such as Skype are simple to use, and easy to install no matter your level of experience.
At Landmark Senior Living, we have Boston assisted living along with multiple other locations offering senior housing options at an affordable rate. Our facilities offer plenty of chances for seniors to meet, socialize, and engage in fun activities that help them keep active and engaged with the community.