Seniors are no strangers to loneliness.
A recent Australian research paper reported that between 12%-30% of older people around the world experience loneliness. And our lonely seniors aren’t just bored and isolated – their mental and physical health is taking a hit, too.
The study found that lonely and socially isolated older people are more likely to experience depression, dementia, chronic pain, and physical frailty.
“Loneliness and social isolation in later life result in social exclusion, reduced wellbeing, and significant health problems,” it reported.
So how can we do our part to combat loneliness in the elderly? Well, we can start by supporting the lonely seniors in our own families and communities.
Here are ten ways you can help reduce loneliness in your older loved ones and promote their social connectedness.
1. Offer practical help
Turn mundane errands into social outings by assisting them with day-to-day tasks like grocery shopping, posting letters, and picking up medications.
Encourage them to keep important appointments by driving them to the doctor, physiotherapist, hairdresser, bank, or wherever else they need to go. Transport is a huge need among many older people, so they’ll likely appreciate the company and the door-to-door service.
2. Encourage hobbies
Hobbies aren’t just a great way to fill the time; they can also provide a sense of purpose. Ask your older loved one what activities they enjoy and how you can support them to engage in these activities regularly.
If they like gardening, help them find the tools and accessories they need to enjoy it. For example, a garden ‘kneeler’ or knee pads can help keep them comfortable on hard surfaces. If they like puzzles, gift them a new puzzle for every birthday or Christmas. If they like painting, show them how to find painting tutorials on YouTube.
3. Encourage social interaction
The only thing better than enjoying their favourite hobbies is enjoying them with others. Encourage your older loved one to partake in activities with other people, like an aerobics class or book club. This can help them make new friends and create a sense of community.
Many cities and towns have social activities and clubs specifically for seniors. You can search for activities nearby on websites like this, or ask the staff at their local RSL club.
4. Get them out of the house
Older adults can get into the all-too-comfortable habit of staying inside and sitting for long periods of time – often in their one favourite spot. But sitting at home all day can have negative impacts on their physical and mental health.
Getting outdoors can provide a much-needed change of scenery – but there’s a lot more to it than that. Research shows nature can have a kind of ‘healing’ power for seniors, with potential to provide the following benefits:
- Reduced stress, anxiety and depression
- Improved memory and concentration
- Reduced chronic illness and pain
- Increased energy levels
- Increased longevity.
Take them out for a walk, visit a park for a picnic, or encourage them to have their morning cuppa in their backyard.
5. Keep them physically active
Some aches and pains can be inevitable in later life. But regular physical activity can be the silver bullet to managing pain and maintaining muscle strength and joint movement. It can also reduce symptoms of some mental conditions such as depression.
Your older loved one should be aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity every day. Normal daily activities like shopping and cooking don’t count; they have to be working hard enough to increase their heartrate and break a sweat.
You might like to join them on a brisk walk or encourage them to sign up for a class where they can meet new people, like water aerobics or ballroom dancing.
6. Keep them mentally active
Mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness in older adults.
Crossword puzzles and other brain games can help seniors boost their memory and stay sharp. Maintaining an active social life and engaging in stimulating conversations are also great ways to improve mental fitness.
7. Maintain regular communication
Schedule in a weekly phone call to check how they’re going and what they’re up to. You could even organise a roster with other family members or friends to ensure someone is contacting your older loved one each day. Daily contact can be especially important for seniors who are fragile or unwell.
If you don’t have time for a phone call, simply sending a ‘good morning’ text or a photo update lets them know you’re thinking of them.
8. Make them feel needed
Some seniors might feel like they don’t have a whole lot to offer in their old age. Their families may have grown up and no longer rely on them for anything.
If they’re willing and able, make them feel needed and remind them of all they can contribute by asking them to pick up the kids from school, sew the button back on your shirt, or show you how to make their famous lasagne.
9. Ask them how they’re feeling
No matter our age, we all have stuff going on. Some older adults might not want to open up about how they’re feeling. Perhaps they don’t want to ‘burden’ their busy family and friends who seem to have a lot going on in their own lives, or maybe they simply prefer to ‘get on with it’. But it’s important to touch base in case something is troubling them.
If they mention an issue such as loneliness, ask them ways you can help, and offer ideas yourself. Always listen with empathy and let them know you’re there for them when they need you.
10. Show them they’re loved and valued
Along with explicitly telling them you love them and you enjoy seeing them, don’t forget to show them through your actions.
If they call, answer the phone – or remember to call back as soon as you can. If you have plans with them, be reliable and don’t cancel. Missing a visit or call may not seem like a big deal to you, but it could be really disappointing and upsetting for someone who doesn’t have much social contact with others.
And if they don’t call or visit you in return, respect that you may need to put in more effort than they can manage. Don’t give up on them.
If you or an older loved one need someone to talk to, our counsellors are here. You can learn more about our counselling services here, or call 1300 364 277 to make an appointment.
For specialised senior relationship services, discover our Elder Abuse Prevention and Support Service, Senior Financial Protection Service, Elder Mediation Support Service, and Senior Social Connection Program.