In today's society, many older people feel loneliness and social isolation, even if they are surrounded by loved ones. This can lead to a variety of health problems such as depression and anxiety, which in turn can lead to other issues like a higher risk of heart disease or high blood pressure.
As adults, we often take for granted the ability to have social interaction with others and to go where we want and see who we please. For seniors, this sense of independence can begin to fade as they age, resulting in feelings of isolation. While your loved ones may be feeling isolated, there are many things you can do to help your parents or grandparents combat loneliness and depression. Read on for tips on how to help your aging parents find social connections and have connectedness with the world around them.
16 ways to combat feelings of isolation
The need for social connections is fundamental to our survival and well-being. As people grow older, they often find themselves spending more time alone which can lead them to become lonely or even severe forms of loneliness like Social Isolation Syndrome (SIS), which is when a person is feeling isolated and depressed because of their isolation. Loneliness has been associated with increased risks of heart disease and depression among many others; being isolated may leave you vulnerable to various health problems including cognitive decline.
Feelings of loneliness are a leading risk factor for poor physical and mental health. Adults who are lonely or socially isolated have worse self-reported health, longer hospital stays, and are readmitted more often than those with supportive relationships. Here are 16 ways to help your loved one overcome loneliness and isolation.
- Have regular conversations with your parents. This is one of the simplest but most effective ways to combat senior isolation. Make a point to make a phone call or visit your parents regularly and ask about their day-to-day activities. Your parents are always there for you, so it's important to give them the attention they deserve. Call regularly and engage in conversations about your life with them; make sure that you both feel connected.
- Invite your parents to visit you. If possible, bring them over for a weekend or extend an invitation for them to stay with you and your family. This will give your loved ones the opportunity to experience life outside of their home and it's also a great way for everyone in the family to spend some time together. When your parents feel a closeness to your family they will feel less alone.
- Encourage your parents to participate in social activities and become part of social networks. There are many seniors' groups or organizations that offer a variety of social activities, such as luncheons, dances, and theater performances. Help your parents find an activity that they're interested in and encourage them to get involved.
- Have a family game night. You don't have to be a child to have fun with your parents. Invite your parents over for a fun game night. Just spending some quality time together encourages socialization and bonding while having fun at the same time.
- Encourage them to volunteer for their favorite cause. If you think that your parents might enjoy giving back, encourage them to voluntarily work on a charity of interest. Volunteering is a great way for seniors to contribute and meet like-minded people.
- Suggest hosting a dinner party or movie night with friends. If your parents are still healthy, you can suggest hosting an event at their place as well. You could host a themed dinner party where each guest brings something different (e.g., appetizers, desserts, drinks) or have a movie night and provide all of the snacks.
- Help them get connected to social media platforms. Believe it or not, there are many seniors who use social media to connect with friends and family. Sites like Facebook and Instagram can be great tools for staying in touch with loved ones. You can help your parents set up their accounts and encourage them to use them regularly. Try using smart technology such as a video chat through Facetime or Amazon Alexa to keep you and your loved one in constant communication.
- Suggest they play games online or download apps on their phone. If your loved ones are not comfortable with social media, there are other ways that you can connect with each other through technology. You could suggest playing crossword puzzles or card games online or downloading group chat apps that allow them to connect with friends and family.
- Plan a regular meet-up with their friends. If your parents are comfortable with it, plan a monthly meet-up at a restaurant, park, or local attraction. This will give them the opportunity to catch up with old friends and keep from feeling isolated. Their friends can also act as a support group for those times when they are feeling confined and lonely.
- Find an activity that they enjoy. Have your elderly parents restart an old hobby or take a class to learn something new. They might not only have fun but it will give them a chance to meet people with similar interests.
- Consider adopting a pet. Adopting a pet can be a source of comfort and may also lower stress and blood pressure. Whether your pet is a service animal that provides valuable assistance or simply a beloved member of the family, studies have found that pet-friendly senior living communities are doing more than just easing the move for seniors. The National Institutes of Health has conducted studies that identified both psychosocial and physiological benefits arising from senior pet ownership.
- Stay active. Try to join a club or group that focuses on physical activity and aim for at least half an hour a day of exercise to keep down the risk of obesity.
- Find a faith-based organization. Joining a faith-based organization can be a place where they can deepen their spirituality and engage with others in activities, events, or classes with like-minded individuals.
- Check for programs at your local community centers. There are many programs that can be taken at community and senior centers as well as public libraries.
- Get a roommate. Reducing cost is a great benefit to getting a roommate, but the daily interactions and companionship with another can prevent senior isolation.
- Receive home care. Home care can combat loneliness in the elderly. Caregivers and family members can offer assistance with small tasks like meal preparation, housekeeping, and transportation. But most importantly they also provide much-needed companionship for older adults. Gig-based services like Papa offers a “family on demand”, who can do everything from visit and play games with older adults, to take walks around the neighborhood, or drive to grocery stores or appointments.
National Center for Biotechnology Information. “Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin.” July 9, 20112 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3408111/
Tulane University. 2020. “Understanding the Effects of Social Isolation on Mental Health.” December 8, 2020 https://publichealth.tulane.edu/blog/effects-of-social-isolation-on-mental-health/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions.” Accessed January 4, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/aging/publications/features/lonely-older-adults.html