According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 28% of those over 65 live alone and as people get older, the likelihood of living alone increases. Isolation and loneliness are associated with a higher risk of mortality, poor physical or mental health and linked to poor cognitive performance and quicker cognitive decline. Loneliness is a major risk factor for depression, high blood pressure and has been linked to seniors who engage in risky health behaviors, such as smoking, eating a poor diet and not getting exercise. As a home healthcare provider, there are strategies you can use with your patients, and suggest to your families, in order to help avoid social isolation, loneliness and the risks that come alongside those.
Encourage your patients to get a hearing and vision test since those who have untreated hearing or vision problems avoid social situations as they lead to difficulty with communication or embarrassment. According to the World Health Organization, 5% of the world's population has a disabling hearing loss, but in the US, 16% have reported hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Individuals with a sense of purpose are less likely to succumb to the effects of social isolation as most interests are inherently social in nature. Planned events at the local Senior Center is a good way to get out of the house. Seniors can also be engaged in volunteer work, helping them to remain active and providing them with opportunities to help others. If seniors are unable to get out of the home to volunteer, it may be possible to bring volunteer activities to them. Many community organizations are in need of volunteers able to assemble items, make phone calls or write letters.
Living With a Pet
Pet therapy is medicinal, as it's been shown to lower anxiety, blood pressure, and boost memory. Pets improve mood and a sense of well-being. Seniors who require in home health care may not be capable of taking care of a dog, but cats and ferrets are both affectionate and loving animals who can add purpose and love to a senior’s daily life.
The human body was built for exercise and movement. Moving releases endorphins reduces stress and makes you feel better. It is especially beneficial for seniors as it increases flexibility and strength while improving their body image - all factors increasing their desire to interact with others and be social. Exercise does not mean preparing for the next marathon, but rather movement within their physical abilities. Even those who are limited to a wheelchair can exercise.
Encourage Eating With Others
Helping a senior get out of the home and eat with friends or family is a wonderful way to help loved ones connect with others and is central to human interaction. If seniors are unable to get out of the home, volunteers may be available to come into the home and have a meal.
Engage Social Media
Seniors may not be adept at using digital communication, but with advances in user-friendly interfaces, it may be easy to teach someone how to video chat with their families. Connecting with others, even if they're unable to leave their home, helps reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.
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As we age, social contacts tend to decrease for a variety of reasons. These may include a lack of mobility, a loss of friendships or retirement. Regardless, the consequences of isolation can be challenging and even harmful. Our intent at Harmony is to make the home environment as pleasant and engaging as possible to reduce the potential those in our care suffer the secondary effects of loneliness. We love working with care providers who have the same focus - contact us today and we’ll help you find your next assignment.