The holidays are wonderful – a time to reconnect with family and friends, to remember celebrations of the past, and to embrace new relationships. But for those that are home-bound, this time of year can mean a struggle with loneliness and sadness. On the other hand, with a little help from you, this can be the most joyful season of all.
Loneliness is not restricted to those living alone – it is estimated that up to 28% of seniors live alone. Many seniors may live with families or in communities and still experience loneliness and isolation. The lack of a close emotional connection is usually the key contributor to loneliness in adults, and the adverse effects of this kind of isolation go well beyond emotional. Mental and physical health may suffer as well. Loneliness even affects longevity, causing symptoms and effects that rival smoking in their risk to physical health. Many seniors who suffer from depression or anxiety complain of feeling lonely, and often loneliness will contribute to the decline of cognitive abilities.
But the good news is that loneliness can be fought and even prevented, protecting your senior’s mental and physical well-being. We have a few tips to help you get started:
Stay in Touch
Helping your senior to stay connected during this busy time of year can be as easy as sending a text or making a phone call. Make sure you check in often and include them in your holiday planning. Let your loved one accompany you while shopping, or help make cookies and fill out Christmas cards. Inviting someone who would otherwise be alone to watch a classic holiday film with your family is a wonderful way to share traditions. If you can’t be near aging family, try Skype or Facetime to connect and share the season. Remember to ask about holiday traditions they enjoy and try to include them in your planning – feeling like they are involved is key to building vital emotional connections.
Involve the Community
Keeping busy means no time (or reason) to be lonely! Help the seniors in your life to get involved in activities at their senior living community, to join the church choir, or even to participate in charity toy collection drives – there are so many ways to reach out to the community this time of year. Those opportunities are a great way to be part of all the joy and excitement of the season. Be ready to join them: you can help reduce their anxiety or fear about new activities, and build new memories while you enjoy sharing the experience.
Celebrate Talents & Hobbies
Most seniors have a hobby or activity they enjoy and would like to share with others. These talents and interests are a fantastic way to prevent loneliness and depression by keeping the brain engaged and the body active. Learn more about their talents and encourage them to take classes, go to events, and even join them in an activity. It can be as simple as asking a senior to share a special holiday dish or sing a favorite holiday song. Knowing that they can offer useful, desirable skills provides them with a sense of purpose and value that is indispensable to eliminating loneliness.
It’s a busy time of year, with so many demands on our time – it can be very difficult to work in the needs of everyone. Have younger family members help older ones learn how to use social media sites to connect with others and expand their base of support. Get to know the people your senior likes to spend time with and ask them to stop in for a visit. There are also many volunteer organizations that can help to make sure your senior isn’t feeling neglected. Find out what events and activities your senior care community offers and ask the staff to encourage involvement in groups and clubs. It’s hard to be lonely when you are building friendships.
If you find that your senior still seems depressed or neglected, consider asking them if they would like to talk to a professional who can help treat the condition. Most seniors enjoy extra activity during the season and can be helped just by staying connected, but if your senior still has trouble, treatment may be necessary.
So deck the halls and include Grandma! Make some pine cone bird feeders with Grandpa! Engage your whole family and have a very Happy Holiday!