February can be a lonely month. All the holiday parties and get-togethers are behind us, and there are still plenty of cold, dark winter days ahead to keep us cooped up indoors. Valentine’s Day can be a bright spot in this otherwise gloomy period for some, but for those who don’t have a loved one to share it with, Cupid’s favorite holiday can actually reinforce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
For older adults who face obstacles related to health, mobility, or transportation, this time of year can be especially isolating, putting them at even greater risk of a wide range of physical, emotional, and mental-health issues. In fact, according to the National Institute on Aging, research has shown that social isolation and loneliness are linked to higher risks of high blood, pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death among older adults.
“That’s why it’s so important at this time of year for families to be closely attuned to their senior loved ones’ emotional well-being and to take steps to keep them engaged,” states Gayle Young, Director of Marketing, Communications and Public Relations for Sunset Retirement Communities.
To help your senior loved one avoid loneliness—not just in mid-winter, but all year round—Young offers the following suggestions:
Make time for meaningful visits
Time spent with senior loved ones is all too often limited to quick in-and-out visits to ensure their basic medical and housekeeping needs are met—stopping by to set up their medications for the week, making sure the garbage cans get to the street on time, scooping the kitty litter, etc. In addition to assisting in this fashion, it’s important to make time on a regular basis to sit down with your senior loved one for meaningful conversation and interaction. “It can be a tremendous comfort and benefit to seniors knowing they have someone with whom they can spend quality time and share thoughts, hopes, and concerns, rather than someone who just dashes in to attend to chores,” says Young.
Promote peer connections
Just as important for seniors is interacting with their age-group peers who likely share similar interests and cultural/historical reference points. Area senior centers, senior communities, and church groups offer ample opportunities for seniors to connect with their peers while participating in a wide range of social activities. Take advantage of them!
Many seniors either have functional limitations that prevent them from driving or are simply uncomfortable with the idea of driving in wintry conditions. As a result, their freedom to leave home and socialize or join in activities is significantly limited. Keeping seniors connected can be a simple matter of offering the occasional ride in your vehicle or, if you can’t be there, helping them arrange public transportation or shuttle services to social activities.
Address health barriers to socialization
Among the biggest obstacles to socialization for seniors are health issues that either limit their enjoyment of social activities, such as hearing or vision impairment, or cause them to feel anxious or embarrassed about leaving home and spending time in the company of others, such as incontinence issues. “Ensuring seniors get the proper health care and support they need to address these issues can go a long way toward keeping them engaged and preventing isolation. Also, since February is American Heart Month, there’s no time like the present to schedule an appointment to have your senior loved one’s heart health checked and learn ways to help keep heart disease at bay,” says Young.
Encourage hobbies and pastimes
Arts and crafts, jigsaw or crossword puzzles, board games, book reading, cooking, learning to play a musical instrument, and knitting or sewing are just a sampling of healthy hobbies and pastimes that can help keep seniors engaged. “To make these activities even more meaningful for your senior loved one, why not join in and share the experience? For example, you could read and discuss the same book, get together for a regular card game or chess match, or team up to take on a different cooking challenge each week,” Young recommends.
Consider a senior community
Young further notes that one of the best ways for seniors to stay engaged and active is to move into a community that’s dedicated to their needs and interests. “Here at Sunset, our residents never have to experience isolation because we have a built-in community and offer a wide variety of activities and amenities that nourish them in body, mind, and spirit,” she says. “In addition, our expansive care continuum includes independent living, assisted living, memory care, and health care, so residents are never put in the position of having to leave behind their home and supportive community just because their care needs have changed.”
For more information on Sunset Retirement Communities, please call 419-536-4645 (Sunset House), 419-724-1200 (Sunset Village), 419-724-1220 (The Woodlands), or 419-386-2686 (Fieldstone Villas), or visit www.sunset-communities.org. ❦