Loneliness Causes Physical And Mental Health Issues
While worrying about your parents’ social connections doesn’t seem like it should be at the top of your list of concerns, it actually is so much more important that we realize. Did you know that feelings of loneliness can negatively affect both physical and mental health? Additionally, isolation is linked to cognitive decline and puts seniors at a higher risk for elder abuse.
So, how do we combat loneliness? I know, you’re thinking, I already have so much on my plate; I don’t have time to also be the entertainment director for my parent. It doesn’t take much. Really, just having activities to look forward to and people to see on a regular basis can help combat loneliness. Unfortunately, as your parents age, they begin to lose friends due to people moving away to be close to family or death. Making new friends is hard for anyone, but for the elderly, it can be even more difficult.
I had a gentleman who was 97 years old tell me that his friends had all died and he was lonely, but he didn’t want to make new friends because they’ll only know him as an old man. His real friends knew the person he was when he was an active, strong professional. I’m sure we can all relate. I have a group of friends who have known me since I was in my 20s, when I was carefree and adventurous, and another group of friends I have met through my children who know me as the frazzled working mom. I feel like my friends from my 20s know the “real” me, even though I spend more time with the newer set of friends. Imagine trying to explain the person you were 50+ years ago! That’s a lot of history lost.
While it is hard to establish that history, it is never too late to develop connections. The level of engagement and types of activities really depends on your mom or dad’s personality. You can’t expect an introvert to suddenly jump into a comedy improve class or even start dining at the local senior center without already having a friend or two to join.
Where to find activities or places for social engagement for seniors:
Senior Centers: Never underestimate the power of your local senior center! It is such a great, underutilized service provider. Many senior centers have a host of classes and activities from painting, to computer training, yoga, singing, movie and opera screenings and everything in between. In addition to the classes and activities, they provide low cost lunches so your parents don’t have to dine alone and they get a healthy meal. And finally, there are a number of support groups from dealing with medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer or arthritis to bereavement groups. Some senior centers also have their own transportation service for locals so you won’t have to worry about getting your parent to and from the center. Can you tell I’m a huge fan of senior centers?
Community Activities: I have had many clients who don’t want to go to the senior center because it is for “old people.” Once they’ve gone and have seen how active the community is, they tend to change their mind. If your parent is resistant to joining a senior center, most cities have programs through the Parks & Rec department that are affordable to join. Your parents can take a painting or pilates class, join a water aerobics group, or even take a writing class. Just check out your city’s website, as well as the local community colleges for a host of options. The cost of these activities is dependent on your city, however, there is usually a senior discount and your parents will get to know people of all age groups.
Local Library: When I was a kid, the library was my favorite place. During the summer, we would go every week to check out new books and participate in the enrichment programs or watch a movie. Guess what? The library offers fun programs for adults too! If you haven’t been to the library in a while, go to your public library website and check out their calendar of events. Your parents may enjoy joining a book club – great for introverts since they are usually small groups and there is a topic to discuss, participating in a knitting group or even attending a lecture. There are so many great activities and reading is an excellent way to keep their mind active. If they are having problems with their vision, the library has an abundance of audio books, music and videos to check out, so there really is something for everyone. And best of all? It’s free!
Church and Volunteer Activities: Hundreds of studies have shown the many benefits of volunteering – from improving mental and physical health to increasing social connections – all while helping others in the community. There are so many opportunities, that regardless of physical or cognitive challenges, anyone can find a way to help in their community. Whether your parents prefer reading to children at the library or working with animals at a shelter, stuffing envelopes at their favorite nonprofit or feeding the hungry in the community, they can find something that will allow them to feel like they have purpose and can still make an impact on society.
Of course, all of these options are not only available to seniors, but to anyone who is struggling with loneliness. Being a caregiver can be very isolating, so if you are feeling a bit lonely, maybe you may want to jump into an activity as well!
Have you given thought to your parents’ social involvement in the past? What types of activities do they do to stave off loneliness?