By Carol Marak
It’s a fact that most aging seniors want to live out their lives at home, as opposed to living in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Living at home maintains that warm fuzzy feeling of being connected. Those connections are memories, friends and neighbors, and a sense of community with the local stores and religious connection; the church. It’s important for our elderly to feel connected, having a sense of belonging.
Did you know people age 65 years and over “consistently ranked relationships with family and friends second only to health as the most important area of life” (Victor et al, 2000 p. 409)? This clearly shows how important social relationships are to seniors and how potentially damaging loneliness or social isolation may be.
What can be worrisome about maintaining a lifestyle at home, as one ages and not able to get around easily, is losing that feeling of being connected. If your Mom or Dad has trouble walking, their driving ability may be affected. When physical abilities diminish, people begin to lose motivation to get out of the house because their safety is at risk. Fear of leaving the home puts your loved one at risk of becoming isolated which in turn can lead to depression.
In addition to the isolation problems, many of us don’t realize that eating alone is a growing concern for our aging loved ones. When feeling disconnected and alone, they lose their appetite. Mealtimes are a sore reminder when family members lived together; sharing food and good conversation. Did you that conversation is the leading activity that seniors miss most? A survey conducted by the Home Instead Senior Care network confirmed that having companionship and conversation tops the activity list of favorite activities. Eating alone can lead to malnutrition; either losing interest in eating altogether, or if they do eat, the food is not healthy and nutritious.
So, how can family members rally around their relative to ensure they maintain a balanced social life an stay healthy? If family members live away from their loved one, then the social balancing act gets harder to manage. Here are some suggestions that will get you thinking about how to keep your loved one active and social.
- Check with the local senior center for a list of events and activities. If you do not have easy access to information on nearest senior center, do a Google search – in the search bar put your relative’s city and then add senior center, i.e. Austin senior center. The search engine results should serve up your Mom or Dad’s local city (park and recreation) website. Most local senior centers provide transportation, so it would be fairly easy for one or both to get out of the house to enjoy activities provided at the center. The center typically serves lunch for a low cost.
- Set up a remote communications using Skype via computer. If you can afford to purchase a webcam (camera), it will allow video conferencing (free phone calls with video). This gives you the capability to see one another. What a treat it is for Mom and Dad to see their grandchildren and stay up to date on their activities.
Social isolation and loneliness brings risk factors to the elderly; mostly due to our demographic trends. It can be difficult setting up an active social life for your loved one but with a little ingenuity, some loneliness can be put to rest. Check out “What Joy Loverde wants you to know about Creating Fun Things to do with Aging Parents” in our blog.
Carol Marak is founder of Carebuzz.com (http://carebuzz.com), a platform of websites targeting local senior care help for family caregivers and the aging senior they care for. Carol is a former caregiver for her aging parents. She experienced the frustrations of searching for local elder care help while living at a distance from her loved ones. That’s why she created Carebuzz. She plans to grow the city sites to be a leading local resource for caregivers.