The holidays can be wonderful – a time to gather with friends and family, to share memories of celebrations in the past, and to watch new relationships grow. But for home-bound individuals, this time of year can also be a time of loneliness and sadness. However, with a little help from loved ones, this can be one of the most joyful seasons of all.
Loneliness is not just experienced by those living alone – estimates show that up to 28% of seniors live alone, but seniors who live with families or in communities can still suffer from loneliness and isolation. A key contributor to loneliness in adults is the lack of close personal connections, and the adverse effects of isolation go well beyond emotional symptoms, often showing in both mental and physical ways. Loneliness can even threaten longevity, and the symptoms and effects rival smoking as a risk to physical health. Seniors who suffer from depression or anxiety often complain of feelings of loneliness, and this symptom can contribute to a decline in cognitive abilities.
The good news is that you can help combat and prevent loneliness and protect your senior’s mental and physical well-being. Below are a few tips to help you get started:
It can be as easy as sending a text or making a phone call to keep your senior connected during this busy time of year. Check in often and include them in your plans for the holiday. Bring your loved one with you while shopping, or ask your senior to help bake cookies or send out Christmas cards. Watch a classic holiday film with your senior and start a wonderful new tradition. If you can’t be near your loved one, use Skype or Facetime to keep them involved in the season. Ask them to share holiday traditions they enjoy and include them in your celebration – feeling valuable and involved is an important part of building vital emotional connections.
Staying busy leaves no time (or reason) to be lonely! Encourage the seniors in your life to take part in activities at their senior living community, to become a member of the church choir, or to participate in charity toy collection drives and other holiday volunteering – there are numerous ways to help the community at this time of year. You can use these opportunities to keep your senior involved in the joy and excitement of the season. Don’t be afraid to join them: your presence can reduce their anxieties or fears about trying new activities, and you can build new memories by sharing the experience.
Celebrate Their Interests
Most seniors enjoy sharing a favorite hobby or activity with others. The talents and interests they have developed over the years are a wonderful way to prevent loneliness and depression and keep the brain engaged. Take the time to learn about their talents and support them in taking classes, going to events, or even joining them in an activity. Ask your senior to share a special holiday recipe or sing a traditional favorite holiday song. Seniors who know that they can offer useful, desirable skills have a sense of purpose and value that is very effective for eliminating loneliness.
It is such a busy time of year, and there are so many demands on our time – it can be hard to fit in the needs of all the people you care for. Ask younger family members to help your senior learn how to use social media sites to stay connected with others and increase their base of support. Find out about your loved one’s friends and ask them if they can stop by for a visit. Make use of local volunteer organizations that can keep your senior from feeling neglected. Inquire about events and activities offered by your senior care community and ask the staff to encourage your senior to join groups and clubs. It’s difficult to be lonely when you build friendships.
If your senior still seems to feel depressed or neglected, ask if they would like to discuss their feelings with a professional who can help treat them. Most seniors enjoy the increased activity of the season and can stay happy just by staying connected, but if your senior still struggles, treatment may be necessary.
Deck the halls with Grandma! Get Grandpa to show you how to make his pine cone bird feeders! Involve the whole family and have a very Happy Holiday!