When it comes to aging, key markers of independence, like aging in place and retaining your mobility, help to define your health and wellness. Social interaction, however, also plays a critical role in senior longevity, lending itself towards fighting conditions like depression, anxiety, and dementia. In fact, social isolation has been associated with increased risk of rehospitalization, falling, and even early death. When it comes to staying engaged socially with others, don’t miss these 6 important tips for seniors and their caregivers:
Seniors and their caregivers should prioritize reliable transportation schedules which help seniors get out of the house, whether it’s to run errands or meet up with a friend. Free online tools like CaringBridge or SignupGenius help people coordinate digital signup sheets and volunteer calendars to invite others to sign up for. For example, you could set up a calendar that shows on which days and at which times you or your loved one may need a ride (to an appointment, to the pharmacy, etc). Your care network of friends and family can sign up using their own digital device and even receive reminders about when they are supposed to pitch in.
Get Vision and Hearing Checked
You may be surprised, but difficulty hearing is a leading cause of social isolation. For people with impaired hearing, going out to crowded restaurants or social gatherings and not being able to hear people or hold conversations can be frustrating and embarrassing. Trouble seeing can also increase fear and anxiety levels for someone with vision impairment and prevent them from venturing outside of the house. Routinely checking hearing and vision can help seniors catch any potential issues before they become prohibitive, and get them the helpful aids they need to successfully stay active and safe.
Weakness, poor balance, lack of coordination, negative body image - all of these factors can culminate into an overwhelming anxiety about getting out and socializing with others. Not only can exercise aid health objectives like lowering blood pressure and staving off diabetes and Alzheimer’s, but it can be the agility and strength builder seniors need to feel stronger and more confident. Exercise equipment for the elderly doesn’t have to be bulky and complicated - working out at home with pedal exercisers, light weights, and resistance bands can achieve a great deal. And even better, hitting the gym or senior center with friends marries the physical fitness and social interaction components for even greater benefits.
Serving others isn’t just about feeling warm and fuzzy (though that doesn’t hurt!). Turns out the social aspects of serving with others combined with the purposefulness of giving back can combat anxiety, social isolation, and improve overall mental health. Seniors can find great worth and drive in volunteering, whether they are fully mobile or not. The service ideas for seniors are endless - mentoring a young person, tutoring, working a pledge drive, volunteering at a voting booth, working at a charity re-store, staffing a charity run water station, tending a community garden, even working with shelter dogs and cats can be rewarding.
In addition to adaptive equipment and technologies that simplify daily living for a senior (i.e. hearing aids, mobility aids, dressing aids, etc), technology that helps seniors connect to others outside the home can also be a powerful tool for social interaction. Live video chat services like Skype, Facetime, and Google+ Hangout actually allow seniors to video chat over wifi from their computer or smartphone with family and friends far away, like grandkids. Social media platforms can also keep seniors engaged with family, allowing them to view photos and videos, share messages, and hear about local events they may want to attend. Technology can be difficult to master so seniors should seek the guidance of a knowledgeable friend or savvy family member who can help them learn how to set up a live video call or get a facebook account, for example.
Help a Caregiver
Many caregivers are seniors themselves and naturally fall prey to social isolation when they devote all their waking time to caring for their loved one (and potentially also working full-time). Being unable to get coverage for someone to watch their loved one while they’re out, or feeling guilty for venturing out and enjoying life while their loved one remains at home, can leave may caregivers avoiding outings with friends or skipping out on invitations to parties, dates, etc. If you know a family caregiver, consider helping them out by offering to watch their loved one while they get treated to a massage or movie. Or help connect them with local respite or senior services which may be able to offload some of their care burdens.