In the field of senior care, we often refer to a particular type of comorbidities – illnesses that don’t simply co-occur in a person, but also exacerbate one another in a vicious loop. Depression is one condition that often comes up in those cycles and its effects on overall health are still commonly underestimated. The reality is, depression can (and does) worsen heart disease, gut health, conditions that affect the immune system, bone health, substance use disorders, mental health disorders, and most other health conditions, especially in the elderly. Aging comes with its unique set of challenges, and one of the most prevalent among seniors is the feeling of loneliness or isolation, which is such a strong component in causing and deepening depression.
Here, it’s imperative to note that isolation and various health conditions form their own mini-cycle as well. Mental illness, frailness, pain, and mobility difficulties make seniors less likely to socialize, and the decreased socialization aggravates the aforementioned conditions. All that is to say that loneliness in our elderly parents or loved ones can often present as a decline in physical and mental health and can become increasingly difficult to address or correct as time goes by and the loop tightens. Being socially active and connected is crucial for mental and emotional well-being. Despite potential limitations like chronic illnesses, mobility issues, or mental health concerns, there are numerous ways seniors can enhance their social lives and stay engaged within their communities, and they might have to start small as it can be more challenging than expected to get back being part of a community after isolating oneself for a while.
Embrace Transportation Solutions
For seniors facing mobility issues, cognitive decline, or vision problems, transportation can be a barrier to social engagement. Investigate local transport services tailored to seniors or explore ride-sharing apps that accommodate mobility aids. In our team’s work with senior clients, we find that providing transportation is a serious life-changer on many fronts. Accessible transport options can allow seniors to stay on track with keeping their health appointments and significantly widen their scope for social interactions.
Embrace Community Involvement
Engaging with the local community can foster a sense of belonging and purpose. Consider joining senior centers, where a myriad of activities tailored to various interests are often available. These centers provide opportunities to socialize, participate in games, art classes, book clubs, or even fitness programs adjusted to different mobility levels.
Leverage Technology for Connectivity
Technology has bridged vast distances, enabling seniors to connect with friends and family effortlessly. Encourage the use of smartphones, tablets, or computers to engage in video calls, social media, or messaging apps. Virtual communication can significantly reduce feelings of isolation and facilitate regular interaction despite physical limitations.
PRO TIP: For seniors who may not be as tech savvy, we would encourage you to invest in senior-specific smart tech with settings for safe browsing to limit the potential of being scammed and setting up voice commands with pre-loaded contacts to simplify the process of initiating calls.
Explore Interests and Hobbies
Encourage seniors to explore new hobbies or reignite old passions. Whether it's painting, gardening, knitting, or learning a musical instrument, engaging in activities they enjoy can create avenues for social interaction. Consider group classes or clubs focusing on these hobbies, where like-minded individuals gather and bond over shared interests.
Volunteer and Give Back
Volunteering not only benefits the community but also offers a chance for seniors to connect with others and feel a sense of accomplishment. There are various opportunities such as assisting at local libraries, animal shelters, or hospitals, which can provide meaningful social interactions while contributing positively to society.
Foster Family and Friend Connections
Encourage regular communication with family members and friends, whether through visits, phone calls, or letters. Organize regular gatherings or outings, ensuring inclusivity for seniors with mobility challenges by choosing accessible venues or arranging transportation assistance when needed. It’s important to make this a habit and not always build it up with intense and lengthy planning. Regularly swinging by for 30 minutes for a quick coffee when in the area or picking them up to ride along and catch up while running errands can go a long way!
PRO TIP: For folks who live far away from their aging relatives or have particularly busy schedules, it’s good to look into hiring a geriatric care management team (like Senior Steps!) to provide support and fill in the gaps in care. Geriatric care management services are not at all limited to aids related to one’s health condition and should include organizing ways to socialize. For example, our team members stop by in person to take our clients on walks, chat with them, or help them organize a get-together.
Engage in Outdoor Activities
Spending time outdoors has numerous health benefits. Encourage seniors to join walking groups, engage in nature walks, or simply enjoy picnics in parks. For those with mobility concerns, local parks or recreational areas often offer amenities like wheelchair-accessible paths or benches for resting.
Seek Support Groups and Counseling
For seniors dealing with mental health issues or specific challenges, support groups or counseling sessions can be incredibly beneficial. These groups provide a safe space to share experiences, receive emotional support, and build connections with individuals facing similar circumstances.
Emphasize Self-Care and Health
Back to the cycle - just as maintaining a good level of socialization and taking care of one's mental health can improve their physical well-being, maintaining physical health directly impacts mental well-being. Encourage seniors to prioritize their health through regular check-ups, appropriate medication management, and staying active within their limitations. Physical activities adapted to their abilities, such as chair yoga or gentle stretching, can be immensely beneficial.
If you’re not sure where to start or how to get organized, please reach out to us for a FREE consultation call. You can schedule one at seniorsteps.org/book-online or call us at 617-405-8796 to speak to a geriatric care management expert. Senior Steps provides the best care to seniors and their families on Boston’s South Shore and offers remote guidance and assessments online nationwide.