If we want to make the most of our remaining years, a healthy social network will give us a better quality of life.
Benefits of Social Interaction:
The benefits of a healthy social network for the elderly are myriad, and scientifically proven. They include longevity, lower risks of cardiovascular and neurological diseases, and lower blood pressure.
Reasons for Social Isolation:
- Handicap:Having healthy social interactions seems a given to many of us, but when we are unable to come down a flight of stairs, are too tired to walk, or are too afraid to do either since that nasty fall a couple of weeks past, social interactions become second place to safety and convenience.
It’s incredibly difficult to realize the traumatizing effect that impaired mobility and handicaps can have on social interactions. Compounding this is a misplaced sense of shame at their afflictions. Many elderly people prefer to claim indifference rather than open up to friends and family about the real issues.
- Loss of communication skills: We need to use our communication skills to keep them functional. Lack of social interaction leads to loss of communication skills which, in turn, can lead the elderly towards apathy and avoidance of any social interaction that may become onerous or expose them to ridicule.
- Depression:Another isolating factor for the elderly is the reality of mortality. They’ve built their lives around a certain social group that is diminishing before their very eyes. This can be a shocking trauma as it compounds the loss of loved ones with the realization of their own mortality. A mixture of social isolation, loss of communication, and apathy is one of the leading causes of suicide amongst the elderly.
How Do I Know if My Elderly Loved One is Feeling Isolated?
The first thing you can do is be objective. Family and friends tend to be the last ones to notice things concerning their loved ones, not because they don’t care, but out of a lack of objectivity. This is why a professional geriatric care manager may be more perceptive in this situation.
If your elderly loved one exhibits any of the following signs or behaviors, you should take them as a potential warning of a deeper issue:
- General apathy
- Recurring sadness
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
- Lack of motivation
- Sleep anomalies and changes in sleep patterns
- Low self-esteem
- A tendency to agree on any subject just to keep the conversation going
- Morbidity and constantly talking about death
- Changes in speech
- Neglect in personal hygiene and dress
What Can We Do to Help our Senior Loved Ones?
The first thing after concluding that there is a problem is to address it.
Don’t minimize what your elderly loved one is going through. Don’t be satisfied with one-liners that seem to settle a conversation. Dig deep, explore, and don’t be afraid of rejection.
If there is an underlying issue, it needs to come out. It will be very helpful if your loved one is able to express what they’re going through.
If the main cause for social isolation lies in the inability to walk or a handicap, there are many things you can do to change this situation. A senior care manager can put you in contact with someone who can provide walking aids, such as walkers and canes, or transportation.
Another important aspect of social interaction is to realize that your loved ones need to build up new social relations with people they can relate to, whether these are people of the same generation or not. Friends, old and a new, can be a crutch to lean on as they start to lose the people in their past circles.
The most important thing is to try and look at our elderly loved ones with love and understanding, but with a clear and objective understanding of the limitations that age can bring about. It is essential to create a safe environment where a senior care manager can discuss the issues facing our elderly loved ones and where they feel they can ask for our help.