Isolation is a silent killer, especially of the elderly. According to AgingCare.com, elderly people, those 60 years and older, who identified themselves as being lonely saw a 45 percent increase in their risk for dying. Unfortunately, large numbers of seniors are living isolated and solitary lives today. In fact, approximately one-third of those older than 65 live alone, according to the New York Times. Today's very mobile lifestyle has a lot to do with this. The children, relatives, and friends of seniors have often scattered across the country like so many dandelion seeds in the wind. So what can you do if you have a loved one who is now living an isolated life?
Surround Them with People
If you have an elderly relative who is living on their own and who has very little social contact with the rest of the world, it may be time to consider placing them in a nursing home or an assisted living facility like Senior Solutions of Long Island, Inc. In these environments, they may be able to strike up friendships with others or even form relationships with caregivers. In addition, many nursing homes organize events and activities for their residents that will keep them mentally and physically active. These types of facilities are especially suitable for a loved one who is showing signs that they may be in the beginning stages of dementia or who are having difficulty taking care of their own hygiene.
In these busy times, it's very easy to assume that your brother or aunt is spending time with your elderly loved one when, in fact, no one has visited them in a while. So to prevent that from happening, set up a Google calendar or use an app like Lotsa Helping Hands so that people can commit to visiting your loved one on a certain date. These calendars will also allow you to see when others plan on spending time with your loved one, so you can adequately spread out your visits.
Get Them Connected
Younger, technologically savvy generations are able to stay connected with friends and family even when they're miles apart. But the elderly are often anything but technologically savvy, which means that they often don't have the tools or skill sets necessary to stay in touch with others. But that can be easily remedied. If your parents haven't entered the digital world yet, start by doing the following.
Purchase your loved one an electronic tablet, smartphone, or computer. If your elderly relative does not own one of these devices, consider getting them one. Of the three, an electronic tablet would be the best option for a senior. The text on a smartphone may be too small and hard for a senior to read, while a computer is much less portable than an electronic tablet.
Teach them how to become digitally connected. It's important not to just drop off a tablet with an elderly loved one and hope that they can learn how to use it on their own. So consider finding them an instructor who can teach them how to use their new toy. If your loved one is in a nursing home, they may even provide classes. Or -- better yet -- spend time helping to explore their device. But be prepared to be very patient. Some elderly people have never used email or accessed the Internet, so the things you may take for granted may be extremely confusing to them.
Get them on Skype and social media. Set up their devices with Facebook and Skype so that they can engage with other family members and friends. Again, if possible, take the time to do this for them and then show them how to use these sites, email, and messaging. That way you can have a way to engage with them when you can't visit them in person.
Isolation can cause an elderly person to fall into depression and may even contribute to them dying sooner than they might have otherwise. So keeping them connected and socially engaged is vitally important.