Isolation and loneliness are no fun. We all know that.
Loneliness seems to be especially common among the elderly due to a host of reasons. To name a few, older adults may no long be able to drive, their friends are in nursing homes or their children live a great distance away.
However, it’s shocking when research surfaces that shows just how debilitating loneliness can be. In a recent article in the Japanese Times, research was cited that shows that loneliness can increase the risk of premature death by 14 percent in older adults. It suggests loneliness acts as a physiological cause for a weakened immune system to viruses.
Let’s reduce loneliness
Given how easy it is to be isolated in our culture, let’s brainstorm about ways we can help prevent loneliness and bring joy and comfort to our elderly neighbors, friends and loved ones. According to the website createthegood.org, one of the best ways to help a senior have a good day is to volunteer where you find seniors: senior centers, assisted living communities, YMCA or local senior services agencies.
One tip is to plan the visit in advance so the elder can look forward to the occasion. Sometimes the anticipation is as fun as the event. Also, you can bring along a board game, home baked treat or a bouquet of flowers out of your garden or a seasonal decoration to brighten their day.
Transportation, help with chores
Older neighbors, homebound friends and elderly loved ones will all appreciate thoughtful gestures. For example, some seniors might enjoy an invitation over for a meal, an outing to a local mall or movie. It is also a huge kindness to offer to take seniors out to run errands. It’s fun, active and helps them feel involved in their own caretaking. If you can, make a weekly ritual so your senior can plan her outings, trips to the doctor or luncheon during this window of opportunity.
Many older homeowners would also appreciate you offering to help with simple chores that are hard for them. For instance, offer to rake leaves, pull out the trash bin on garbage day or throw the newspaper up closer to the door for easy retrieval.
Be a companion
Even if you don’t have an elderly parent or grandparent in need, there are lots of ways to volunteer in the community. For example, the volunteers who deliver Meals on Wheels provide lots more than food. They offer a welcome “Hello” and bit of conversation every day. They also serve as an informal check-up on the senior.
Here are a few programs and organizations that can match you up with the perfect friend in your area:
- Meals on Wheelsoffers frozen home-delivered meals for older persons who are unable to leave their home to shop or prepare nutritious meals.
- With the Elder Helpersprogram, you can sign up to help in ways that fit your interests and skills, from reading to handiwork.
- Senior Companionsis a Senior Corps program for volunteers who are 55+. You can sign on to help older seniors with daily tasks, keeping them independent and in their own homes.
- You can also volunteer to help aging seniors through organizations such as the National Council on Aging.
Show genuine interest in seniors
One of the kindest things anyone can do for another is take genuine interest in that person’s experiences and stories. So, when we visit with our elders, it is important to put away the digital devices and focus on the senior. Ask your senior questions about their life; realize they have a great deal to offer in terms of wisdom, history and perspective.
Some easy ways to learn more about your senior is to ask about their work, family life, where and how they were raised. Ask them about their passions, what brought them joy? Showing patience and truly listening is an enormous gift you can give to everyone in your life, but especially to elders, who all too often get brushed aside in the hubbub of daily life.