Resources for the elderly to prevent isolation are absolutely vital to maintaining optimal health. In fact, a growing number of studies have established how social isolation can harm our physical and mental health. A Brigham Young University study concluded that loneliness can be as deadly as obesity or smoking. Another, conducted by the University of Chicago, found that blood pressure and stress levels — both indicators of early mortality — are “significantly higher” in lonely people. Social isolation and loneliness are also linked with illness, mental health issues like depression and anxiety, and earlier mortality rates.
These studies are true across many ages, but the findings are especially alarming for senior populations. Many seniors faced social isolation and loneliness even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, their limited interactions with the outside world have shrunk even further. The seniors in our community often face isolation as their mobility deteriorates; not being able to drive, or sometimes even walk, severely limits their ability to socialize and get the human interaction they need to stay healthy.
Resources for the Elderly Help Limit Loneliness
Elders in Arkansas may face increased isolation because of the extensive rural areas in the state. Little public transportation and long trips between households make isolation even more likely. Resources for older people can grant access to social opportunities. For example, many seniors served by organizations like Meals on Wheels find the food is a lifesaver… but the visit from another person is what they look forward to and appreciate the most. Check out these tips and local resources to prevent elder isolation in Arkansas.
1. Encourage Visitors to Stop and Stay for a Visit
Spending time with family is a huge help, but it is not always enough. if you — the caregiver — are the only person interacting with your loved one, expanding their experience can be helpful. You cannot provide everything a person needs alone and trying can cause serious caregiver burnout.
Social interaction through in-home caregivers and volunteers is one of the resources for the elderly provided by 5A. For those who cannot afford this service, insurance or local grant programs may help cover expenses. Having an in-home caregiver drop in to help around the house and chat with your loved one can be an excellent source of social stimulation.
Contact friends, family, and neighbors to set up a loose schedule so different people will drop in to say hello and chat on a regular basis. A variety of social interaction is a strong deterrent against depression and anxiety. If your loved one has the space and inclination, a roommate can be a good option too. This can reduce housing costs and keep both seniors independent for longer. A roommate your loved one already knows and trusts is usually a better choice, but there are agencies that perform background checks and pair people with common interests.
2. Encourage Them to Pursue Their Interests
If your loved one is mobile and healthy enough, encourage them to pursue activities outside of their home. Volunteering is an excellent way to get out of the house, feel connected to your community, and make new friends. There are dozens of opportunities for senior volunteers, including:
- Teaching children to read,
- Helping at a community garden,
- Acting as an ombudsman for nursing home residents,
- Being a docent for a local art museum,
- Working with library programs, or
- Visiting other, less mobile seniors.
There are many philanthropic clubs and services to connect your loved one with a suitable opportunity for volunteering.
Senior centers are also an excellent resource for the elderly, comprised of senior-friendly activities and groups. From choir groups and sewing circles to chair yoga classes and water aerobics, every center has its own calendar of events designed to stimulate and socialize the participants. Many senior centers bring in speakers, experts, and volunteers to entertain and teach new skills. Even those who are in memory care or suffer from low mobility can generally participate through special programming or online resources.
3. Use Your Technological Resources
With COVID-19 restrictions in place, face-to-face visits are not always safe or possible. Take the time to teach your loved one or set up an easy-to-use system and combat loneliness using technology like Zoom, FaceTime, or even voice assistants like Alexa to keep in touch. Encourage your loved one to use their cell phone to call friends or grandkids. Show them how to ask Alexa to share jokes and weather updates. While in-person interaction will always work best, any human interaction including voices or faces will help keep isolation at bay.
The internet is also full of resources for the elderly. Get creative and help them explore their interests. Video tours of towns they lived in or always wanted to visit can help those who are homesick or miss traveling. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are classes offered by professors and experts in almost every field imaginable. This is a great way to stimulate seniors who want to keep learning but cannot get to a physical class. There are usually discussion boards and live Q&As with teachers and other students! Financial management, literature, Mandarin 101, beginners tatting: You can find classes for just about everything.
4. Consider Adopting a Pet
If your loved one has limited mobility (i.e. they cannot drive but still care for themselves) preventing them from much socializing outside of the house, consider getting them a pet. Many, many studies have shown that the benefits of a pet are manifold for seniors. Just a small amount of time bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction, increasing serotonin, lowering stress hormones like cortisol, and lowering blood pressure and heart rate. Long-term exposure to animals can lower cholesterol, fight depression, and possibly decrease the chance of a heart attack or stroke. Caring for an animal also gives people purpose and a sense of being needed, which is psychologically important.
Your loved one must be able to easily care for their pet, however. If they are able to walk and spend time outside, a small, low-energy dog may be a good choice. A cat may be better for someone who cannot devote much time or energy to physical care tasks like walks. Even having a fish or a hamster can be a great source of entertainment and companionship.
Resources for Older People in Central Arkansas
Contact your local Arkansas Association of Area Agencies on Aging for more resources for the elderly. 5A offers an array of solutions to ensure your loved one is engaged, healthy, and happy. We are a free service, and we are happy to help you find other free or affordable resources for the senior in your life. From in-home care and respite services to Meals on Wheels and senior centers, call us today for answers to all your questions and to get you and the senior in your life more involved.