Living in your own home as you get older surrounded by familiar surrounds and all your happiest memories is the dream for many, but it can lead to isolation.
Regardless of how comfortable you are with your own company, social isolation for the elderly is a real health issue. Research has shown that loneliness and a lack of social connections can be worse for us than obesity and physical inactivity and a risk factor for early death, comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
The Review of Social Isolation study out of the US showed that the prevalence of loneliness and isolation among seniors living in their own homes may be as high as 43 per cent. Here in Australia, the statistics are thought to be similar. And it’s not just our elderly suffering. Family caregivers are at high risk of social isolation too.
So what can seniors living at home and their carers do to avoid this isolation and increase social connection?
Make use of transport services
For many elderly, having to give up their licence can mean a loss of independence which can lead to them feeling isolated in their own home. Having family members to help out with transportation to doctors’ appointments and social outings is ideal, but for some seniors who don’t have family living close by there are services available.
Many home care providers have transport services and the Queensland Government also offers free or low-cost community transport for medical, shopping and social activities. Taxi subsidies are also available for those with severe disabilities.
Learn computer skills
If you have limited mobility, staying in touch with friends and family online is a great way to feel socially connected and keep up with what’s happening in their lives. Improving your digital literacy also has a flow-on effect helping to keep your mind active by learning new skills.
Maintain hobbies and purpose
Maintaining hobbies can assist seniors living in their own homes a purpose and help them maintain social connections with like-minded people. Many hobbies such as crafting, knitting or playing bridge can involve getting together as a group and can be an ideal way to meet new people as well as spend time with friends you’ve known for years. Walking groups for seniors are also a good way to get out and about and stay active. Many of these groups meet for coffee afterwards which gives you a chance to have a chat with people in your community. The Heart Foundation run free walking groups throughout Australia.
Make use of adaptive technologies
If you need help with walking, hearing or seeing, don’t be afraid to ‘look old’ by taking advantage of the various adaptive technologies and aids available. Being able to get around, see and hear well can help you to socialise, have conversations and stay independent.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Last of all, there is no shame in asking for help if things are getting harder to do yourself. Getting some help with basic household chores, shopping and meal prep can help free you up to focus on what’s important to you. You may then have more time for activities that promote health and wellbeing, including strength-building exercises, catching up with friends and family for a meal and enjoying your hobbies.