Human touch- there is nothing else like it! Touch to our species signals safety, trust and it is soothing to the soul. Our cardiovascular system is calmed by warm human touch. It activates the body’s vagus nerve, which is in turn, activates our compassionate response. Oxytocin, aka “the love hormone” is activated by a simple human touch. Believe or not, there are isolated and lonely seniors who may go days without any human touch. This most defiantly can be the root of much loneliness and geriatric depression.
A 2018 Cigna study found that loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Think about that for a minute, that’s astounding. The good news is it is preventable!
Five suggestions to consider with older loved ones to help them avoid loneliness:
Look and listen: Think about the hobbies and passions that piqued the interests of your loved one in earlier days. Try to help them re-engage in those hobbies. If they no longer are able to do those things, assist them in adapting hobbies or finding new interests altogether. One family caregiver got her father, a former builder, interested in woodworking projects.
Make a plan: It can be too easy for an older adult to get in the habit of staring at the TV all day. Help by creating a monthly plan of activities that will connect them with others. Perhaps it’s a phone call or FaceTime with a grandchild, a coffee date with a friend (you might have to arrange for transportation), or preparing a special dinner of her favorite foods. Mealtimes can be particularly lonely for those who must eat alone.
One Home Instead CAREGiver described a regular ritual with the 83-year-old widow mentioned above. “She’s ready when I arrive at her house,” the CAREGiver said. “As soon as she sees my car, she opens the door. She goes out for every breakfast, and each of us CAREGivers takes her to a neighborhood café where she’s gone forever and is well-known . . . She says she hates being alone!”
Encourage visits: People lead busy lives and often forget about those who are alone and isolated. Encourage visits from family and friends. Plan special get-togethers at times that are convenient for friends and family, and ask them to commit to be there by responding to an RSVP.
Be creative: Even older adults who have a dementia illness or cognitive decline still enjoy many activities, with a little creativity. Look at old photos, watch a movie, take a walk and listen to music.
Consider companionship: You and other family members can’t always be there to provide companionship and assistance. Why not try social groups like our local Rohnert Park senior center? There can often be resistance at first to meeting new people, however once your loved one does, a whole plethora of activities can open up. Last week I met a group of ladies who sew together every Wed. in the club house where one of them lives. They were a very social group chatting and laughing and sewing quilts expressing their creative side. The Rohnert Park Senior Center offers various activities to choose from right here in town. My grandmother herself loved her new friends from the senior center she met when she moved to SF from the east coast. They went on day trips around the city, bus trips to Reno, Hawaii and had weekly activities at the center. If your aging loved one isn’t one for such groups, consider a home caregiver. One on one assistance can offer the companionship we all need as humans and they can help with meal preparation, transportation, and someone to brighten a day which can go a long way toward alleviating loneliness.
Since family caregivers play a crucial role in their senior loved one’s happiness, seeking out support and resources can help ward off loneliness. Consider contacting your local area office on aging at (800) 510-2020 to identify activities or groups your loved one may be interested in joining.
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime