Aging comes with a whole host of challenges. Yet, the challenge that we often overlook the most is isolation. As adults become older, they begin to lose mobility, whether that is physically or from lack of transportation. Isolation can also stem from living alone or being far away from family. In rural areas, isolation comes from friends not being close by.
An article from NextAvenue, “How to Combat Loneliness and Isolation as We Age,” discusses tools to help aging parents avoid loneliness. As the article reports, loneliness is a significant health factor. It can have the same impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 43 percent of older adults feel lonely. This can lead to a higher risk of mortality due to the depression it causes.
So, what can be done to promote social interactions for seniors and make sure they are able to partake in the natural human need to be part of community? There are several options to consider.
Technology: Hook your aging parents up with a tablet, laptop, or smartphone. Yes, this may seem time consuming. Yet, once older adults have learned how to use devices, then they are set to communicate! Tech support is probably your biggest concern with getting an aging adult set up with devices, but factor that into their training sessions so they can help themselves.
As NextAvenue points out, there are several types of technology that can help reduce isolation. For tablets, iPads, or smart phones, there are brain fitness apps that improve memory and focus. These can keep visual processing sharp and keep them learning. These devices can also be used to video chat friends or family, or even watch a grandchild’s sports match via live stream.
Technology provides access to telemedicine as well. For example, there is an American based service called Friendship Line. They reach out to the elderly, in the form of things like wellness calls. These services can be a great outlet for older adults.
On a simpler scale, various gadgets can help with reminding Mom or Dad to take their medication or to complete other tasks. Just pull up Amazon for many creative gadgets to improve their at home life, just type in “senior living aids”.
Local Senior Programs or Virtual Centers: Most communities offer programs or centers for older adults to gather and do activities together. From playing cribbage to painting and volunteerism. Transportation might be a concern, but ask if there are shuttles to and from these places, or if anyone who already drives there might be willing to carpool. When conducting your research to see what is available in the community, reach out to municipal community groups, the local Area Agency on Aging, the senior center, or your church, temple or mosque. Often there are monthly or weekly get-togethers and activities.
If your parents are concerned with being uncomfortable while they are out of the house for an extended time, refer back to that Amazon search. You’ll find a memory foam seat cushion to take with them to the senior center for a long game of cards, amongst other helpful items.
On the other hand, virtual senior centers are on an upward trend. One example is Selfhelp Virtual Senior Centers (VSC), they offer organized video chats. While online interactions shouldn’t fully substitute in person, they can be a great way to help decrease isolation and increase interactions. There are various internet forums and Facebook groups as well. Hence, why getting your aging parents set up with new tech devices can have many long-range benefits! AARP offers a common interest community forum, which might be worth checking into as well.
Transportation: Depending on friends or family for a ride in order to visit family or participate in activities can be a deterrent for some older adults. Yet, there are options for them to avoid this. There are ride-sharing services. Lyft, for example, has partnered with many health care companies and care providers and communities to increase the accessibility of ride-sharing. Rides can be scheduled through the app or through a phone call.
Some communities may offer door-to-door rides at a reduced price, or senior living communities tend to have shuttle services.
In the end, isolation is preventable. It is a challenge, but it can be done. Know the resources and devise a plan to make social engagement a priority for your aging parents. Figuring this out early on can help mitigate loneliness. This will increase happiness and boost mental health.
For more information on how you can help your aging parents with retirement planning or other estate planning topics, visit our website and schedule a consultation today!
Reference: NextAvenue (July 20, 2017) “How to Combat Loneliness and Isolation as We Age”