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According to a study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), 43 percent of seniors report feeling lonely on a regular basis. Lonely seniors are more likely to decline faster than their socially fortunate counterparts. This increase in feelings of loneliness is often related to physical, social, emotional and economic changes. With advancing age, it is inevitable that people lose connection with their friendship networks, their work environments, and overall role and purpose in life while finding it more difficult to initiate new friendships and to belong to new networks.Loneliness can be alleviated for seniors when the problem is recognized and specific steps are taken by caregivers, loved ones and the senior to enrich her life.
Physical problems, with associated limitations including chronic pain, often contribute to feelings of loneliness for seniors. It is important for the caregiver to recognize the role that physical problems play in contributing to isolation, hopelessness, fatigue, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities and low self-esteem. Caregivers can take certain steps in recognizing physical problems and at the same time modifying social interactions and activities. Certain recommendations include:
1) Talk to your loved one about the effect of pain on their life.
2) Be empathetic while encouraging your loved one to engage in alternative forms of previously enjoyed activities.
3) Schedule time together to watch a movie, visit with friends, eat a favorite meal or watch a favorite television show.
4) Make sure your loved one is spending some time outside of the home. This could involve simply sitting outside or visiting with a friend. This will also benefit the caregiver and permit them to have free time. Your older loved one may also benefit from adult day services, which can offer social and medical benefits.
5) Encourage some form of exercise after consulting with your loved one’s physician. Some kind of movement can be helpful both physically and emotionally.
6) Ask family and friends to call and/or visit. Ask them to not avoid speaking about the health issue but discuss that along with other previously discussed activities.
7) Get outside help for both you and your loved one in finding ways to live a quality life with chronic pain.
8) Introduce your loved one to various forms of social media for communicating with loved ones or reaching out to old friends. The use of e-mail, Facebook, texting, etc., can help reduce elderly loneliness.
9) Teach your loved one to use electronic media and the internet to check on current events. Being up to date with the world around the senior can help reduce loneliness.
10) Review daily the day and date, including holidays and special occurrences. Many seniors experience loneliness due to loss of time and orientation.
11) Involving the senior in holiday planning can also reduce elderly loneliness. Use of alternative ways of shopping and planning holiday dinners can reduce isolation and elderly loneliness.
There are many ways to reduce senior loneliness for a loved one living with a chronic illness. Be creative, consult the advice of professionals, read senior blogs and websites and never give up in developing a quality life for you and the senior in your life.