It is estimated that at least one in ten of Ireland’s population is over the age of 65. As the ageing population continues to increase at a rapid rate, one problem which is seen more and more amongst this age group is isolation. In today’s modern society we can all be affected by some form of loneliness, but for older people who can find it increasingly difficult to leave their home, it can have a massive impact on their health and overall quality of life.
Prolonged loneliness and isolation can lead to depression among any age group. If you do have an ageing parent and you’re worried about their mental or physical health as a result of isolation, then look out for some of these symptoms:
To help your loved one combat the effects of isolation, try implementing the following steps to help keep them connected to the outside world.
One important way you can help your older loved one to combat loneliness, is to make efforts maintaining certain aspects of their health. Simple things like encouraging them to have regular sight and hearing check ups can go a long way.
If they are suffering from eyesight problems, this can make them feel vulnerable and thus deterring them from leaving their house. The NHS provides free eye(sight) tests for anyone who is 60 or over plus if you can't leave your home your optician may be able to visit you. See more on this here. In the Republic of Ireland, the HSE provides an eye testing service to Medical Card holders under the Community Ophthalmic Services Scheme. If your loved one does not have a medical card, they may still be entitled to optical benefit. For more on possible eyesight problems and how to contact the HSE directly, follow this link.
If their hearing is declining, they may be becoming increasingly uncomfortable in social situations as they can’t quite catch what people are saying to them. If you’re worried about your loved ones hearing, or noticing them having difficulties, click here for detailed information on the Adult Audiology Service provided by the HSE or click here for further answers on NHS services for hearing loss in the UK.
These steps may seem small, but without pointing them out or suggesting to your loved one that these health problems could be creating a wider issue, they may go untreated and only prove more problematic as time passes.
Another useful way to help avoid loneliness, is to encourage your loved one to remain active within their local community. Helping them organise weekly activities and hobbies can make a huge difference in keeping them socially healthy. There are many Day Centres across the country which provide a place for seniors to socialise. Day Centres are a fantastic way to give your older relative a sense of structure to their weekly routine, something to look forward to and way to actively engage with others and learn new skills and hobbies. For more information on Day Centres in your relative’s local area, you can contact their GP or public health nurse. For more information on the service itself, just click here.
If your relative is religious, then suggesting regular mass attendance could be extremely beneficial for them. Not only is it a sense of comfort for them, it also provides a structure to their week. They’ll also benefit from the social aspect of attending mass and meeting people from the local area. As well as this, your loved one will be surrounded by people they see on a weekly basis and so, if they are feeling down or their health is declining, someone will be close by to notice.
Visiting your loved one as often as you can is the ideal scenario. Just popping round to see how they’re doing can really brighten up their week. To you, it may only be a couple of hours, but for them it can really help to break up their week.
However, with families becoming smaller and our lives busier it can often be difficult to find the time to visit as often as you’d like, especially if you don’t live close by. If your loved one is unable to leave their home on a regular basis to go to Day Centres, then another alternative is to organise for someone to pop round to their house. The HSE provides a Home Support Service, which attends to your loved one’s needs on more of a medical basis or helping with daily tasks. In the UK the NHS also provides some free social care and support, find out more here.
If you’d like more detailed information on what care support is available to your older relative, then check out Grandpal's guide to getting older
There are also many independent organisations, such as ALONE (IE), which can help your relative in their home on a social basis. ALONE provide a Befriending Service to older people who are in need of some company. If you’d like to find out more, follow this link.
Perhaps your older relative is not quite at the stage where they want or feel comfortable having someone around their house, then you could suggest the ‘Friendly Call’ service provided by the charity Friends of the Elderly (Ireland + UK). The idea is simple. You contact the organisation to sign your loved one up for the service and organise the best time and day for someone from the charity to call your relative. The service is free of charge and nationwide. It could be a great option if your older parent lives out in the countryside, but would still like to have a chat about what’s going on in their lives and have some contact with another person. For more information on this and other services offered by Friends of the Elderly just click here (IE) or here (UK).
Research has shown that pet ownership among older age groups can greatly help alleviate feelings of loneliness. When you have a pet, like a dog or a cat, you’re never alone. They provide a sense of purpose and routine to daily activities. If your loved one is physically capable, then introducing a pet into their lives could be hugely beneficial.
Not only do they help lessen feelings of isolation, they have also been shown to benefit physical health. According to the American Heart Association, those owning pets, primarily dogs and cats, are at a decreased risk from cardiovascular disease. Studies have also shown that there is a link between lower blood pressure and those with pets have increased physical activity, better responses to stress and improved survival rates following ‘acute coronary syndrome’. For more information of all the potential benefits of pet ownership, read more on the AHA Journals.
If you’re not in the position where you can visit your loved one on a weekly basis, but would like to stay in touch as often as possible, then a great way to stay in touch is helping them to use and understand technology. All it takes is a small tablet, something easy to navigate. Help your loved one get set up on Skype so you can organise family calls. Seeing someone on video as opposed to just hearing their voice can make a person feel more connected to others and help alleviate the feeling of loneliness.
We hope you’ve got some ideas on what you can do to help your loved one relieve the feeling of isolation in their daily lives. And if you’re not around on a regular basis to visit or call your loved one as often as you wish, you’ve discovered alternative options to help them avoid isolation. All it takes is a little research on what’s out there and available in your area, and what you can do directly to help make socialising that bit easier for them.