Caregivers Mind

Elderly Loneliness: 5 Caregiver Strategies

Written by Anthony Emecheta

Leonard Cohen once said that “the older you get, the lonelier you become and the deeper the love you need”. A 2009 study by Archana Singh and Nishi Misra noted that age-related losses increase as people grow and that may impede the acquisition or maintenance of desired relationships which eventually leads to a higher incidence of loneliness.

Loneliness among Black seniors can be further exacerbated by racism, systemic exclusion, and the paucity of resources that would have enabled them to live better, healthier, and socially connected lives. Loneliness can lead to depression or have other health-related consequences.

A study by Brigham Young University suggested that loneliness can be as deadly as obesity or smoking. Another study by researchers at the University of Chicago hinted that stress and blood pressure levels are higher in people experiencing loneliness.  

A 2022 review by Ojembe et al. titled “Understanding Social and Emotional Loneliness among Black Older Adults: A Scoping Review” further highlighted how loneliness among Black adults differed significantly from other ethnicities.

The review hinted that Black adults usually show low levels of social connection and support. A UK study by Hayanga et al. put figures to it by saying Black adults older than age 65 years are nearly twice more likely (9%) to report having no close friends compared to White or other ethnic adults of the same age (4%).

Interestingly, although the rates of loneliness among Black adults and other ethnic minorities are higher, they are also often shielded from the worst form of it by living in multigenerational families with traditional family customs that provide support to them. In most cases, aging parents are cared for by their children.

If you happen to be a caregiver to an aging parent, family member, or friend, there are ways you can help them fight loneliness and the health dangers associated with it.

1. Ask for help from your neighbors

When it comes to fighting loneliness, you must admit that you cannot do it alone. If you are a caregiver to the elderly, reach out to your neighbors and encourage them to visit and spend time with your loved ones. Some schools and faith-based organizations have programs designed to help lonely elders in the community. Those shared moments can create priceless memories and form relationships that keep loneliness at bay.

2. Encourage the elderly to volunteer in the community

One of the ways of building meaningful relationships based on shared interests is through volunteering. Interestingly, volunteers are almost always needed in Black communities. For elderly people who are still mobile, gardening and teaching children how to read are great options. Many philanthropic clubs also offer volunteering opportunities for seniors. Outside religious functions, Black churches always welcome volunteers, new members, and offer opportunities for socializations through programs like sick visits and shut-in.

3. Organize travels and tours if their health permits

If there is a place that your aging parents have always wanted to go but were not opportune to do so, giving them the opportunity to live that fantasy will help them to shake off loneliness—even if momentarily. If their health doesn’t permit long distance travels, short car rides to neighboring towns to see new sights will suffice. Although it may not work for everyone, it provides a novel way to experience the world and make new friends.

4. Encourage exercise

Exercise is not only good for physical well-being. It leads to the release of endorphins, a feel-good hormone which lowers stress. Encourage the senior to participate in group exercises like joining the local YMCA where they have specialized low-impact class designed for them. They can fight loneliness as a group while staying fit.

5. Leverage available technological resources

Technology continues to evolve at lightning speed, giving us the ability to do more than we could ever imagine decades ago. The use of technology is not only beneficial to the seniors but also to the caregivers. For example, caregivers can leverage technology to prevent burnout. Simple technologies like FaceTime allow you to appear present to your aging parents even if you are physically far away.

There are also myriads of online communities that seniors can join. These communities allow them to make new friends from all over the world while limiting the cost of doing so. Virtual friends can provide companionship that makes the elderly not feel alone.

As family members move away for school or jobs and friends begin to die, social circles tend to shrink as you age. While we all crave human relationships, bonding with animals can help fight loneliness and increase the production of serotonin, another feel-good hormone, according to the National Institute of Health. For seniors who have not lost their mobility, owning a dog can encourage them to spend more time outdoors.

Mitigating loneliness in your aging loved ones will not only enhance their physical and mental well-being but also fortify their mind and body. Aging individuals are fountains of wisdom, and there’s always something to learn from them.

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About the author

Anthony Emecheta

Anthony Emecheta holds a master’s degree in microbiology. He is a passionate educator and particularly an advocate of racial equality. He strongly believes the world will be a better place if we all see ourselves as humans first before anything else.

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