Relationships are vital to everyone’s health[1. “Why Relationships are Crucial to Your Health and Happiness,” October 9, 2014, https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/2014/10/09/why-relationships-are-crucial-to-your-health-and-happiness], but especially to older adults. That’s because these individuals are at a greater risk of becoming isolated, which can be dangerous for their long-term well-being. Read on to learn how you can support senior relationships by making communication easier.
The Dangers of Isolation
As we mentioned, social isolation isn’t only a heartbreaking fact of life for many older adults—it can actually increase the risk of mortality for those age 52 and older.[2. “Social isolation, loneliness, and all-cause mortality in older men and women,” November 12, 2012, https://www.pnas.org/content/110/15/5797.full] There are a number of reasons for this. Some of them include the fact that isolated adults may not have the medical support system they need. If they suffer an acute illness, such as a heart attack or stroke, no one may become aware of it for quite some time. This can lead to permanent disability (and in some cases, death).
But chronic illnesses are also a concern for the isolated, since they require constant monitoring to remain stable. Diseases such as diabetes and respiratory illness can worsen over time without effective intervention. Then there are the psychological aspects of isolation, such as the increased risk for depression and suicide which can also shorten an individual’s lifespan.
If your loved one doesn’t have the latest communication devices (besides a landline phone), it’s time to embrace technology. But that doesn’t mean things have to be expensive. Consider a budget laptop or PC so your loved one can take advantage of social media such as Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and more. If they don’t already have an email account, that’s another quick and easy thing you can help them set up. These methods are particularly great for communicating with grandkids, who may talk more on their devices than they do face to face, even with people their own age.
Some older adults are reluctant to learn these new, digital approaches, while others are eager and embracing them like never before. Consider introducing some modern communication methods to the older loved one in your life. They may appreciate the opportunity to connect more than you know!
Use the Right Devices
Technology is a great way to keep in touch, but unless your loved one can actually use it, it will do them little good. Makes sure that their phones, computers, keyboards, and screens are meant for those with poor vision, arthritis, or any other condition they may have. Larger buttons, bigger fonts and icons, and ergonomic set-ups can help increase both the speed and the ease of communication.
Find help when needed
If you can’t always be there to assist your loved one with communication, reach out for help. A home health aide can assist with managing devices, phone calls, or writing cards and letters. Aides and geriatric managers can also help older adults and/or their family members communicate with doctors, insurance companies, and the like.
Don’t Wait for Special Occasions
Many people only call or write the older adult in their lives on special occasions. And while it’s nice to do so on their birthday and during the holidays, it can become a bit predictable. Many homebound older adults would love to hear from you at any time of year. Plus, older adults are often a fount of wisdom and younger generations miss out on that when communication is poor. Be sure to take advantage of every moment that you have with your loved one so that you—and they—can reap the rewards!
Start Maintaining Senior Relationships Today
Maintaining senior relationships doesn’t have to be done all at once. It’s an ongoing activity, so if the steps above seem overwhelming at first, it’s okay to start out small. For instance, talk to your loved one about getting a second-hand computer and internet connection. Or consider hiring a home health aide for them a few hours a week. Remember, every little thing you do has the potential to strengthen their connection to others – and their overall health!
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.