6 Activities to Help an Aging Parent Avoid IsolationAs people age, they tend to find themselves more and more isolated from others. They retire and no longer socialize in the workplace, their friends start dying, they may lose their spouse, and lack of mobility makes it harder for them to leave home.
Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common. In 2010, 28 percent of people aged 65 or older lived alone, and almost half of women 75 and older lived alone. Living alone does not always mean the senior is isolated, but it is a predisposing factor.
Senior isolation is not just about feeling lonely; it can also lead to negative health issues over time. In fact, social isolation and loneliness are associated with higher rates of mortality in adults who are 52 years and older. Loneliness and isolation are also linked to an increased risk of dementia, high blood pressure, and depression.
If your parent is feeling lonely or isolated, it is important to intervene before it begins to affect their health. It may not be possible to get rid of feelings of loneliness completely, especially if they are dealing with the loss of a spouse, but it can be kept at bay by finding social activities to engage them in.
There are many activities available for older adults to participate in that can help combat loneliness. Here are some ideas for activities that will keep your aging parents busy and social. Depending on your parent’s mobility and interest, some may be a better fit than others.
Community Exercise Programs
The physical health benefits of exercise for seniors are numerous and well researched, but there is a second benefit to exercise that is less well known. Joining an exercise program with other seniors is a great way for your parent to combat social isolation and loneliness while becoming healthier. If your parent is not already physically active, or if they only exercise in their own home, consider enrolling them in a community exercise program specifically for seniors.
A 2014 study in Australia investigated the motivating factors behind why seniors engage in physical activity. Every participant in the study listed “social interaction” as a reason they participated in a community exercise program. The ability to make friends and socialize didn’t only get them interested in the program; it also motivated them to keep coming back.
There are numerous exercise programs that specifically cater to seniors. Check with your local community center to see if they have a senior fitness program, or see if there is a senior-focused class at your local fitness center.
Many seniors have hobbies that, while stimulating, are usually done by themselves. Hobbies like knitting, painting, scrapbooking, sewing, or photography are all activities that could be done in a social setting instead of alone.
If your parent is interested in painting and sculpting, sign them up for an art class that will allow them to have fun while mingling with their peers. If they enjoy playing games, see if there is a social group for playing games at your community center. You can also encourage them to pick up a new hobby based on which groups are available.
If your parent was a regular churchgoer and has since stopped due to transportation or mobility issues, you should look for ways to help them get back in attendance. Going to church is a great way for your parent to become a part of a community. It gives them a weekly activity out of the house and can give them a sense belonging and purpose.
Another benefit is that other church members can keep a watchful eye on your parent and may be able to notice a decline in health or mood. Members of religious communities often look out for each other in hard times, and they can even be instrumental in promoting healthy lifestyle changes.
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteering not only provides social benefits, but it also leads to better health. Older volunteers are most likely to receive physical and mental health benefits from their volunteering because it gives them a sense of purpose while allowing them to socialize.
Volunteering is a fantastic way to help combat a parent’s isolation, and there are plenty of ways for seniors to volunteer. Senior Corps connects seniors to service organizations that could best use their skills. Your parent could find their calling mentoring disadvantaged youth, teaching English to immigrants, becoming a foster grandparent, and much more.
Get Them a Pet
If your parent is able to take care of an animal, getting them a pet can provide great companionship. Pets can help seniors feel less lonely, more connected, more needed, and they can even have health benefits. Spending time with a calm animal reduces stress, and people who have pets often get more exercise.
Having a pet can encourage your parent to feel motivated to get up in the morning in order to take care of the animal. It can also help them make friends with other animal owners. Pets make great icebreakers and can get you out of the house. You shouldn’t surprise your parent with a new pet, but you can start the conversation about whether or not they would like one.
If your parent is feeling isolated, it is possible that they might not want to live on their own anymore. In that case, a residential community might be a good fit for them. These communities allow seniors to remain independent but offer social activities and entertainment, as well as transportation.
Residential communities can be expensive, so they are not for everyone. They are also for seniors who are more independent and do not require a great deal of medical care and assistance. If your parent is in need of a little more help, an assisted living community may be more appropriate.