You want to provide the highest possible quality of life for your senior residents. You provide them with nutritious food, access to quality health care and clean facilities. But what about their mental wellbeing?
The AARP cites a Brigham Young University study that states feelings of loneliness can increase premature senior mortality by as much as 26 percent. Obviously, a lot is at stake when it comes to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Read on to learn how to prevent senior social isolation.
How To Prevent Senior Social Isolation
Intergenerational Living Facilities
The National Institute on Aging finds that intergenerational relationships are beneficial to the elderly and can even help combat age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s. It’s becoming increasingly more common for nursing homes and assisted living facilities to partner with local colleges to offer residencies to students. The students not only pitch in and help the seniors with daily tasks, but the senior residents have access to courses, functions and other aspects of university life to enrich their social lives. This helps to connect seniors to their community and combat feelings of isolation.
Bring the Community In
Your facility may not be set up for having college students living alongside the seniors, or there may not be a close enough college, but that doesn’t mean you can’t invite the community into your senior community. Contact your local school district, boys and girls clubs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and other community groups to find a way that they can come in to interact with your seniors. This could be a local recital for the High School Choir, a fun puppet show put on by the kids, or crafting activities for the children and seniors. Your assisted living facility could host the community with games nights and multigenerational talent shows for both residents and visitors.
You may even want to consider creating an opportunity where the younger generations come in to teach seniors how to use technology. This opportunity gives seniors an opportunity to connect with family and friends that aren’t local through social media and email as well gives the students a chance to interact with the seniors.
Provide Entertainment Opportunities
There are many ways that senior care facilities can combat social isolation, but the easiest way is to provide plenty of opportunities for seniors to socialize, both within the facility and within the local community. Some facilities have a dedicated recreation program to schedule bingo night, movie night, senior yoga or out-loud readings. All of these programs help seniors get together to converse, learn new skills and meet people, which combats the effects of senior isolation and loneliness
Everyone needs to eat, so dinner is a perfect time to provide opportunities for socialization. Since eating is such a social activity, anyway – we eat meals together, we celebrate special occasions with food, we gift food items in times of need – it makes sense for residents to use mealtime as a social tool whenever possible. If your facility has the space for a communal dining room: great! If not, encourage your residents to visit the local senior center, invite a friend for a picnic or check out a local diner.
Give Residents Something to Care For
Studies show that pet therapy can have a lasting positive impact on senior emotional health, so it's a great program to review for how to prevent senior social isolation. Consider allowing your residents to care for a dog, cat or preferred animal because having something to take care of makes a senior feel needed, and when people feel needed, they feel more fulfilled and less socially isolated. If your facility can’t support individual pet relationships, maybe you can have a facility mascot, like a cat or bird, that staff members can bring around for residents to bond with, or partner with a local animal shelter for visit days to offer your seniors the benefits of pet therapy. Even having plants to care for can make a difference.
Dr. Gawande's book Being Mortal described an experiment of the then-new medical director of Chase Memorial Nursing Home, Dr. Bill Thomas. Noticing the stark contrast of the home to his life-abundant rural farm, Dr. Thomas brought in dogs, cats, birds and plants. After two years, research showed the number of prescriptions required by Chase Home residents fell by half. "I believe that the difference in death rates can be traced to the fundamental human need for a reason to live, " stated Dr. Thomas.
Participating is religious activities is not only good for the spiritual well-being of seniors, but a place of worship is the perfect place to foster friendships and interaction. Attending church services, events and volunteering plays a critical role in the life of a senior. It provides a sense of purpose, comfort, and fosters a social network of like-minded people. Studies have shown the lives of those involved with a religious community have more longevity on average than those who are not.
Many seniors do not drive, and lack of a mode of transportation is one of the main causes of senior social isolation. Anything that can promote the mobility of seniors and help them get around enables them to make independent choices, therefore, promoting social health.
There are many factors to consider when thinking about how to prevent senior social isolation and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, so it’s important to observe the physical, mental and emotional health of your residents before drawing up a game plan. Above all else, it’s important to implement a system of social isolation identification. Often times, relatives are the first to notice that their loved ones are lonely, but some residents don’t have close family to depend on. It then becomes important to seek the help of a mental health professional to identify those residents at risk of – or suffering from – social isolation.
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