For elderly people, particularly those who live alone or who don’t have families living nearby, loneliness is something they battle with everyday. But during the coronavirus crisis, even those who are used to visits from children and grandchildren have started to feel the effects of spending more time alone. How can we as family members, friends and neighbours of older people help those who are particularly vulnerable during these long periods of isolation we are all experiencing?
The lockdown guidelines that have been put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic mean that in the UK we shouldn’t leave our homes unless absolutely necessary – and while this is important in stopping the spread of the virus, it has left many feeling lonely and isolated. Research shows that over 2 million people in the UK over the age of 75 live alone, and a million of those regularly go more than a month without interacting with another human being.
Feeling lonely is distressing enough, with studies showing that it can be as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day! Add to that the extra stress caused by the pandemic, and it’s no wonder that the elderly are reporting experiencing higher levels of anxiety than normal.
In celebration of Carer’s Week, June 8th-14th, we have put together a useful guide of tips for older adults, and for those who are struggling with ideas to help their elderly loved ones to not feel so alone…
The Importance Of Routine
Not being able to go about our daily lives as we normally would has been the biggest change for most, but that doesn’t mean that we should abandon all semblance of a routine and sit around in our pyjamas doing nothing all day! Keeping to a routine – albeit a slightly different one to normal is incredibly important, especially for those of us who are older.
Getting up at the same time each day, and planning tasks – even if it’s just household chores and planning meals – will keep your mind active and provide structure to your day. Don’t forget to include hobbies such as reading, gardening, or enjoying a favourite TV or radio show. Having a sense of purpose to your day is good for cognitive health, and will prevent you from sitting around focusing on your anxieties.
Stay In Contact With Family And Friends
One of the things families are really struggling with at the moment is not being able to physically go and see their loved ones, but with the elderly population being among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, it’s incredibly important that we all do our best to ensure they stay as healthy as possible. Thanks to modern technology it’s never been easier to stay in touch with those we love, and there have never been more ways to communicate with each other.
A simple phone call, text, or even email can make all the difference to the day of someone who is feeling lonely. Video-calling platforms are another option. They are huge at the moment, and have never been easier to navigate, or, why not take the time to write a simple letter if technology isn’t your thing? If you have elderly relatives who don’t use a lot of technology encourage the kids to draw or paint pictures to send, or maybe send photos. Any of these forms of communication with family members will be a treasured lifeline to someone living alone.
Staying Active – Even Indoors!
Staying at home is our biggest line of defence in beating this virus at the moment, but that doesn’t have to mean sitting around and doing nothing. Exercise has been proven time and time again to lift your mood and release feel-good chemicals into your body. There are plenty of exercises that focus on strength, balance and flexibility – a lot of which can be done from a sitting position if you are not able-bodied.
If you are an elderly person with access to the internet there are loads of free online exercise classes catering to all ages and abilities, or, if not, just a simple stroll around the garden in the sunshine will release endorphins and help to keep you active.
Get To Know The Neighbours
It could be argued that these days community spirit isn’t what it was, but if nothing else, this pandemic has reignited and reinforced that sense of togetherness like nothing else! Maybe you already know your neighbours well and have been looking out for and supporting each other in recent weeks, but if you haven’t, now might be a good time to start! Getting to know the neighbours has never been more important – particularly for the elderly or vulnerable, and it can be reassuring to know that there is someone close by to lend a hand if you are in need of support. Likewise for the relatives of those who are older and might not live close by.
It’s always worth having the contact details of your closest neighbours, and probably an idea to let them have yours too. Why not put a note through their door letting them know that you are available if they need any help – this could be an invaluable lifeline to some.
Make New Friends
Admittedly not all older people (or younger for that matter!) are technologically savvy – but for those who do use the internet, social media can be a fabulous way to stay in touch with family and friends, join groups with shared interests, track down friends we might have lost touch with over the years, or even make new ones.
Being a part of these types of networks can open up a whole new world of communication, as well as allowing you to meet like-minded people through online communities and forums.
Further reading: Dementia and how music can help
Ask for help
Maybe you are someone who is older and feeling lonely and isolated, but don’t live within a community you can reach out too. Maybe you don’t have any relatives or friends to call upon, what can you do?
Charities such as Age UK and Silver Line offer befriending services that can match you up with like-minded people for a friendly chat, as well as offer practical advice and information. It may be worth you signing up for these, particularly if the telephone is your only source of communication with the outside world at the moment.
With much focus on everyone’s physical health during these trying times we have to remember to do what we can to keep ourselves, and those around us, as mentally healthy as possible too – especially those who are elderly and/or living alone. Share these tips with your elderly neighbours, friends and relatives…or use them yourself to help you combat the boredom and loneliness, and keep your mind active and healthy.