When a senior enters long-term care, such as an assisted living facility, friends and relatives are reassured that they are in a safer more secure environment that provides personal care services, and their food and medical needs are being met better than if they were alone in their home. One of the needs that they may not have even considered is the need for social engagement. A senior living community is usually an excellent place to leave behind the social isolation that often comes with aging, but it's important to research senior living facilities to ensure they actively host and promote activities and opportunities that encourage social interactions.
Dangers of Social Isolation
As people age, it becomes more difficult to maintain friendships, and spouses and friends may have already passed, leaving many older adults with very few social interactions. Children and grandchildren may visit, but mostly they are isolated and alone. Physical impairment and/or lack of mobility or transportation can also be risk factors for isolation.
There has been a lot of research over the past few decades about the effects of loneliness and isolation on health. Studies consistently show that social isolation may contribute to conditions such as chronic lung disease, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, impaired mobility, depression and dementia, as well as premature death. It can also lead to substance abuse and malnutrition.
It Takes Effort
Helping assisted living residents or nursing care patients to avoid the dangers of social isolation takes a concerted effort from a dedicated group of staff who understand the need for social engagement with and among residents. Research this aspect of a senior living community before moving a loved one in. Social engagement should not be the sole concern of an activities director who plans bingo games, birthday celebrations and occasional field trip to a museum or ballgame. Social interactivity should be integrated into the daily experiences of everyday life.
Eating is a social event. Few people truly enjoy eating alone. Living in a senior community makes it easier to engage socially while cooking and dining, making mealtimes a perfect opportunity for seniors to connect with others of the same age and similar backgrounds. For dementia patients, it can stir memories of eating meals with family.
Stay active together. Group exercise programs are a great way to lessen isolation and loneliness. They are fun, plus, exercise provides many health benefits for mind and body. Not every resident will have the ability or desire to participate in all activities, but from chair yoga to mall walking to ballroom dance, there should be plenty of suitable activities for most residents.
Brain games. Group opportunities for learning, such as classes for memoir writing or financial matters; crafting and cooking classes; book clubs; and board and card games. These keep the brain active and feed the need for social interaction. Also make computers available for interactive gaming, learning, and video-calling with friends and relatives.
When you're looking for the right senior care facility for your loved ones, make sure to choose one whose entire staff understands that providing social engagement is as important as health and safety provision. And not only do they provide numerous ways to engage socially, but they encourage and facilitate participation in such activities as well as listen to the desires and concerns of the residents.