Seven Great Ways In-Home Care Keeps Seniors Connected
From time to time, the Caring Right at Home newsletter has highlighted the ongoing research of University of Chicago’s Dr. John Cacioppo, whose groundbreaking work on the effect of loneliness has changed how we think about how seniors spend their time. Dr. Cacioppo has shown that loneliness is highly stressful for humans, raising the risk of hypertension, sleep disorders, depression and even Alzheimer’s disease. Many people are surprised to learn that loneliness may be a greater health threat for seniors than obesity or even smoking! At this year’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dr. Cacioppo and his team stated, "Feelings of loneliness can increase an older person’s chance of premature death by 14 percent."
Yet sadly, we are more prone to loneliness and isolation as we grow older. We may lose our spouse and other close family members and friends. Retirement brings the end of an established social structure. Perhaps we have moved to a different community, leaving behind long-time relationships. Arthritis, osteoporosis, vision loss, heart disease and other health conditions make it harder to get out and about. Hearing loss creates a communication barrier. Alzheimer’s disease often leads to social isolation. In the course of dealing with one or a combination of these challenges, seniors may find themselves gradually withdrawing and becoming homebound. This is why including a strategy for remaining engaged with others should be part of our plan for our later years, especially if we plan to live independently in our own home.
This strategy might well include in-home care. While skilled nursing services can be provided in the home, less-costly companion care also plays an important role in keeping seniors as healthy as possible. In-home care can make the difference between isolation versus an emotionally nourishing social life. Here are seven practical ways in-home care keeps senior clients socially connected:
- Companionship. Most people initially hire an in-home caregiver for meal preparation, hygiene support, medication reminders and housekeeping, but they soon find that the human connection caregivers provide can be of equal value. Because trained caregivers understand the challenges with which clients are living, they are able to provide supportive, nonjudgmental companionship that helps break the all-too-common cycle of boredom, depression and loneliness. The caregiver and client might watch a movie together, play games, work on a craft project or cook a favorite dish. Caregivers assist with letter writing and other correspondence, read aloud to clients … old favorite activities, and maybe some new ones!
- Hospitality. For seniors who love to entertain at home, health challenges can mean a sad curtailment of the activity they enjoy so much. They might be self-conscious about their physical appearance, or worry that their home isn’t in "fit-for-company" shape. They may regret being unable to prepare their favorite delicious food offerings for their guests. In-home care can be the perfect resource to make entertaining happen again! Caregivers can provide light housekeeping, help prepare refreshments, and assist the client with bathing, dressing and grooming so they look their best.
- Everyday outings. Gerontologists measure the quality of life of seniors in part by examining their "life space," defined by Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center researchers as "the extent to which we move through our environment as we carry out our daily lives." Window shopping at the mall … going to the grocery store … walking in the park … attending services at one’s faith community … enjoying a meal out … these are activities we take for granted. But the changes of aging can make it a challenge to get into the community in these basic ways. In-home caregivers provide transportation, supervision and encouragement for clients who have mobility, sensory or cognitive challenges, escorting them back into their familiar world.
- Exploring new opportunities. Even as seniors continue to enjoy old favorite activities, they should know about local resources that are available to help older adults remain connected to the community. In-home caregivers can provide transportation and encouragement as senior clients attend exercise programs, classes from the parks and recreation department, and activities offered by the local senior center; and participate in intergenerational and volunteer opportunities and senior travel programs … there is something for every senior who wants to expand their social circle in this way. Seniors and families can find out more from their local senior services department.
- Digital socialization. While spending time in the presence of others is still the best kind of socialization, studies these days confirm that going on the Internet, communicating with email, using Skype to chat and having a Facebook page also provide a healthy sense of connectedness for seniors. In-home caregivers have long helped clients with letter writing and other correspondence. For many, this activity has migrated online. Some caregivers help clients with routine computer tasks, or work with the senior and family to set up Skype, a Facebook page and other online ways to keep in touch with friends and loved ones who live at a distance.
- Alzheimer’s-appropriate activities. Today there is a revolution in dementia care. There is a new emphasis on understanding the needs and motivation of people with Alzheimer’s disease and related conditions, including the need for companionship and socialization. We now know that isolation hastens memory decline and increases the cost of care for families and our healthcare system. Meet-up groups, including the popular "Alzheimer’s cafés," art programs and other dementia-appropriate social programs are flourishing all across the country, providing participants with an environment where they can share conversation and a laugh in a comfortable, accepting environment. Some of these innovative programs require that a participant be accompanied, and this can be a great outing for a client and caregiver.
- Supporting family ties. As the needs of older family members change and they are less able to care for themselves, family often pick up the slack to support their loved one’s well-being. But the workload of caregiving—managing healthcare appointments, keeping the home safe and clean, transporting their loved one around town—means that family have less quality time to spend with their loved one. Families who live at a distance might visit for a week, only to realize as they are heading home that they have hardly spent any meaningful time with their loved one, mired as they were in practical issues. In-home caregivers provide the support that frees families to do things they really enjoy with their loved one. And family members can’t provide a senior’s whole social circle—nor should they, according to studies that show that relationships with non-family members are important for emotional, physical and intellectual health!
Creating a plan to be socially active isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Trained professional caregivers know that it’s vital to honor a person’s individuality by filling their days with meaningful, pleasant connections that fit their abilities and preferences.
For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.