Writer, editor, care volunteer and supporter of Marmalade Trust, Sarah Anderson, has written some excellent advice for supporting older people.
Old friends may have moved away, partners may have passed many years ago and children may be grown and living their own busy lives. To say that the later years of life can be lonely is an understatement. However, Helping Hands have found that isolation and loneliness can be managed with a positive attitude and a conscious effort to reconnect with the things in life we all love. Here are 5 little ways to make a big difference in the lives of elderly loved ones.
It’s the worst kept secret in the world: helping others is the quickest way to help yourself. If your elderly parents or grandparents are feeling isolated, it may simply be a question of finding ways for them to feel they have a purpose again and can serve others, even if only in little ways. Older people can often feel burdened with poor health, but volunteering allows them to focus on others for a while, and enjoy feeling like they’re doing some good in the world.
Suggest a weekly shift at the charity shop, some time at the local RSPCA to befriend and care for the animals there, or simply encourage them to chip in with social and charitable events happening in their area. If mobility is an issue, you can go a long way by simply asking your loved one for their help on occasion – could you use their advice or their famous chocolate cake recipe? It can be a great confidence booster to feel as though your skills and care are still wanted and appreciated by those in the community.
Revive that old hobby
Even if your loved one doesn’t feel like a particularly creative person, now is the time to resurrect old interests and talents that maybe had to take a backseat in busier times past. Unleashing an elderly person’s creative energies is a great way to combat loneliness – and it’s not just about pottery and watercolours! Encourage completely new musical, literary or culinary explorations, or a new instrument – and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Creativity can be found everywhere. It could be as easy as redecorating the living room or arranging some cut flowers. What about a class or short course, a poetry competition or a community cooking group?
It’s all about gratitude
Part of what can make life difficult for seniors is the temptation to ruminate on old regrets of the past, or on weighty matters: what has my life amounted to? Understandably, this can be a vulnerable time and depression and anxiety are not uncommon. The antidote is simple: reconnecting with life through a renewed appreciation, rather than criticism and apathy. Can you remind the elderly person in your life of their achievements, how far they’ve come, how marvellous the sunshine is today or how lovely it will be once the roses bloom?
Consider a pet
Of course, nobody would say that only human companionship mattered! A pet can be a wonderful way to find meaning, routine and a sense of responsibility in life. For an elderly person, a pet can be an injection of positivity and unconditional love into their lives, and an indirect way to stay connected to others. Smaller, lower maintenance animals can make a quiet house feel like a home.
Loneliness and isolation can creep up quietly. If you’re concerned about a senior in your life who is adjusting to retirement, coping with illness or simply finding themselves on their own most of the time, try to encourage them to keep their curiosity for life alive. It’s never too late to learn something new or find some excitement for novel experiences. A certain pessimism can set in with age, but regularly ask your loved one – is there any place they’ve always wanted to visit? A “bucket-list” item they’ve always wanted to do? Smaller things can also do the trick, like trying out a new food, a different park for the daily walk, or being introduced to a new person and having an unexpected conversation.
With advancing age, some older people can find their social lives rather neglected, and poor health certainly doesn’t help matters. As a carer or loved one, you can do your part by reassuring them that loneliness is not uncommon, and that with a little effort, life can be full and rich again.