By Kevin Smith
Even the most private, introverted or reclusive among us need regular face-to-face connections. Whether it’s a one-on-one coffee with a longtime friend, a group book discussion or a morning at worship, regular interaction with other humans helps us learn to listen and empathize, put seemingly difficult issues in perspective and feel part of a larger community.
A recent article by BBC Future talks about how chronic, prolonged isolation warps the mind and alters our sense of reality: Chronically lonely people have higher blood pressure, are more vulnerable to infection, and are also more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Loneliness also interferes with a whole range of everyday functioning, such as sleep patterns, attention and logical and verbal reasoning.
According to the AARP Foundation, older people may become isolated from their family and community because of injury or illness. They may lose the ability to drive and don’t have alternate means of getting from point A to B. Adult children who spend lots of time caring for an older parent or relative may begin to lose connections with their own support network. If a person’s health or mobility restrictions or caregiving duties escalate, it’s easy to become homebound (or feel stranded).
At Best of Care, we know how damaging isolation, and the loneliness that comes with it, can be to one’s physical health and mental well-being. We have seen first-hand how it can erode one’s sense of reality and connectedness, which in turn can exacerbate a pre-existing health issue.
Many of our homebound elderly clients interact with nearby family and friends on a regular basis through weekend outings and weekly visits. But many others aren’t so lucky: their families may live in another part of the country. Their long-time friends may have passed away, or are ill. Their spouses may have died.
In addition to the weekly visits we pay to their homes and the individualized support we provide, it’s our job to understand what kind of interaction each client thrives on. This knowledge helps us design care programs that help them stay connected to and engaged in the lives of others. From card and board games that stimulate thinking, to visits to the shopping center, library or physician, to discussion of current events or TV programs, to supporting a client’s specific interest or hobby, caregivers focus on stimulating dialog and positive sharing.