The festive season is nearly upon us and although it is a time for giving, sharing and laughter, it can also be a time of isolation and loneliness for those living alone, with no family nearby.
If you are aware of an elderly resident who may be facing issues of isolation, there are a number of ways in which you can help make a difference to their lives, encouraging them to feel like a valued member of your community. Research suggests the following actions can be enough to boost morale amongst elderly residents:
- Start a conversation – the most important thing you can do for a lonely or grieving person is to “simply reach out and ask how they are”, says Ros Knight, president of the Australian Psychological Society. Give them space to talk about their feelings, but if they’d rather not open up, don’t push it. Instead, you can suggest doing something fun that will get them thinking about other things.
- Smile – A small gesture that can make a huge impact when you meet someone. Smiling not only benefits the person you are interacting with but also yourself, as it reduces stress, pain and makes you feel happier and more relaxed.
- Show them how to use technology – Introducing an elderly resident to email, SMS or FaceTime will provide them with the tools to communicate with their loved ones in real time. Even introducing them to an online game such as ‘Words with Friends’ can help them feel connected with their friends’, family or even a random player picked from millions of users.
- Write a season’s greetings card – A simple card or well-wishing letter may be enough to increase feelings of belonging and purpose.
- Deliver a hot meal – The UK’s Royal Voluntary Service found 23% of elderly people skip meals at least 3 times a week and 11% rely on ready-made meals, as they find eating alone too lonely. Delivering a home cooked meal can not only be a positive reinforcement that someone cares, but can also provide much needed nutrients to someone who may not be eating as regularly as they should. Putting together a festive food hamper for someone may well be the only gift they receive.
- Invite them to an event – Inviting residents along to your own festive event is a thoughtful way to help them feel included and connected. If you feel like a busy event full of strangers may be overwhelming for them, consider inviting them to a smaller gathering. It can be anything from a book club to a walk around the park. Singing also has great benefits, including releasing endorphins that increase feelings of happiness, a good reason to organise a good old fashioned Christmas Carol get together.
- Encourage them to form a plan – If the person would prefer to venture out and meet new people, check what events and activities your local council is hosting. They may be holding a lunch or some carols over the holiday period. This information is readily available on local council websites.
- Review their care plan – Some extra companionship might be a great addition to your residents’ care plan. Where nursing and carer services are not directly available onsite, residents may be eligible for a variety of government funded packages that offer support to get out and about and stay socially connected. You can find more information about these service from Programmed Care.
In all of this, it is important to look for ways to be kind to your neighbours without overwhelming them. Sometimes a smile or small talk can be all someone needs to brighten their day.
Individuals feeling isolated for extended periods of time for no obvious reason, could already be dealing with depression. Encourage them to talk to their doctor or other healthcare professional. Alternatively, organisations such as Beyond Blue, 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline, 13 11 14 may be able to help.