When loneliness becomes ‘comfortably uncomfortable’ it’s time to make a change.
You know that heartbreaking feeling when you visit your grandparent or elderly mother or father and realise they are struggling with loneliness. The television is turned on but they’re not watching anything in particular. They have the curtains drawn but it’s daylight outside. They wander aimlessly from room to room but can’t find anything to do. It’s confronting when you realise that loneliness is stealing away their days and their confidence.
Feeling isolated or lonely can happen to anyone at any age. But the feeling for many older people who are living on their own due to the loss of a loved one or the isolation caused from COVID-19, can be crippling.
When they’ve experienced loneliness for weeks, months or even years, it starts to become familiar territory. The thought of stepping out to meet new people, experience new places or try new things, is overwhelming. Loneliness slowly chips away at their self-esteem, making it difficult to feel strong in their decision making, or confident in what they have to offer the world.
integratedliving Psychologist Daniela Anderson meets people every day dealing with loneliness who sometimes don’t recognise that when they take the first step to having a better life, they are not only helping themselves, but other people too.
“When you’re feeling really lonely and staying at home regularly, it’s easy to start feeling ‘comfortably uncomfortable’. You don’t want to be in the position you’re in, but it’s scary to think about making a change,” she said.
“What you don’t think about is that there are lots of other people out there like you and by joining a club or activity or going on an outing, you’ll be helping the people around you too.”
“You forget that you have a lot to offer. You can add to conversations and make someone enjoy having a laugh. By taking a step out of what has become your comfort zone, you potentially are helping those around you.”
Helping an elderly parent combat loneliness is significant for many reasons.
Why is it important to help our lonely parents?
Loneliness can have a damaging impact on their mental and emotional health, as well as their physical health. The feeling of being supported and having connection to other people, is actually vital to living well. Continued feelings of loneliness over long periods of time can increase the risk of:
- depression and anxiety
- decline in mobility from not being physically active
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- chronic pain
What makes seniors feel lonely?
Most commonly, loneliness is due to the loss of a spouse and the sudden change in lifestyle. Sometimes losing a husband or wife results in needing to move to be closer to other family members or downsizing into a smaller place. This can impact their self-esteem and sense of security as the home they created with their partner was a place of comfort and safety.
The change from being part of a couple and living each day with someone’s company to being on your own can be traumatic. Having to learn to do things by themselves can be scary after so many years of doing things in a partnership.
As our parents get older, they naturally lose physical strength and flexibility and this can lead to them shying away from doing certain tasks or trying something new. The problem is, the more their confidence is depleted, the more they become housebound, which is likely to cause a further decline in their physical mobility.
Help for lonely seniors
It’s not easy encouraging your lonely elderly parent to make those small steps, but it’s those little changes to their everyday routine that can make the biggest difference.
“Sometimes it can feel like a ‘speed bump’ and they just need some motivation to get the momentum happening,” Daniela said.
“The way to overcome this is for them to just do something small. They don’t have to feel like it’s a big commitment and they can’t get out of it if they decide they don’t want to do it.”
“For instance, if your elderly mother is feeling worried about joining an art class and potentially making a big commitment of a few weeks, encourage her to commit to something smaller, like a trial class, and go with her if you can.
“If she wants to do some craft at home but is finding it hard to get started and feels like it’s a big effort, just encourage her to do it for five minutes. Because once she gets to that five- minute mark, you’ll most likely find she’s keen to keep going.”
What to do for lonely elderly parents
- Invite them to come along with you on a casual outing to the shops or library.
- Plan some fun outings where they can visit local places they don’t often go to, such as the nursery or coffee shop and then slowly work towards an outing to the Botanic Gardens or beach. Take them to places that reignite happy memories for them, and let them tell you their stories of the good times they remember.
- Help them set small achievable goals and recognise those that help them build self-esteem.
- Encourage them to reignite an old hobby or interest by doing some searching with them on an iPad or computer to see where there might be local classes.
- Making new friends can be daunting as we get older so offer to go with them to their first hobby or activity group to help break the ice and settle them in.
- Look at an Activity Centre as an option for a day’s outing in a safe and supportive environment where they can be involved in lots of interesting activities and meet new people possibly in similar situations.
- If they aren’t digitally savvy, it is worth getting them to learn how to use an iPad as this will allow them to search interesting topics, share photos, and even join classes online with people their own age.
- If you don’t live nearby or can’t see your parent regularly, a Support Worker can help to take your parent on outings or to do their shopping and errands. This can provide regular company, improving their social connection.
- Improve their mobility. Being more physically capable will help them feel more confident to participate in activities. Invite them to go on a short walk to get them moving.
- Most of all, be patient! They will want to go at their own pace, and it takes time to establish new habits and routines.
If your senior parent needs some help at home, emotional support from the guidance of a psychologist, assistance with activities, exercise and things to do, call integratedliving Australia on 1300 782 896.
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