For the past decade, medical authorities have been studying something that can harm, even kill, seniors and others in poor health. The surprising culprit is loneliness, which, it turns out, can actually be as dangerous as obesity or smoking. It’s also something that Above and Beyond Home Health Care and Hospice continues to focus on minimizing or preventing in its patients.
The Mount Vernon area has plenty of opportunities for most people to be social, but people requiring home health care can’t always take advantage of all of them. Perhaps there are mobility issues, or concerns about pain or fatigue or aggravating a still-healing injury. Maybe someone could still be adjusting to a new injury or medical condition and may simply prefer to avoid any hassle and stay indoors if given the choice.
While these can all feel like pretty legitimate excuses to keep to oneself, it’s also an easy path to chronic loneliness. And this can easily lead to depression, which can often affect your health negatively.
Don’t believe us? How about the findings of Brigham Young University, which conducted a study that showed that social isolation can increase your risk of death by 30-60 percent. It’s also something where someone’s mental state can play a role: whether or not they are actually truly lonely or just feel like it, the same risk factors still can apply.
People involved in the study were all ages and health conditions, not just seniors. But seniors definitely present higher risks for loneliness and depression: friends or loved ones may have died recently, or children may not be as close, physically or emotionally. Seniors may have health or financial concerns which weigh on them and won’t have anyone to share these with.
In a hospice situation, the levels of anxiety or tendency toward depression could be even higher. People may worry about their remaining time or what will happen to their friends and families. They also may feel isolated from their friends because of their terminal status – people may feel uncomfortable or not know what to say, which could lead to fewer visitors and the person feeling even more alone.
Home health care can help
In addition to providing regularly scheduled visits and checks for medical reasons, home health care workers in the Mount Vernon area can also help with giving their patients a social experience and reduce the feelings of loneliness. Sometimes this is as simple greeting their patents/patients at every visit. They can even ask how they’re doing, and keep asking until they are given an honest, accurate answer.
Because many of the nurses, therapist and other professional staff have training in physical, mental and emotional health, they’re likely to be able to pick up if a regular patient is feeling particularly lonely. Hospice nurses also are skilled at listening while people share their concerns, fears and anxieties.
Part of the home health care experience can also include non-medical care that could make a patient feel well cared for and less isolated. Homemaker services can include light housekeeping, meal preparation, and assistance with local errands.
Even social workers can provide information about community resources or let a patient and their family members know about different volunteer services available to help a patient with their mental or physical needs.
Looking for ways to push back loneliness can be a constant process, but there’s plenty that seniors and others in home health care situations in the Mount Vernon area can do.
- Look for social or support groups. Perhaps there’s a club, charity or social group that can interest you. Your health care provider or a local medical center may also be able to provide info about support groups, which could be handy if you have certain medical conditions. Some diseases may make people feel like they’re the only ones battling them, so it’s refreshing to be around others in the same boat.
- Get online. Even if it isn’t as easy to go out as it once was, there are plenty of ways to keep in contact with friends or family members. Online social networks can let you share what you’re doing and keep up with loved ones. You can also make new friends or talk to people by video chat.
- Find reasons to celebrate. Did you know that July 11 is National Cheer Up the Lonely Day? It’s actually a legitimate holiday where people are encouraged to go out and find ways to make someone who is feeling lonely less so. If you are someone who occasionally feels lonely yourself, it’s the perfect opportunity to put a little effort into brightening someone else’s day; you’ll both benefit from your efforts to connect or reconnect.
- Create little touches. If someone is in a wheelchair, celebrate National Wheelchair Beautification Month by finding ways to make their chair look extra stunning. Maybe add flowers, stickers or other elements to the wheels or spokes. Or ask them what cheery ways they would like their wheelchair enhanced. Consider taking similar supplies to a local nursing home and encouraging the residents to get crafting.
Overall, it’s easy to feel down when there are fewer people around you, and it can feel easier to stay in this mood rather than remembering that there are opportunities around to shake off loneliness. Contact Above and Beyond Health Care for other ways that people can help.