5 Top tips to stop your elderly family and friends feeling lonely in Winchester
None of us want to be lonely or become isolated, but unfortunately for lots people they do, for those of an elderly age in the later years of their life this is all too common. Those living in around Winchester are no different, the current COVID-19 pandemic has raised the issue more so than ever about how difficult in can be when an elderly persons support networks change.
Many older people become lonely and socially isolated and often without outside help they cannot do too much about it. However, with good support networks, an effective plan and a desire to avoid loneliness it does not need to happen.
At St Cross Grange we have a wonderful care home full of elderly residents a lot of which from Winchester, we find most of those who move in to our home talk about times where they lived alone and felt terribly lonely and isolated. We base a lot of our daily life in the home on ensuring we avoid our residents feeling like this as we are aware how much loneliness can effect you.
5 Causes of loneliness and isolation
- Lack of face-to-face interaction
- Infrequent telephone contact
- Losing friends and neighbours
- Losing confidence
- Becoming less mobile
1. Lack of face-to-face interaction
Families and friends can make a plan to ensure that they visit regularly and that those people the person living with dementia loves the most see them as often as possible. Creating a plan and talking about it with the rest of the family ensures busy schedules can take account of visiting Mum in advance and they don’t look back and realise “I have not seen her for 2 months…” In recent months even those living down the road from their family have been unable to see them due to ‘Shielding’ or fear of passing COVID-19 infection to their loved one.
Depending on how tech savvy they are FaceTime, Skype, Watsapp Video or other video calling may really help maintain that face-to-face element when 200 miles of travelling lies between you. The more regularly you do this the more comfortable the older person will be with both the concept and the process. With the assistance of a next door neighbour or friend maybe even a carer to set up these video calls it can become a much easier process than you might think. Facebook have recently released a product called ‘Facebook Portal’ , this allows video calling from your TV or a picture frame sizes screen.
At St Cross Grange we have adapted a lot of our visiting techniques, especially this year due to COVID-19 and our biggest change is video calling. At first most of our residents didn’t feel confident to try it but once we supported them by setting up the video calls and ensuring they could see and hear their loved one it became a lot easier. With COVID-19 still a challenge the World is yet to overcome these video calls will continue to be a key way for us to communicate.
2. Infrequent telephone contact
Again families working together to make sure that Mum or Dad doesn’t get forgotten may be the answer. Agreeing a certain time of the day or day of the week to call may help build a routine which may be more sustainable as their dementia journey progresses.
There are telephones specifically designed to be easy for people living with dementia to use. They may have bigger buttons or pre-programmed numbers with the picture of a loved one for easy use. Again the key to prolonging the telephone as a means of staying in touch for as long as possible is to use it regularly so both the process and the concept continues to be easy for them to enjoy.
At St Cross Grange our residents bedrooms have the ability for a phone to be set up and for them to make and receive calls from their room. A lot of our residents also use a large button phone for ease of use and we find its a comfort for our families to know they can call their loved one whenever they wish to.
3. Losing friends and neighbours
There is not much that can be done to stop this but there are ways to mitigate it. As people age and can no longer do everything for themselves you could get a cleaner, housekeeper or companion to offer support. This non-care professional could start visiting long before a person develops formal care needs and can be used to take some of the strain away. They could also provide a vital human interaction at the same time and provide much needed socialisation.
In most communities there is a number of social clubs for older people and people living with dementia; sometimes these are council run and sometimes by other organisations like charities or care homes. In many cases these are really under subscribed and if they were full then other organisations would jump at the chance to run their own. You might also consider moving Mum or Dad closer to you or looking at supported living options or even a residential care home.
At St Cross a lot of our residents move in after loosing their partner, it’s such a difficult time when coming to terms with not spending every day with the one you love most dearly. Our team are very aware of the risks of an elderly person who has lost the daily social contact they need and this is why we try to encourage and build their confidence talking with others who live there. We find talking to others who have been through a similar experience can be comfort and help with coming to terms with a loss of a partner.
4. Losing confidence
There may be little we can do to stop people losing confidence but we may be able to rebuild it or slow it down. Or maybe we can just get somebody to go with them for that walk or visit to the shops. There are also many technology solutions that might just help them retain their confidence for a bit longer and allow them to go out on their own. These solutions can range from carrying a simple mobile phone so they can call for help if they get in trouble to a GPS tracker.
Lack of confidence is something we experience a lot at St Cross Grange, our staff are very aware of the need to encourage and build residents confidence back up when they believe they cannot do things anymore. This is something our activities staff spend a lot of time on, we find those who have stopped painting, singing, gardening or playing an instrument say they wont be able to do it anymore. Its usually those people who end up being the ones who participate most once they get their confidence back. Its all about encouragement and support when building someones self belief back.
5. Becoming Less Mobile
A common issue for those of an elderly age whether they live with dementia or not is loosing their mobility, this can result in not leaving the house for months and in some instances years. Not only does this cause someone to become quite sad and sometimes depressed it also risks them loosing their cognitive functions even more. Most families comment how their loved one communicates much better by the end of visit than when they arrive, this is purely because when a loved one is sitting in their house alone with no interaction or activity is in inevitable their brain function will start to decline.
To assist this it might be possible to improve the walking aids they are using or even to get a mobility scooter, they might still need to be assisted to go out with a family member or friend but in most instances the ability to just pop to a shop a couple of times a week can improve someones mood and communication.
We find our residents at St Cross can easily lose confidence following a fall or similar, the key thing is to be patient and supportive when talking with them. A lot of elderly people can recover and get back to where they were but it takes time and encouragement every single day. We use local physiotherapists to assist those with mobility issues and regularly consult with mobility specialists to ensure the right walking and transferring aids are in place.