Elderly people need people and thrive on company and humour.

 

"What elderly people need is people, not isolation."

Social studies show the elderly - in Lymington and everywhere! - are healthier and happier when surrounded by friends in a caring, friendly home, rather than isolated and living alone.

 

lady-smiling

The perception of a nursing home being a place of isolation and solitude is a myth, I have seen with my own eyes how much fun residents can have by joining in organised activities, excursions and sherry parties.  Some of the residents in care homes on our doorstep have such a busy social life, even the most sociably active among us would be envious.  One particular resident I have met, ‘Mr B’, is particularly tricky to pin down for a chat, he’s always off to a club, exercise class or excursion.  Surely this is at odds with the perception we have had engrained into us by the media of what a nursing home means.  However, this is the reality in some of our local New Forest nursing homes, and one which is borne out of their belief that busy, active over 65’s are happier and healthier for it.

 

Isolation is a terrible thing and can come in many forms, from living alone, fending for oneself, not having visitors, friends, neighbours popping in for a chat and a cuppa, the only company of the day coming from a rushed, but well-meaning care worker working against the clock to get round all their patients in the day with barely enough time to complete the necessary tasks, let alone stop and have a much needed chat.

 

Study after study has shown that some form of active socialisation can have a positive effect on anyone’s health, particularly for the elderly.  The sad truth is that as many of our elderly age, they begin to lose their social contacts for one reason or another;

•             They might lose their ability to drive, meaning loss of independence; limiting access to friends, relatives and social activities. 

•             One spouse might become ill leaving the other housebound to care for their partner.

•             Many friends pass away, sadly reducing the potential for normal social contacts.

 

The need to maintain social interactions, and thus good health, is vital.  Our natural immune system is negatively affected by social isolationism.  A recent study published in America suggested that ‘strong social ties, through friends, family and community groups, can preserve our brain health as we age and social isolation may be an important risk factor for cognitive decline in the elderly’.    The study indicated that those elderly engaged in many social contacts had the slowest rate of memory decline and less susceptibility to illness.  The idea is not to sit and wither, but engage in some form of social activity beyond the limited world of friends (who might be, unfortunately, naturally declining).  It’s easy for an elderly relative to become lonely and isolated, especially if they live alone, and loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease and dementia, making sufferers less likely to exercise.

 

With this in mind, below are some tips for increasing social activities for an elderly relative or friend:

•             Learn a new skill or hobby and have a laugh, laughing can boost the immune system, fight infection, burn calories and relieve pain.

•             Learn a new language, or try any type of brain stimulation game; get those brain cells working.

•             Seek out local voluntary work, either at a local museum, charity or library, or as voluntary walker maintaining local walking trails.

•             Join other social groups, such as church or civic organisations.

•             Contact your local community centre and see what the senior activities are in the area, many local organisations schedule their activities through community centres and seek out local workers or volunteers to assist with helping others continue to enjoy their social lives.

•             Get active or join a class where social interaction is certainly more prevalent than sitting at home, for example; find a local care home who will welcome non-residents joining in their daily schedule of activities and classes.

 

For many over 65's, their social lifestyle is already in place, yet that doesn't mean they can't change.  Encouraging your elderly relative or friend to get up, get out and live again by interacting with others can really benefit their health and they're likely to have more fun!

 

Author: Vicks Ward, on behalf of The Wilverley Association, a charitable organisation running residential care homes in the New Forest.

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