As of a 2014 U.S. Administration on Aging study, about 28% of noninstitutionalized older persons in the U.S. lived alone (12.5 million: 8.8 million women, 3.8 million men). And almost half (46%) of older women age 75+ live alone. 46% of those who live alone report feeling lonely on a regular basis. This sense of isolation is intensified during the winter months, when it is more difficult for seniors to leave their home without risk due to the dangers of cold, difficult driving conditions and the increased risk of falls. It is also the season when visits from friends and family members may be reduced because it is harder to reach them.
There are several steps you and your loved one can take to reduce this sense of isolation during the winter months.
- Plan for safe transportation and assistive devices. It is essential to make transportation for outings easily accessible, whether you drive them, provide a shuttle/taxi service or provide assistance to use public transportation. Make sure they use whatever adaptive technologies they may require to travel safely, such as a cane, walker, hearing aid, or other assistive devices. It is also important that they are well-protected with properly layered clothing, hats and gloves, and sturdy shoes when they leave home. Other winter aids, such as hand and feet warmers, can benefit those with circulation issues.
It takes a village. If the weather makes it impossible for you to regularly visit your senior loved one, enlist the help of others who may be nearby and more easily able to visit. Can a neighbor knock on the door and check-in? Can nearby friends make a standing weekly meeting time to visit? And don’t forget to call or email your loved one regularly if you can’t visit in person.
Consider Food Delivery. Seniors who live alone are often at greater risk of poor nutrition when the weather is inclement. To combat malnourishment, consider getting food delivered by an organization such as Meals on Wheels (in the U.S.), which can provide not just nutritious food but social contact. Some companies/grocery stores are currently offering home grocery delivery, even in more rural areas (such as Amazon Fresh). If you can plan a weekly meal date so that your elderly loved one doesn’t have to dine alone, that would be even better.
Furry love. If your elderly loved one can care for and afford a pet, invest in a companion animal. A pet not only eases isolation and provides love but having a being dependent upon them for care can provide a senior with a sense of purpose. If your elderly loved one is not a pet person, then indoor plants and gardening can be another rewarding focus for love and attention.
Connect with local services. Identify local senior centers, transportation services, and other helpful programs for the elderly. In the U.S., you can use the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator website to get in touch with your local Area Agency on Aging, which will provide information on these services.
- Caregiver support. If you cannot regularly visit your elderly loved one, an in-home caregiver not only provides assistance with daily needs but can also offer personal companionship and encourage social activities, both inside and outside the home.
— Contributor for The Senior’s Choice