Tackling loneliness in your loved ones from Harrogate care expert
The pandemic and its lockdowns have impacted everyone in our area, but it’s been particularly tough on the elderly residents in our communities. Whilst they’ve been shielding to protect their physical health, the implications of spending longer periods indoors, without seeing familiar faces, will have undoubtedly affected their mental health too. The feeling of isolation often leads to many more complex health issues but it’s not always easy to spot the signs.
Colleen & Jim Gruenwald, owners of Harrogate-based in-home care provider, Visiting Angels, know all too well the impact that isolation has on older people. A 2018 research study by Age UK showed that by 2025, the number of over 50s experiencing loneliness was set to reach two million but that has been accelerated by recent events.
“Although we’re now moving ever closer to returning to normal, impacts of the three lockdowns will have undoubtedly caused increased anxiety for many older people,” said Colleen. “The research is a serious concern from a healthcare perspective, but perhaps the most alarming thing is that this survey was conducted prior to the knowledge of the pandemic. We’re determined to help prevent any further loneliness and anxiety, especially as there’s likely to be some initial fear about getting out and about again – especially as some over 50s won’t get their second vaccinations for another 12 weeks.”
Here, Colleen gives advice on how to recognise the signs of loneliness and how to support loved ones during solitary times.
Loneliness doesn’t always look the same
Over the last 12 months, you were probably kept away from your loved ones for an extended period of time. Even if they were being visited by a carer each day, it’s not the same as seeing a face of a family member to keep their spirits high. That’s when the impacts of loneliness start to creep in. Now is the time to assess the situation to prevent symptoms from materialising or even worsening.
Contact is key. This can be whichever way you prefer, but regular check ins, around 10 minutes a day will usually be enough. If you’re still having to do this virtually, there are several apps to make the interaction fun between young children and grandparents nowadays. By keeping in regular contact, it will help you to figure out whether they require extra support and spot the signs of a downturn in health or general demeanour.
Is loneliness something you can treat?
It’s important to understand that isolation often leads to other problems too. Loneliness can cause a lack of motivation, so loved ones may lose interest in some of the most basic daily tasks. If it’s left unacknowledged, a gradual lack of enthusiasm can lead to serious issues with mental health, as this ‘hopeless’ behaviour can promote a cycle of increasing isolation and loneliness.
Speak with your GP or local care service about the option for an in-home care plan. If you’re not able to visit your loved ones personally, regular visits from an experienced care professional could give them comfort, alongside tackling two other problems: providing all-important human contact from someone who has your loved one’s best interests at heart and having someone who can support with everyday tasks around the home.
Top tips for overcoming loneliness:
- Call regularly and visit whenever you can, if it’s safe to do so – of course, you can always communicate virtually
- Ask questions about your loved one’s daily activity
- Suggest social activities for them to get involved with - get Googling to find out what’s available in their area
- Recognise signs before they escalate and reach out for professional help if you have any concerns
- Support in making lifestyle changes to help improve your loved one’s quality of life.
Colleen summarised: “It’s also crucial to look after yourself too. Try not to feel guilty for any feelings of loneliness your loved ones might be experiencing, just do your best to support them. At Visiting Angels, we’re always asked how we can support vulnerable members of the community. People often think our services are only used when someone has a physical need, but they actually consist of much more than that – our companionship service is just as popular.
“We encourage, where appropriate, that our clients and carers eat together. We believe that regular mealtimes which are shared provide a sense of routine and regularity in our lives. This offers a sense of familiarity and can evoke deep feelings of contentment and security. Caring for those who are isolating or shielding is about encouragement, interacting with people who care and ensuring they feel supported throughout this difficult time.”
To find out about the services that Visiting Angels can provide to your loved ones during this time, please visit www.visiting-angels.co.uk/northyorkswest or call 01423 608 209.