If you’re taking care of a senior citizen, meeting their physical and medical needs is probably your first priority. You want to make sure they have a safe home to stay in, and one that takes their limitations into account (i.e., has ramps, handrails, or is handicap-accessible). You also want to see that any illnesses or conditions they have are being properly managed with regular visits by a reputable agency. But what you may not know is how crucial senior socialization is to overall health. Without it, seniors can become depressed and isolated, which may lead to the physical deterioration you were trying to so hard to avoid.
Socialization keeps physical health in check
Just like taking heart medication or trying to ward off osteoporosis, senior socialization helps keep physical health in check. Socialization may be as simple as keeping a cat or dog at home, since pets have been shown to lower blood pressure. Studies also indicate that interaction between people boosts immunity, leaving your loved one at a lower risk for communicable diseases. It’s important to remember that these diseases – such as the flu – can have a much more devastating effect on the older population, which makes avoiding them all the more important.
Of course, maintaining close bonds is also a terrific way to ward off mental illness such as depression and anxiety. It is even known to increase patient’s pain tolerance, and decrease their awareness of chronic pain. Finally, socialization may help seniors enjoy better nutrition, especially if they have a professional caretaker monitoring what they eat, and encouraging them to enjoy healthy foods.
Socialization helps keeps senior minds active
Senior socialization doesn’t just mean looking out for your loved one’s physical health. It’s been known to benefit the mind as well as the body. Social activity is a key part of maintaining cognition not only as a person ages, but at every stage in their life. In every one of the nursing homes I worked at, regular activities were scheduled to keep patient minds sharp. It’s just as important to get this type of intellectual stimulation when the senior lives at home.
Luckily, it’s not that difficult, and the majority of seniors prefer to remain in their homes anyway. Socialization can be as simple as having a professional caregiver play games and hold discussions with your loved one. They can also involve social workers or therapists visiting the home, if appropriate, for more intense one-on-one time. If the senior’s health permits, they may even benefit from an adult day club or arts program that takes place outside the home a few days a week.
Make senior socialization part of your overall care plan
No matter what your care plan is for your senior, socialization must be a part of it. Talk to your senior’s physician, social worker, or homecare professional to see that appropriate visits and activities are scheduled regularly. You’ll be taking an important step towards keeping your loved one happy, and at their highest level of functioning for as long as possible.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.