Only the lonely: new restrictions and senior loneliness
Calgary is currently a high case region with expanded restrictions that require us to stay home to stay safe. It’s not an ideal scenario for any of us, but for seniors and the elderly living alone, it can be particularly hard.
At the time of writing the restrictions state that:
- close contacts are limited to household members only
- people who live alone can have up to 2 close contacts: these must be the same two contacts throughout the duration of the restriction
- if the close contacts do not live alone, visits cannot be held at their home
This basically means that people living alone can be visited by their contacts, but not visit the contacts at their home unless they also live alone. Two contacts could be two adult children who live in separate households, or an adult child and their partner who live together. It could also be an adult child and a friend.
With travel restricted and no overnight stays allowed, this realistically means that the adult child who lives closest is most likely to be one of the two close contacts.
But what if there are no children or relatives close by? Or a senior’s close friends are also seniors, and shielding themselves? Then loneliness itself can become a health issue.
Health risks of loneliness
According to a 2020 report for Statistics Canada entitled “Social isolation and mortality among Canadian seniors”,
“The impact of social isolation and loneliness on health and well-being is recognized globally as a public health issue … Research generally demonstrates that social isolation is associated with increased risk of mortality on par with or greater than more traditional risk factors such as alcohol use, smoking and obesity.”
Home care during restrictions
As 2020 showed, lockdown can be a very lonely time, and with friends and family unable to visit, many seniors simply didn’t see people for days at a time.
The good news is that:
“Restrictions do not apply (to) Service visits from caregivers, health or childcare providers.”
That’s why home care from Vitality really did make a difference to our customers. The reassuring sight of a friendly caregiver coming in to help with personal care, a little light housekeeping, unloading grocers and a load of laundry is always welcome. Perhaps even more important is the interaction; a chat, a cup of tea, perhaps even a shared puzzle or talk about family and grandchildren.
The pandemic has heightened some of the primary reasons behind loneliness, including:
- Family living miles away – and now unable to travel
- Loss of social contact – with no visitors allowed and social groups cancelled
- Health problems that prevent close interaction even without restrictions
Signs of loneliness
If you are concerned that someone you know might be lonely, at any age, here are signs to look out for. Many are similar to symptoms of depression, which may result from being lonely.
- Significant changes in their routine, such as getting up late
- Neglecting their appearance or hygiene
- Not eating well, or erratic mealtimes
- No being their ‘usual self’, with low energy
- Low self esteem
How to help someone who is lonely
One of the easiest ways to help someone who is lonely is to just ‘be there’. At present, that will mean being on the end of a phone, available for a video chat, or simply helping with errands such as shopping. Even the interaction of dropping off shopping on their porch and talking at a social distance will help.
Be patient and offer gentle reassurance. Low self esteem may make the lonely person snappy or irritable, which may be hiding deeper concerns. So, be patient and allow them to talk things through. Be empathetic rather than sympathetic – try to understand their situation rather than apologising for it.
Encourage them to get help. There are services available to help tackle loneliness, and the restrictions won’t last for ever. Help them make plans to reconnect once restrictions are lifted, and access online and phone support in the meantime.
Home care for the lonely
As we’ve said above, home care isn’t just about chores and personal care. Home care provides, company, social interaction, engagement, mental stimulation and a reminder that there is still a world outside the front door. For those newly living on their own, perhaps after the loss of a long-term spouse or partners, it’s a reason to get up, get going and something to look forward to. It builds structure into their days, and adds a sense of purpose too.
And it’s not just for those living on their own.
For seniors where one is the full-time caregiver for the other, home care visits can provide welcome respite. It gives the caregiver the chance to have a couple of hours to themselves, knowing that someone else is keeping an eye on their loved one.
For those cared for, it is a change of face and a new conversation. Just as you can feel lonely in a crowd, you can feel lonely at times with a partner you share your life with 24/7. Home care gives the opportunity for fresh conversation, new insights, an update from the world outside the home.
Concerned your loved one might be lonely?
We understand that all the family can’t be there in person, but our caregivers can. Contact us to discuss home care that can really make the difference, whether as a one-off respite visit, a weekly visit, or more often, as required.