Of the approximate 35 million seniors in America, over 6.5 million suffer from depression. Unfortunately, depression in seniors tends to be misdiagnosed as a symptom of a physical disorder. In some cases, it is neglected altogether.
Of course, when an elderly loved one has serious medical issues or needs assistance with day-to-day tasks like grooming, it's easy to underestimate the severity or cause of depression. However, depression can have serious consequences and detract from your loved one's quality of life.
It is not uncommon for depression to be the result of dealing with loneliness. In 2019, Time Magazine reported that at least one in three seniors felt isolated or lonely, noting that this should be a major public health concern.
Read on to find out more about how dealing with loneliness can affect your loved one's mental and physical health. We'll also discuss how home health care can decrease these negative feelings.
How Loneliness Can Affect Seniors
According to the National Institute of Aging, loneliness is linked to a variety of physical health problems in seniors.
Research by the NIA has found that loneliness or social isolation is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. It has also been linked to obesity and a weakened immune system. Finally, mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, cognitive deterioration, and even dementia are more likely to affect seniors when they are lonely.
Because loneliness is linked to a variety of physical health disorders, loneliness is also linked to death. However, it isn't an illness, alone, that may lead to death. According to Mental Health America, seniors account for 20% of suicides in America.
The Difference Between Loneliness and Social Isolation
It's important to note that, in many studies, loneliness and social isolation are considered different issues.
Loneliness is the feeling of mental distress that one has when meaningful relationships are lacking. It is considered subjective.
Social isolation occurs when one is physically separated from other people. It is considered objective.
An important distinction here is that some people may not feel lonely even when they are socially isolated. This may occur if meaningful relationships are still maintained from a distance, perhaps over the phone.
At the same time, some people may feel lonely even if they are not socially isolated. This is especially true if they do not have meaningful relationships with the people they are surrounded by
Recognizing That It's Time for In-Home Health Care
Providing proper care for aging adults is both a complex and delicate process. In some instances, it may be difficult for you to recognize that it's time for in-home health care because you don't want to see your loved one in a state of need. In others, it may be difficult for seniors, themselves, to admit that they are in need.
To help break down some of these complexities, we're going to talk about some of the signs that it's time to turn to home health care.
Medications and Healthcare Routines Are Hard to Manage
One of the most evident signs that it's time for in-home health care is the difficulty of managing a healthcare routine.
In some instances, it may be hard for your loved one to take their medication at the proper time each day. This often occurs when they have multiple medications to keep track of. It can become more complicated if other forms of healthcare, such as shots or IVs, are also included in their necessary healthcare routine.
Alternatively, some seniors may need regular checkups but don't have easy access to transportation. In that case, it will be a huge relief for everyone to have registered nurses come to their home instead.
Day-to-Day Tasks Are Slipping
We often take advantage of the everyday things we're able to do as physically and mentally ready people. However, both physical and mental disorders can make important tasks difficult. This includes grooming, cooking, and cleaning.
Many of these tasks can be accomplished by a senior's loved ones. Some of these activities, such as bathing, may create discomfort or tension in personal relationships. They are often better left to trained professionals.
Plus, loved ones who are called upon to assist with day-to-day care may experience what we call "caregiver burnout." In other words, it may create exhaustion or strain to take on these responsibilities in addition to work, family caregiving, and other priorities.
Negative Moods Are More Common
You may notice that your loved one is in a negative mood more often or with increasing intensity. Negative feelings can include anger and frustration, as well as apathy, anxiety, and despair.
If you find that nothing you do seems to improve your loved one's mood, it may be time for them to spend time working with a social worker or spiritual partner. Chances are, some issues need to be talked about at length and processed. Professionally trained home caretakers are well equipped to navigate this process.
Interest in Previously Enjoyed Activities is Declining
Declining interest in previously enjoyed activities should be considered a big red flag. It could mean that your loved one needs psychological care. Loss of interest and engagement is a crucial sign of depression and may contribute to loneliness.
Pay attention to changes in daily, weekly, or monthly activities. In particular, look for lack of attendance to social or spiritual meetings. Even a change in at-home activities, such as knitting, building models, or any other hobbies, may indicate that your loved one is experiencing emotional distress.
In addition to emotional distress, these changes could indicate deteriorating cognitive functions or lessening mobility. Talk to your loved one and find out the root of the problem.
How Home Health Care Can Help Seniors Who Are Dealing With Loneliness
We often think of home health care as a strictly medical program. However, some health caretakers fulfill a variety of duties and have specialties in both physical and mental care.
For example, we work with registered nurses and dietary consultants to assist with physical health problems. We also work with physical and occupational therapists, social workers, spiritual partners, and more. Combining all of these fields allows us to offer a more holistic form of healthcare that goes above and beyond the administration of medicine.
Regular Visitations from Friendly Staff
The simplest way that in-home health care can help seniors who are dealing with loneliness is by increasing their daily social interactions. Studies have found that face-to-face interactions can significantly benefit mental health. This is because when we talk to people in person, our brains release a large number of neurotransmitters that combat anxiety and depression.
When you hire in-home caretakers from Envision Health Partners, you can rest assured that your loved one is receiving care from professionals who are friendly and empathetic! Your loved one will get to work with familiar faces on a daily or weekly basis and develop positive relationships with them.
When our health is in poor shape, whether from chronic illness, pain, or imbalanced medications, we may develop depression. This can result from the pain or feeling of illness associated with poor health or from the inability to understand what is happening to our body.
Registered nurses can help your loved one to take their health back into their own hands. They can also help to monitor your loved one's progress and work with them to make necessary lifestyle adjustments. Once your loved one is feeling healthier and more confident in their healthcare, they'll be able to devote more mental and emotional energy to the things and people that bring them fulfillment.
If your loved one is homebound, they may be experiencing a confused sense of purpose in life. Our spiritual partners deal not just with personal religious beliefs but also secular, individual, and emotional needs.
It can be tough to make sense of negative or apathetic feelings by yourself. Often, those feelings muddle our understanding of what we genuinely believe versus what our mental health is telling us to feel. When you pair your loved one with a spiritual partner, they will have someone to talk to about all of those issues which are trained to provide proper guidance.
Specialized Wellness Classes
Regular gyms can feel alienating for differently-abled people when they are catered primarily to specific age groups or body types. Seniors can leave feeling more lonely and unable to make good, healthy choices than they thought before.
For some seniors receiving in-home care, wellness classes may be a viable option that will bring them closer to a community of people who are similar in age and experiencing similar physical changes. For example, we offer a wellness class that is specifically designed for patients with Parkinson's and yoga classes that are performed with the assistance of a chair. These classes open up possibilities for group exercise for individuals who may have assumed that their ability to exercise was over.
These kinds of group wellness classes are great opportunities for socialization but admittedly, they are available only to seniors who aren't homebound. For those who are, in-home physical therapy is still an option, and our physical therapists will provide a reprieve for seniors who are dealing with loneliness.
Improved Family Time
Another great benefit of home health care is the way it affects interpersonal relationships outside of the healthcare program.
When family members or close, trusted friends are left with the task of caretaking, it can put a lot of strain on the relationship. Rather than visiting a loved one to spend quality time with them, visits become dutiful or even clinical. Between the focus you must have on their health and wellbeing and the discomfort that may arise from this change in roles, the meaningful conversation can go by the wayside.
Once professional caretakers are called in to take over those duties, family and friends are free from the feeling of obligation. Visits are made by choice, and all of that time can be devoted to chatting, sharing hobbies, and fostering a loving relationship. Also, you can resume a balanced relationship in which the focus is on both your wellbeing and the senior's wellbeing, rather than feeling one-sided.
Even if you have to maintain a relationship from afar, the conversation can extend beyond your loved one's ability to seek proper care. Their social isolation will have diminished with the arrival of regular home health care workers. Their feelings of loneliness will lessen when they are able to speak to you and other family members over the phone about positive, meaningful things.
Let Us Help Your Loved One Who is Dealing with Loneliness
If you think that it is time for your loved one to receive home health care, whether they are dealing with loneliness or feeling the effects of deteriorating health, let us help! Our team travels to homes in and around the St. Louis area and deliver top-notch care to seniors in need.
Our program, unlike many others, is not all-or-nothing. You can customize your loved one's treatment to their personal needs to make sure that they are getting optimal care. If you're not sure how to assess what those needs are, we're happy to help with that, too!
Before you commit to a specific plan of action, we provide a free at-home health assessment. Representatives from our team will make a face-to-face visit to your loved one, allowing us to determine what we think is best and allowing them to decide if they think it will be a good fit. Schedule your free home health assessment today!