I had never heard the term “social isolation” until about 2 years ago. In general, this term means being socially disconnected from your world, and its effects can be detrimental to our physical and mental wellbeing. Social isolation can happen to anyone who is, by chance or by choice, unable to interact with others frequently and regularly. It’s one of the reasons why your role as a family caregiver is so important! You help prevent social isolation with your aging loved ones. But what about you?
Being a family caregiver can be a lonely job. If you are a full-time family caregiver you might feel isolated and forgotten by the rest of the world. When caring for someone who needs constant support, you probably don’t get away as often as you should to mingle with friends, spend time with other family members, or participate in church or community activities. Without these social interactions, family caregivers are vulnerable to a great number of health risks! Heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, depression and even Alzheimer’s disease or mental fogginess have been linked in many cases to social isolation.
This has been especially true during recent months with the COVID-19 pandemic. Older people were warned that they were especially vulnerable to the virus and asked to stay at home as much as possible. This self-imposed isolation caused rapid declines on many levels, including family caregivers and those they care for. Stress levels increased significantly, as did diagnoses of depression. Physical activity was limited with local gyms forced to close, mental stimulation was dramatically reduced as classrooms and meeting spaces were shut down, and emotional health certainly suffered. With churches not allowed to meet, spiritual health was also impacted negatively.
So enough about all the bad stuff. How do you combat social isolation? Well, even in this world of pandemic protocols there are still ways to connect with others and beat back the loneliness! But you must be intentional and do everything you can to help both yourself and those in your care. The following are some suggestions gleaned from my years of working with my mother and observing other family caregivers who also struggled with this phenomenon.
- Keep moving! Even taking a daily walk will make you feel better overall. If your mom or dad can’t walk, get them to join you in chair exercises. Play music and dance in the living room, or wave your arms around and be the conductor. Just move throughout the day.
- Eat on a regular schedule and establish routines that keep you moving forward. Manage your day, don’t be managed by it. This gives you both a sense of purpose and control.
- Make technology your friend if you haven’t already done so. I’m guessing, if you are reading this, then you are already online (unless someone else printed it out to share with you). Engage in social media on some level! It doesn’t have to be Facebook, but there are online support groups and chat rooms that can be very encouraging and uplifting! Go searching and see what you can find. It doesn’t have to be about caregiving; explore a new hobby, or resume an old one, and find a group that shares your interest.
- Zoom! It’s the new buzzword! I know that early on Zoom had some security issues, but nothing beats seeing the person you are talking with. Through Zoom several people can get together remotely, see each other’s faces, and have meetings or conversations with great results. I’ve seen families get together this way for meals, groups come together to swap ideas for how to manage in the pandemic workplace, and friends find ways to stay connected through these difficult days. Learn more about video calls and find the platform that best meets your needs.
- If technology really isn’t your thing, then your phone is your best friend. Use it often to call friends and family members. You can send texts, emails, cards and letters, but they are no replacement for the voice of a friend in a real-time conversation. Schedule calls so you can both plan the time to focus and engage in a meaningful dialogue.
- Nurture your soul. Find a Bible study or prayer group you can join, either in person or remotely. Check to see if your church is offering anything like this with remote options. Of course, keep those pandemic protocols! Masks, hand sanitizer, and social distancing are still the key to in-person groups, and we don’t want you being exposed to the virus and bringing it home to your older relatives. Meetings over Zoom or Facetime have become commonplace in our COVID world today. Don’t fear this technology; use it to your advantage to connect with others and find the support you need.
- Reach out to relatives or church members, neighbors, and others connected to your aging family members. Ask for their help in preventing social isolation for those in your care. Visits are tricky right now, but ask for commitments to call, come by for a yard visit, even make a poster to hold up from the street letting them know they are not forgotten during this time. Involve your own support team to help make social connections a regular occurrence within the household.
I hope I have given you a jumping off place from which to think about your own social isolation as well as how this impacts your loved ones. Please reach out if you need to talk through specific situations and I’ll be happy to help you brainstorm ways to engage and reconnect with others in meaningful and fulfilling ways.
Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about overcoming the dangers of social isolation.