Late last year, Nancy’s mother passed away after a heart attack. Since then, her father has become increasingly lonely and introverted as he spends his days at home alone. Nancy worries that mornings once filled with trips to the coffee shop to catch up with friends are now spent in front of the television. And his beloved Wednesday bridge game at the senior center has been replaced with solitary TV dinners at the kitchen counter. While Nancy takes care to ensure that her father is eating, bathing and taking his medications, she worries that the boredom and loneliness that has set in since the passing of her mother is taking a major toll on her dad’s overall well-being.
Combating loss and the three plagues of aging―loneliness, helplessness and boredom, according to pro-active elder advocate geriatrician, Dr. Bill Thomas―can be a daunting task for family caregivers. While you strive to ensure that basic needs such as food and clothing are attended to, simultaneously trying to care for a loved one’s mental and social well-being can be overwhelming. Below are a few tips for family caregivers to help support a senior widowed parent.
Allow Your Parent Plenty of Time to Grieve While Also Encouraging Social Support
Encourage your parent to talk about their loss with friends, family or a professional counselor. Grief is a process, not an event. If your parent needs to grieve, consider assisting your parent to seek out other grievers. Sometimes it’s just nice to talk with someone who has been through grief and can empathize with these feelings. Often a local hospice program or Compassionate Friends group will offer the beneficial group support sessions you are seeking. Grief can lead to serious depression for both a caregiver and their loved one so be sure to seek out professional help if the sad feelings are severe or persistent.
Plan Events That You and Your Parent Can Look Forward To
Both caregivers and older adults can get “stuck in a rut” when it comes to caregiving routines. However, planning special events can help keep seniors stay engaged by creating something for them to look forward to. For example, grabbing a take-and-bake pizza and bringing the kids along for a visit to check on your elderly father can turn your normal Friday evening caregiving duties into a quick pizza party. Times like these can help seniors feel connected to family, while also helping caregivers―who feel stretched to their limits―find more joy in their caregiving duties.
Consider Hiring Help to Provide Transportation, Companionship or Home Care
While family caregivers juggle their caregiving responsibilities, career and family, it may not always be possible to be available when your senior loved one needs assistance or a boost. You might consider hiring an individual to bring them to a social event or go for a ride together. Many home care companies offer an array of services ranging from assistance with activities of daily living, to light housekeeping and companionship. A professional in-home caregiver can offer seniors a companion to talk to, play games with, or run errands while also relieving some duties that may have been solely placed on family caregivers like housekeeping, meal preparation and medication reminders. In addition, some assisted living facilities offer short-term stays to provide much-needed respite from your caregiving responsibilities. Wherever you seek assistance from, enlisting help from outside resources offers the duel benefit of helping enrich the lives of older adults as well as relieving some of the stress associated with family caregiving.
Get Your Older Loved One Involved in Outside Social Activities and/or Services
Depending on the care needs of your loved one and where you live, most areas offer a wealth of activities for senior adults. For example, many senior centers offer enrichment classes, games and meals while adult day centers offer similar activities for adults with greater care needs. Or, for seniors who prefer to stay at home, non-profit meal delivery services offer a fresh meal as well as a brief social visit. By enlisting the social benefits of outside services, family caregivers can use these resources to help take some caregiving tasks off of their plates without feeling that senior loved ones are being neglected. If your parent is independent, assisting them with finding an opportunity to volunteer through the local Senior Corp program can give them a sense of purpose. Seniors who feel they are needed as part of a greater good will can better combat feelings of helplessness after a spouse’s passing.
Seniors who feel they are needed as part of a greater good, can work wonders by combating feelings of helplessness.
Taking steps such as those covered above to help alleviate loneliness, boredom and feelings of helplessness in your senior loved ones is critical to helping that individual through his or her grieving process and on toward a healthy recovery. Here are a few additional sources offering further information on this topic:
Have you found a specific service or activity that helped draw your elderly loved one out of their shell? If so, please leave a comment in the space below and share your experience.
Content contributed by ClearCare