Social interaction becomes more important as people age.
According to Beth Sipple, director of community services and programs at the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging in Cleveland, and Paul Sobel, executive director of Village in the Heights in South Euclid, a simple visit can do wonders.
“Everyone needs companionship,” Sobel began. “Whether you live in a facility or you live independently, if people don’t come to visit their older loved ones, these people will get lonely. Loneliness can kill. Just as we want to know others care about us, our elders are no different in their need for attention.”
Sipple said seniors frequently feel isolated and visits can keep the family connected. But, she added, visits can hold weight in care situations, too.
“It is important to have an advocate,” she stated. “If your family member is living in a facility, it’s important for you to be an advocate to find out what their care is and to be involved with the care team. It’s important for the facility to know that you’re involved and it’s important for the adjustment of your family member to the facility.”
Frequent visits can positively impact health, both mentally and physically.
“The mental benefits are that you’re going to maintain that person’s engagement in the community,” Sipple noted. “You can be that person bringing back news from the community and the family to help that person feel less isolation which will help decrease symptoms of depression. Physically, as the patient advocate, you may see something the patient isn’t receiving. You know their needs and preferences, so you can help be part of that care team.”
Sobel added, “When we interact with each other, that communication and stimulus is so important – mentally and physically. The simplest act of reaching out to an elder who feels lonely can generate a remarkable improvement in their self-perception and how they will treat others.”
When it comes to the frequency of visits, take an individualized approach.
“Every person’s needs are individual, so it depends on this person’s level of involvement themselves,” Sipple said. “Are they someone very busy with field trips or activities and they only need a visit once a week? Is there such a thing as too much? With that, you’d need to check with the facility and the person.”
Sobel agreed, adding there isn’t anything wrong with a daily visit.
“If you can’t visit, then call. A phone call is, at the very least, a good place to start in letting them know that you care,” he said. “Even if we can’t get to see our older loved ones every day, ask friends to come and spend time with them. It’s worth the world of difference to them.”
Regardless of the frequency of visits, consider what the visits should consist of.
“Ask them how they are and engage them,” Sobel suggested. “You don’t want to go in and tell people what’s new and interesting. No matter how old someone is or how frail they are, they have their own ideas they want to share and express – if we pull (the ideas) out of them – and it’s worth mining into these. You can learn something from them. It’s important to do.”
Sipple added, “You can be thinking about what your loved one enjoys, and what their routines and hobbies are. It’s about keeping them abreast without overburdening them. Make time for them to share their concerns, too.”