By Kewana Jamison, RN, Agrace
Retirement went well at first for 70-year-old Dave: No more cows to milk and hay to bale for the life-long Wisconsin farmer.
But over the next five years, he slowly changed. Once a friendly storyteller, Dave struggled to hold a conversation. His thoughts wandered and his sentences trailed off. He coped with the changes by spending more time alone. In his favorite recliner, watching sports and endless reruns of Perry Mason, Dave felt comfortable. But his world was shrinking.
Eventually, Dave refused to go to church. He could no longer keep up with the other card players at the VFW, and it wasn’t safe for him to drive to town. His wife worried about his isolation—and whether Dave would go downhill even faster.
Dave’s story hits home for many Wisconsin families. About one in every four Americans aged 65 and older is socially isolated, and a significant number of adults report feeling lonely, according to a 2020 Consensus Study Report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.1 The same report notes that social isolation is associated with about a 50 percent increased risk of dementia.
We are social beings! We like to see and be with other people. When we’re secluded, we can’t feed our need for human contact. A phone call or a video chat isn’t always enough. We need to be around other people and talk. A conversation might jog a happy memory for someone whose memory is slipping. That’s why families look for ways to restore the connections, happiness and health their senior loved ones have lost—hoping to slow down cognitive decline.
There are mental benefits to your senior loved one if they are able to be active, interact with others and do interesting, challenging things. A 2012 scientific literature review by the Journal of Aging Research found that “physical activity, intellectual stimulation and socialization all provide benefits to cognition and overall well-being in patients with age-related cognitive impairments.”2
Some of the usual places seniors could socialize—at senior centers, churches and social clubs—may still be off limits because of the pandemic. So here are a few other options:
Even during the pandemic, you can do a lot to foster your loved one’s sense of well-being and help them stay sharper. Give these ideas a try!
Kewana Jamison, RN, is manager of the Agrace Adult Day Center in Madison. She has worked at several skilled nursing facilities in the Madison area, caring for residents with dementia. She loves to tell stories and jokes; eat BBQ and soul food; play dominoes, pool and darts; and take cruises.
1Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults: Opportunities for the Health Care System (2020) A consensus study report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.