Everyone knows the secret to aging well is eating right and getting the proper exercise. But don’t overlook a third and equally important component: Spending time socializing with others. And, for most people, family is among the most important “others.”
The next time a special holiday is approaching, whether Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or even your parent’s birthday, don’t just get that card in the mail and order a nice flower arrangement. Spending your time with your elderly parent would, no doubt, be more appreciated than a carload of flowers and has benefits you couldn’t imagine.
For one, it would ameliorate the toll loneliness takes on the elderly. Consider some of the findings of a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) study:
- 18 percent of seniors live alone, while 45 percent report regularly feeling lonely.
- Those over age 60 who report feeling lonely have a 45 percent increased risk for death, and those who are isolated have a nearly 60 percent increased risk of both physical and mental decline than those who are more social.
- About two-thirds of seniors who report feeling lonely live either with a spouse or a partner. This would indicate that the quality of the company they keep is of primary importance.
It is one thing for an elderly adult to be living with loneliness, but frequently those who are isolated perpetuate their situation by rejecting social engagement or pushing away those seeking to draw them out. But a well-thought-out plan by a family member who may be able to get past an elder’s objections can reap rewards that may make a crack in the wall.
Ideas for Spending Time with Your Elderly Parents
Aren’t sure what do with your mom and dad? Concerned they might not be able to keep up?
Consider these suggestions for engaging your elderly parent on the holiday:
- Plan to make a scrapbook or family album together and shop for the necessary components ahead of time. Scour your house for any photos or mementos to include. This will not only give them something to look at when you aren’t there, but also will provide some healthy conversation while you both reminisce over the significance of each item.
- Have your parent teach you a skill at which they excel. If Dad does woodworking, have him show you the basics of making something simple, like a birdhouse. If Mom was a prize-winning quilt maker, ask her for a primer on how to make a simple quilt design, like a wall hanging.
- You can also teach them something. Show your parents how to use Skype or Facebook, and then they will have another means of communicating with family and friends.
And don’t let the miles get in your way — be creative. Arrange ahead of time to have staggered Skype sessions with far-flung members of the family. Apart from in-person hugs, a look at the faces of those grandchildren is a guaranteed spirit booster.
Planting a garden, renting a couple of vintage movies — the ideas are limited only by your imagination. Just keep in mind that the time you spend with your parents — and the quality of your interaction — will stay with them long after your visit.