As a carer, it’s natural that you’ll be thinking of personal care and mealtimes for a loved one, but ensuring they have a social life or at least some form of social contact with others is important for both of you.
When you’re caring for a loved one, much of the emphasis tends to go on making sure they are receiving the care they need. The focus tends to be on mealtimes, personal care and ensuring they are physically OK, but in fact, one of the key things to consider when you’re caring for someone is their quality of life. What happens in their life when they are not being washed, dressed or having meals placed in front of them? Social contact with other people – notably friends and family –which of course takes the emphasis off personal care for a while, is hugely important for mental health and emotional wellbeing. Having the opportunity to have a normal conversation with a friend or relative that doesn’t revolve around care can be a welcome break for the person and also give you a chance to take some time out to recharge your batteries.
Sadly, as we age, we can become more vulnerable to social isolation. Age UK estimates that more than 2 million people in England over the age of 75 live alone, with more than a million older people reporting they can sometimes go for up to a month without speaking to a friend, family member or neighbour.
Encouraging your loved one to receive visitors and have social contact is key to a healthier, happier life. Studies show that combating loneliness by ensuring good social interaction can also reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia by 26 per cent, and help them to live longer, too. In fact, according to Age UK, loneliness can be as harmful to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
If the person is still mobile and goes out, encourage them to pop to the shops and chat to others when they go out. If they struggle to get out and about, and you’re limited on how much time you can spend with them, suggest that they check out their local branch of Age UK, which is likely to hold lunch clubs, exercise classes or craft courses they could sign up to.
When it comes to feeling more fulfilled in life, taking up a new hobby can be a brilliant way of adding more excitement, happiness and joy to life. If the person is unable to do that, then simply trying to keep their mind active will help.
Or course, you may find that your loved one doesn’t feel up to mixing or socializing much with others. If they feel they don’t look their best, or they are particularly under the weather, then don’t put them under pressure to mix with other people. However, encouraging them to chat about normal, everyday things, asking their opinions on stories or events in the news, and generally getting them talking as much as possible, without tiring them out too much, can be ideal for their emotional wellbeing.