Stop us if this sounds familiar. You’re a caregiver of a loved one, and in the past you had enjoyed going out with friends, inviting neighbors over for dinner, maybe even participating in some clubs. But as time goes by, you’ve started withdrawing from social events. You’re tired. You don’t have time. And even though you’d like to see people, you don’t know what you’d even be able to talk about.
“Social isolation is unfortunately very common among family caregivers,” says Lori Luzzo, Executive Director of Bridges® at Pembroke, a memory care assisted living community in Pembroke, MA. “Research has shown that social interaction is beneficial for both caregivers and seniors, and it can help improve our mood, our health and allow us to feel more supported and part of a community. It’s an essential part of any care plan, and should be just as important for caregivers as medication management and daily exercise.”
Humans are, by nature, social individuals. We thrive when we’re part of a group, but when we’re isolated, we become withdrawn, depressed and unmotivated. Not only that, but socialization helps us stay healthy. There have been many studies that show how staying social can keep our minds active (and reduce our risk of dementia), keep our bodies healthy (due to increased exercise and higher levels of serotonin) and, overall, give us a better quality of life.
The Benefits of Socialization
Socialization can mean a lot of different things to different people. It may be getting together with friends, or it may simply be going to the mall and people-watching. It may be going to a baseball game, volunteering at the animal shelter, or having a neighbor over for a cup of tea and chat. No matter how you and your senior loved one choose to socialize, you’ll see benefits fairly quickly – sometimes immediately.
It reduces stress.
Caregivers can live in their head a lot, especially when they don’t do a lot of socializing. It’s easy to become consumed with the task of caring for your loved one, which can lead to anxiety, depression and snappishness. Doing something social, even if it’s just walking around the block with a friend, can help get you out of your bubble and focus on something else besides the running task list in your head. Socializing can also help reduce stress by giving caregivers an opportunity to share their frustrations and concerns and feel heard.
For seniors, being social helps release serotonin in the brain, which lowers cortisol levels naturally. Being around others also makes them feel included and part of a larger community. Doing activities with others can also help boost their self-esteem and sense of purpose.
It improves your immune system.
Although you or your loved one may reduce the risk of catching a cold from the checker at the grocery store, staying at home by yourselves can actually worsen your immune system. According to researchers, the chemicals and hormones secreted by our bodies when we’re interacting with others can boost your immune system and help you fight off colds, the flu – and even some forms of cancer. Plus, being out and about with others can increase your level of physical activity, gets you fresh air and sunshine (both of which are positive) and keeps minds curious.
It helps you sleep better.
Staying at home can lead to boredom and loneliness, both of which can disrupt sleep patterns. However, going out and being social help reduce both of these factors, as well as helps to keep your circadian rhythm in check.
It improves quality of life.
Being with others reminds us that we’re part of something greater than ourselves. It helps us feel secure and supported, which boosts positive endorphins and provides a sense of calm and well-being. Your physical body isn’t the only thing that needs caring for – your emotional and mental states need to be nurtured as well.
Tips on How to Be More Social
If you’re tired and burned out, the last thing you feel like doing is scheduling something that you “have” to do. Perhaps you even feel guilty about wanting to go out and “get away” instead of caring for your loved one. Here are some tips to help you get past that hurdle and make socialization an important part of your and your senior loved one’s life.
Think of socialization as a care treatment.
A great way to change up your way of thinking is to visualize socialization as an important part in your care regimen. Just as you eat right and get exercise, socialization is part of our plan for staying healthy. By internalizing the idea that being social and with those we care about make us healthier and happier, caregivers are less likely to experience guilt.
Make concrete plans and protect them.
Let’s say you’ve made plans to meet a friend for lunch, but when the day arrives, you’re tired/cranky/have too much to deal with. It’s tempting to cancel. But don’t. Commit to doing something social at least once a week and making it as important as a doctor’s appointment or a haircut – in other words, don’t cancel unless it’s a real emergency.
Surround yourself with those who lift you up, not bring you down.
There are people in our lives who are a joy to be around, and there are people who – even if we love them – can sap our energy. As a caregiver, you need to be surrounded by companions who can provide positive energy, understand and appreciate what you do and truly care about you – not what you can do for them. Whether you find these people at a support group, at church, in your close circle of friends or your family, find those who uplift and inspire your spirits so that you look forward to interactions.
Keep it simple.
You don’t have to go on a girl’s weekend or do a day-long extravaganza in order to feel recharged and refreshed (although if you can swing it, more power to you). Something as simple as a five-minute phone call, bantering texts or even chatting with your local barista as you grab a coffee can be a mini-break that will make you smile. Find the moments of joy where you can and appreciate them for what they are – a lot of those little moments can quickly add up to a bunch of happiness.
Compassionate Care for All Stages of Memory Loss
Bridges® by EPOCH at Pembroke provides assisted living memory care that is comfortable, positive, safe and engaging. Exclusively dedicated to caring for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia or memory impairment, we’ve created a wellness-focused lifestyle that promotes dignity and individual preferences. Our memory care professionals receive specialized and ongoing training designed to help residents maximize their independence in a secure, calm environment – making a truly positive impact on the lives of our residents each and every day.
Dedicated Memory Care
The team of compassionate dementia-care experts at Bridges® by EPOCH at Pembroke delivers 24-hour assistance and inspiring programs that exercise physical and cognitive abilities – all in a supportive, purposefully designed environment. For added peace of mind, we offer simple, all-inclusive pricing options that help make the process a little easier for families.
Characterized by a beautiful residential design, Bridges® by EPOCH at Pembroke provides everything residents with memory loss need to enjoy comfort, familiarity and security. Soft colors, directional cues, aromatherapy and interactive life stations create a peaceful and secure environment where residents feel at home.
Contact us today to learn more.