5 May 2022
Combatting loneliness in our care homes
We recently caught up with our Head of Dementia Care and Wellbeing at Hallmark Care Homes, April Dobson, who shared with us how we combat loneliness in our 19 care homes and her top tips on how you can too.
It’s great news that the world is once again opening up to us and we are no longer confined to our homes with the restrictions that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us came to rely on technology to make connections with others, and we explored and learnt many different ways to keep in touch in a virtual world. With all of these opportunities open to us, it is incredible and sad to think that there are millions of people who feel lonely most of the time.
Not many of us would want to admit to feeling lonely but it’s something we’ve probably all felt at various times in our lives. Starting school, college or a new job, moving to an unfamiliar area or even another country, leaving home for the first time, or losing a life partner or pet are all events that spring immediately to mind which could lead to an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. Someone who is lonely probably also finds it hard to reach out. There is a stigma surrounding loneliness, and older people are often reluctant to ask for help. Alongside this, the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic mean that we’ve almost had to re-learn how to connect and socialise with others – we’ve got out of the habit.
You don’t even have to be ‘alone’ to feel lonely. I’ve heard people say that although they’ve been surrounded by others, they just don’t feel part of anything, or feel like they belong, and that’s the same for people living in care homes. Unfortunately, this can mean that people may start to withdraw from social groups and from the life of their community, and this can have a negative impact on wellbeing.
Loneliness can affect both emotional and physical health. It can lead to; high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline. For example, if you are feeling alone, chronic pain can feel so much worse and a weakened immune system means that it’s harder to fight any infection.
It stands to reason that at Hallmark Care Homes, we take the job of combatting loneliness very seriously. Our whole approach to care is based on building relationships and connections, and our lifestyles and wellbeing teams play a pivotal role in helping people have things to look forward to. Respecting that everyone is an individual means that might look very different for each person, so thinking about what gives a person a sense of belonging and purpose becomes even more important in helping to reduce feelings of loneliness.
It doesn’t need to be complicated…but it does need to kind, sensitive and meaningful. Here are some examples of how we tackle the issue of loneliness.
- Smile! Take every opportunity to smile at others even if people start to look at you strangely! Smiles, like laughter, are infectious and can bring about an instant feel-good moment.
- Notice – and I mean REALLY notice. A change in the way someone appears, dresses or behaves is often a good indicator of how they’re feeling. Perhaps someone is smiling less, not chatting as much as they used to, or not wanting to socialise so much, perhaps not taking care of their appearance as they normally do.
- Music can often help lift mood which in turn can help people feel more like being with others. Sharing a love of a particular genre of music is a great way to connect with others.
- Go into the garden. Exposure to sunlight (vitamin D) helps prevent depression, and spending time in a garden enriches the senses. Gardens also are the perfect backdrop for quiet conversations about worries or concerns.
- Intergenerational activities can often lead to the development of new friendships, and the bond between young and old is something that some treasure greatly. Aside from that, it can be fun – Pure and simple!
- Learning something new. Focusing on something new, and connecting with others on the same journey can be a great way to develop new friendships.
- Encourage talking. Get that teapot out and LISTEN – and don’t be afraid to share how you feel – people will respect you for it and you can bet that if you’re feeling that way, others will be too.
- Helping others. Most of us really like to help others even if it’s in a small way. There are so many ways we can help local community groups.
- Focus on the familiar. Familiar objects, routines and pastimes can help restore feelings of security and identity, and reduce anxiety. They can often be the building blocks that help us take the next steps.
Click here to find your nearest Hallmark care home.