15 Ways To Encourage Residents Who Are Lonely or Sad

15 Ways To Encourage Residents Who Are Lonely or Sad

Found In: Activities Coronavirus: Covid-19 Articles

Residents can feel lonely and isolated, whether or not they are in the midst of a global pandemic. Here are a few ways you can validate those feelings of loneliness and find new ways to connect with residents who are feeling alone.
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Residents can feel lonely and isolated, whether or not they are in the midst of a global pandemic. Here are a few ways you can validate those feelings of loneliness and find new ways to connect with residents who are feeling alone.

Health Complications Due to Loneliness

Feeling sad or lonely can happen to anyone, of any age. However, seniors who have feelings of perceived loneliness can experience a variety of health challenges as a result:

  • Heart disease
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cognitive decline
  • Obesity
  • Decreased immune system
  • Death

These health challenges have been linked to seniors who have feelings of perceived loneliness. This means the senior feels lonely, whether or not they are actually isolated alone or not.

Why Could Seniors Feel Lonely?

It’s important to note that seniors can feel lonely for a variety of reasons, even if they are surrounded by people in a senior living community. If you can determine why a senior feels lonely, you can then use interventions designed to meet those individual needs. Here are a few examples of why a resident could feel lonely:

  • They don’t have someone to talk about a shared hobby with
  • They feel like they don’t have anything in common with their peers
  • They miss talking with their family members regularly
  • They miss the interactions with neighbors (and mailmen, etc.) they had at home
  • They are new to the senior living community and are experiencing transition trauma
  • They feel like they don’t fit in with their peers (they may feel they don’t share similar physical or cognitive abilities as other residents)
  • They are naturally a loner or introverted
  • They are clinically depressed and are adjusting to new medications
  • They don’t know how to start a new friendship with other residents
  • They aren’t getting personalized attention they were used to (or wanted) at home or in the hospital

The same research that has demonstrated the physical challenges that come with feelings of perceived loneliness also offers us a general solution we can use as a template for activities: peer support. Science shows us that seniors don’t need to make new best friendships in order to feel less lonely. Instead, they need a circle of peer support and encouragement.

Finding Solutions to Loneliness

While you can’t “cure” loneliness, you can certainly try interventions that can alleviate some of the sadness that can accompany feelings of loneliness. Here are just a few ways you can encourage connections and peer support:

  1. Check Your New Resident Welcome Program
    Make sure your community has a solid New Resident Welcome program.

  2. Connect Residents With Similar Interests
    Use your leisure assessment to consciously connect residents who share similar interests that are more “unusual”. For example, you might have fifty residents who enjoy walking outside, but only a few that are active birdwatchers. Connect these birdwatchers so they have a chance to share their unique bond.

  3. Offer Invitation-only Small Group Activities
    Schedule small group activities throughout your day, but don’t necessarily advertise these groups on your big calendar. Instead, make these small group activities “invitation only” where you can connect residents you feel may get along or share common interests.

  4. Ask Lonely Residents for Help
    Ask the lonely resident you are working with if they would like to lead a small group or hobby workshop to share their talents.

  5. Send Handwritten Notes
    Drop off handwritten notes to at-risk residents weekly.

  6. Pair Residents with Volunteers
    Pair an at-risk resident with a volunteer; feeling connected doesn’t have to come from a relationship with another resident. It can be just as beneficial to feel connected to a volunteer. Just be sure the volunteer is long-term and visits regularly.

  7. Organize Video Chats with Family
    Schedule video chats with a loved one

  8. Inform Relevant Staff & Management
    Talk with your social work and nursing department regularly about at-risk residents to ensure they are receiving any needed follow-up psych or physician visits

  9. Start Coffee & Conversation Groups
    Set up coffee dates for residents you think may get along well: have coffee and conversation starters available at a table tucked out of the loudness of your community to encourage conversation

  10. Sear At-Risk Residents Together
    Pair at-risk residents together at tables during social events to see if they may hit it off; just be sure they aren’t bonding over negative topics, when possible.

  11. Create Conversation Nooks
    Create conversation nooks throughout your community where residents can feel comfortable to start up conversations with others who sit down; small two-person bistro tables in quiet nooks of your community or outside are excellent places to start

  12. Provide Conversation Cards
    Starting conversations can be difficult for many people; make it easier by having conversation starter cards on dining room tables, nursing stations, and other popular spots in your community.

  13. Create Door Signs for At-Risk Residents
    Create a “Come On In” sign or wreath for at-risk residents where they can put it up on a hook on their apartment door that indicates they would love a visit from staff or residents. This can work wonders for residents who may not be able to name their lonely feelings or who know how to ask for help. Hanging a wreath when they are feeling open to talk can be something easy they can do. Just be sure staff know what the wreath is for and to pop in to say hello when it is hanging up.

  14. Evaluate Resident Support Offerings
    Evaluate if you need to improve your resident support group offerings to foster connection over shared experiences or losses; work with your social work department to make this happen.

  15. Host Friendship Mixers
    Host Friendship Mixers where residents can gather to get to know one another; encourage everyone to sit near someone they don’t know well.

Remember, residents who feel connected to others will not be at-risk for feeling lonely. You can foster connections (it doesn’t have to be a friendship) by investigating past and current interests of those you serve, and connecting those who share similar interests. Bonding over a shared experience is more effective than just having a conversation, so make your connections over an activity where possible. Anything you can do to foster connection among residents can go a long way towards their physical and mental health.

How do you find at-risk residents who may feel lonely, and then how do you work to connect them with their peers?

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Comments   Post a Comment

Meg 1st Aug 2021 Project Officer
Excellent resource! Thank you.
Talita 1st Aug 2021
Thank you very much for your feedback Meg. All the best x
Rosemary 9th Feb 2021 Caregiver
I found the information very helpful. Thank you.
Talita 13th Feb 2021
Thanks so much for your feedback Rosemary. All the best x
Susan 11th May 2020 Activity Director
Hi Sharon
Here are some suggestions you might be able to use
Make sure to read the comments because there’s some good information there
Good luck to you I know you’re doing a great job and it’s not easy
Sharon 10th May 2020 Activity Director
This is a great site for so much information. We too are on lockdown, 119 independent senior apts, no visitors unless emergency or health related issues. Trying to figure out when we're out of lockdown how to hold smaller group activities, will still be wearing masks for several months I think. Our bldg is "U" shaped with balconies on all sides so using speakers won't work for that type of groups. Any ideas welcome. Thanks
Glenda 8th May 2020
We are under strict measures with no volunteers, only 2 1 hour visits a day by designated family members. Also conditions of entry include proof of current vaccination and temperature in taken as well as a health declaration signed. Social distancing is in place with
outdoor space being utilized and microphones so people on their balconies can participate.
1/1 or groups of 2 or 3 is the way to go and meets accreditation requirement to personalize programs. It should not be about large groups.
Susan 9th May 2020 Activity Director
Thank you for this information
It is good to know what some facilities are doing
Thanks again for sharing
Susan 8th May 2020 Activity Director
Thanks so much for your input
It is greatly appreciated
I am glad we will be able to help you
Sandra 8th May 2020 Retired
This is just a fabulous site. So many ideas and things to do. Our recreation area is under construction at present but I cannot wait till it is finished so that I can introduce all these wonderful activities.
Well done. This is so needed in out senior community.
Liz 8th May 2020 Personal Assistant
I found this article very helpful. Thank you.
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