Here’s one of the few unchangeable truths in life: no one grows younger with time. And one other, uglier truth is that with age, your ability to live autonomously declines, and you may find yourself alone.
This is where social care and support come in. When done right, it doesn’t just help seniors tackle daily tasks – it can affect their lives on a much more profound level.
But what is good social support, exactly? And what particular impact does it have on seniors’ lives?
Let’s start with what social care is. It encompasses activities from childcare to end-of-life care. In this context, it’s elderly care that is destined to improve seniors’ quality of life.
In a nutshell, adult social support is about giving people an opportunity to live with dignity and autonomy. It typically includes help with chores and daily activities: e.g., grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning. It can also mean:
As you can see, good social care isn’t limited to household chores. It encompasses a wide range of activities to help seniors participate in society as an equal.
When it comes to quality at-home support, the caregiver should be there not just to help the person clean up or cook meals. They should also be there to socialize with the person they help. That can mean asking them about their day, listening to their stories, and playing board or card games.
Also, good care is never patronizing or diminishing. The caregiver should treat the person they’re helping as an equal, not as someone lesser than them.
When done right, the caregiver can change an elderly person’s life for the better. How? Socializing, an integral part of the process, prevents some mental health issues, as well as cognitive decline and some physical health problems. And that’s not all.
Although it’s right in the service’s name, the social part often gets overlooked. Yet, it is vital: social interactions and mental health are tightly connected.
Lack of socialising – i.e. social isolation – can lead to the feeling of loneliness. That, in its turn, can prompt or exacerbate multiple mental health concerns. Among them, these three are the riskiest ones:
Anxiety, depression, and chronic stress can have a far-reaching effect on seniors’ physical health, too. It’s been linked with high blood pressure, heart disease, and even the weakening of the immune system.
Whether primarily through the caregiver or not, support can prevent all those mental health challenges – and help seniors cope with them in a better way. It can also reignite their sense of purpose and boost their mood.
If support involves participating in group activities, this allows seniors to enjoy their hobbies or find new ones, all while meeting people interested in the same thing. This brings a sense of belonging and community, which is also good for the person’s mental health.
Dementia affects 55 million worldwide. The number of new cases grows by 10 million every year. In the United Kingdom, according to the NHS, 850,000 people live with dementia.
Seniors are the most affected group: 1 in 14 people over 65 lives with some form of dementia (source: NHS). The risk is greater for those over 80: the condition affects one in six people in this age group.
In a nutshell, dementia is the deterioration of cognitive abilities: memory, thinking, comprehension, language use, etc. While it’s not treatable, the condition can be prevented – and its progression can be slowed down.
Socialising is one way to do so. Research has shown that if it’s frequent, it can slow down cognitive decline by as much as 70 per cent. Social contact is interconnected with using cognitive abilities, thus keeping the brain fit.
That, in turn, works across the board when it comes to cognitive function. Socializing has been proven to improve memory, thinking speed, and mental sharpness in senior citizens.
Seniors who require at-home help often do so because of underlying health conditions. It can be due to cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, for example.
In this case, a caregiver can help them keep on track with their treatment. For example, they can make sure the person doesn’t forget to take the prescribed pills.
Another person can also spot health issues that would otherwise go unnoticed. For example, if the person’s hands start shaking more often or they’re forgetting things, they can talk about it with the person themselves, their next of kin, or their doctor.
If a senior requires exercising, a caregiver can help them out with that, too. They can support them in accessing a group activity like dancing or exercise at home. And be it to recover after a stroke or just stay fit, exercising helps preserve and improve the person’s physical health.
Injuries come with graver risks for seniors than they do for adults. Hip injury, for example, leads to a long-lasting reduction in mobility. And for one out of 12 seniors who suffer this injury, it becomes their cause of death.
Seniors are also more likely to get injured by accident. For one, they’re more prone to falling – and it’s one of the most common hospital admission reasons for this age group.
Movement precision is also getting reduced with age. That can cause accidents, such as spilling hot water while cooking.
By relieving seniors of some daily tasks, a carer can help reduce the risk of them falling or getting injured in any other way. That, in turn, can have a positive impact on their longevity.
These two issues typically originate with social isolation, dementia and/or physical capabilities decline. And avoiding them is another benefit of at-home help in particular.
For example, if an elderly person lives alone and has little to no social life, it may be all too easy to give up on personal hygiene and eating regularly and healthy. Or, if it’s too physically demanding to cook a proper meal, the person might avoid doing it. Or, if the person has dementia, they might simply not realize they need to eat or shower.
This is where a carer steps in and takes this load off the person’s shoulders. Moreover, they can ensure not only that the person eats regularly – but also that they follow a healthy diet.
Social care isn’t a would-be-nice service to have for many elders out there. It is a necessity without which they wouldn’t be able to enjoy their lives and live them with dignity.
That’s why the quality of support matters. It shouldn’t be narrowed down only to household chores and basic daily tasks like getting showered and dressed. It should encompass all the needs any human being has: the need to socialize, belong, and participate in a community.
Of course, it might be challenging for an elderly person to accept they now need help with mundane tasks, moving around town, or meeting new people. Yet, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. But this is exactly why the carer should treat every person they help as an equal.
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