It’s not uncommon for people to experience feelings of isolation and loneliness when they reach old age. Older Australians are much more likely to live alone, and this can come with ramifications on mental health. If you’re supporting an ageing client who you think might be experiencing a decline in their mental health, there are some simple ways to recognise their emotional wellbeing and help them reconnect.
Get to know their local community
30 percent of Australians aged 75-84 years old live alone, and this isolated living arrangement usually occurs after the death of a partner or spouse. If you’re supporting a client through Better Caring, their local community may also be your community, so get into contact with a senior’s centre, men’s shed, or community centre on behalf of your client to actively encourage your client’s community participation.
Encourage their independence and sense of responsibility
If your client lives alone, they most likely want nothing more than to retain their independence and sense of responsibility for as long as possible. Once they begin to receive support, they may begin to feel that their independence is diminished. To build up their sense of responsibility and independence, you can encourage them to invest their time into something they’re passionate about. For example, if they’re interested in a little extra company, they could volunteer to take temporary care of a pet. If they’re passionate about nature, you could help them grow a garden that requires extra care.
Ask them to join you on a walk up the street
Ageing clients who live alone may spend most of their time indoors. If you’re engaged to help maintain your client’s home, make some time to go on a quick walk with them. This way, you can start a conversation, get a sense of their emotions and focus on their wellbeing. It also helps to clear and refresh their mind.
Create a neighbourhood network
Although you might not always see them, your clients’ neighbours are a valuable safeguard and an easy-to-access source of communication. If your client doesn’t have family living close by, it might be a good idea to knock on a few doors and kickstart some communication between your client and those in their neighbourhood
Encourage them to get digitally connected
With an ever growing range of digital apps, programs and technologies, being digitally connected is easier than ever. If you sense your client is feeling lonely or detached from their family and friends, gently let them know that there are simple ways they can get in touch with their loved ones. When you’re sitting down for lunch or enjoying a cup of tea with your client, introduce them to Skype or FaceTime, and if they’re interested, put aside twenty minutes in each support session to help them understand how to use the app.
Book a senior-friendly yoga or tai chi class
According to Beyond Blue, tai chi and yoga are the two most effective physical activities for ageing Australians. Tai chi is a moving meditation which includes slow movements and focuses on breathing, while yoga encompasses a focus on posture, breath and meditation. Both practices are cost-effective, safe and can be practiced in the comfort of a client’s home. Tai chi and yoga are known to directly improve the emotional wellbeing of the elderly as both practices help promote mindfulness. Remember, before organising a yoga or tai chi class, ask your client if they’re willing to participate and make sure you take into account their physical wellbeing.
According to the World Health Organisation, mental health issues amongst older people are often unidentified, and many elderly people can be reluctant to seek assistance for their mental health. As a support worker, it’s important to look out for your client and make sure they understand that you are a safe, reliable source of assistance.
If you’re a support worker on Better Caring, it’s important that you notify your client’s next of kin or emergency contact as soon as possible if you notice a severe decline in mental health. Remember, always call 000 in the event of an emergency.
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