July 30 is International Day of Friendship and a happy reminder of the value of friendship and companionship in all our lives, especially for the elderly.
Part of providing quality aged care means understanding that elderly people need strong and nurturing relationships that bring joy, support them to connect with people and community, promote health and wellbeing, and keep loneliness at bay.
No matter how old you are, you can still make new friends and connect with old ones. Life is a journey and companionship makes it interesting, challenging and vibrant.
Ageing with dignity
As people age and lose mobility it can become increasingly difficult to keep up connections and have healthy relationships. This is especially prevalent when elderly people live alone or are geographically separate from family and friends. What’s more, many elderly people experience the added hardship of losing elderly friends and people from their communities. All of these factors put them at higher risk of social isolation, loneliness and feelings of despair.
Current statistics show that one in four Australians feel lonely on a weekly basis, and loneliness and isolation among the elderly is growing as our population ages.
Being able to maintain friendships and companionship is an important facet of ageing with dignity. Whether it’s in residential or home and community care, understanding the benefits of friendship and companionship can help elderly people to continue living well.
Friendship for health and wellbeing
Mental health combines our psychological, emotional and social wellbeing. It can impact the way we live, act, how we make choices and how we relate to other people.
Loneliness and isolation have detrimental impacts on mental health and can lead to depression, inactivity, stress and anxiety. Having companionship and maintaining strong relationships, on the other hand, can contribute positively to mental health and wellbeing, improving daily life.
Some of the ways carers can practice friendly and companionable care are by:
- Actively listening
- Being patient
- Exercising compassion
- Using encouragement
- Inspiring confidence
A link between loneliness, Alzheimer’s and dementia
Recent studies report that elderly Australians are twice as likely to have higher rates of loneliness compared to the general public, finding a direct correlation between loneliness and memory loss, social isolation and confusion. This puts them at an increased risk of developing cognitive conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The survey found that people with dementia reported having fewer relationships and were twice as likely not to see any friends than the general public. They also reported being three times as likely not to have a friend to call on for help.
It’s important for the friends, family and carers of people with dementia to continue treating them with kindness, inclusiveness and thoughtfulness. They are still the person you know – they just might need a little more patience and support.
Relationships based on compassion and respect
Sometimes we forget that elderly people have lived long, rich and complex lives. They need to be able to feel connected to the past and valued in the present in order to maintain healthy relationships with family and friends.
Encouraging elderly people, being understanding and inspiring them with confidence means giving them the support they need to feel grounded and capable of maintaining their connections.
There are many ways that aged care workers can support elderly individuals through offering companionship:
Carers can help elderly people stay connected by encouraging them to participate in community life.
This can be through physical assistance or by inspiring them with the confidence they need to socialise. In residential care this might look more like promoting daily social interaction and coordinating engaging group activities.
Relationships create routines, and this sense of structure can often improve the physical and mental wellbeing of elderly people. Having friends or family visit or meeting up with other people on a regular basis provides structure and gives individuals something to look forward to. It also means getting regular exercise and socialisation, both of which have a range of health benefits, from reducing anxiety to improving physical strength.
Learning something new
New research shows that learning new things is beneficial for elderly minds, helping to alleviate the effects of conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Remember, the mind is a muscle, and flexing it regularly makes it stronger and more elastic.
Learning for the elderly is probably not going to involve studying or attending lectures. It might look more like swapping skills in cooking or sharing taste in music, learning how to use new technologies or participating in stimulating group activities. It might be through conversation or art classes, or even just through socialisation. Swapping stories is often one of the best ways to learn – our friends and companions can always teach us something.
Caring for our elderly
Care which values companionship and friendship cannot be underestimated. Our learners, trainees and graduates at Selmar are trained to provide more than just assistance with physical and practical tasks – our training gives them the foundational skills and understanding required to support elderly people to maintain healthy relationships.
Whether this is through conversation, supporting daily life, understanding diversity, engaging elderly people with stimulating activities or encouraging them to stay active, Selmar carers recognise the importance of friendship and companionship to the elderly community.
Start making a difference
This International Day of Friendship, why not consider a career in aged care and start making a difference. Aged care is a rewarding sector with rapidly expanding employment prospects. With many different training options and working opportunities, there is a role to suit everyone.