Loneliness from any cause can be bad for your health. Caregivers and the people they care for are at greater risk for loneliness and isolation due to caregiver duties’ demands and responsibilities and the time-consuming nature of caregiving.
Even if you are at the beginning of caregiving for a loved one, you may notice how much time it takes. Whether you’re running errands, arranging healthcare, picking up prescriptions, or preparing meals, the list goes on.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Tips for Combating Caregiver Loneliness When Caring for a Spouse
- Tips for Preventing Caregiver Loneliness When Caring for Someone With Dementia or Alzheimer’s
- Tips for Avoiding Caregiver Loneliness When Caring for Someone With Cancer
- Other Tips for Preventing Caregiver Loneliness and Isolation
Establishing a routine early on that keeps you connected with other people will serve you well later. If you are already deep into caregiving duties, there is still time to combat loneliness and isolation. The effort you make will improve your health and make you a better caregiver.
Tips for Combating Caregiver Loneliness When Caring for a Spouse
Caregiving for a spouse is unique in that your spouse is someone that provides companionship and friendship.
When caring for a spouse, they may have a physical or cognitive disability. A spouse with Alzheimer’s or dementia may no longer remember you, which is a frightening and devastating situation to deal with. Regardless of the condition, caring for a spouse can be a lonely existence unless you make concerted efforts to combat it.
1. Reach out to friends and family
There are few things as lonely as not having contact with friends and family. If your friends and family aren’t reaching out to you, it doesn’t mean that they don’t care. People get busy, and time flies by, or they don’t know what to do or what to say. If your spouse has dementia, friends and family might be uncomfortable around your spouse’s behaviors.
It will take some courage, but reach out and let people know what you need. Ask how they are doing- you never know what people are going through, and perhaps some of your friends need support as well.
Schedule a time to meet someone for coffee and find a caregiver to be with your spouse while you are gone. Your spouse is probably lonely too, so find social activities they can participate in as well. If you are up to it, invite people over for a short time to have some social connection.
2. Participate in hobbies and interests
You might be thinking, “I don’t have time for that!” The hours of the day disappear when you are a caregiver, but making a little time for hobbies and interests can help you feel less lonely and in more control of your life.
Even a daily meditation practice or yoga can help you to feel grounded. Online classes with other participants are an option.
3. Use technology with caution
Technology can be a friend or foe. Disappearing into social media can be a poor replacement for human contact and leave you feeling more lonely than before. If you have difficulty controlling your time on social media, you can download apps that limit the time spent on specific sites.
If you are disciplined enough, you can limit yourself. Most smartphones will give you a daily report on how much time you are spending on social media.
4. Talk to your spouse about their preferences
As you make efforts to combat loneliness, don’t forget to include your spouse or partner in those discussions. Find out their preferences and comfort level being with people.
If they are newly disabled, they may want to start slowly. For someone with dementia, respite care in adult day care might be worth trying to get them connected with others in a similar situation.
5. Consider caregiver counseling
Caregiver counseling can be an enormous help in caregiving for a spouse. Through counseling, you can learn ways to cope with caregiving and deal with relationship problems that may have come up. A good counselor can help you manage your emotions and strategize ways to take care of yourself and manage feelings of grief and loss.
Tips for Preventing Caregiver Loneliness When Caring for Someone With Dementia or Alzheimer’s
Caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s is unlike caring for anyone else except perhaps someone having a terminal illness. These disorders have no cure and are generally progressive. Add to that the complications of memory loss, agitation, and wandering, which are stressful symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
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6. Educate yourself and your friends and family
Loneliness can come from feeling like you are the only one experiencing caregiver stress and that no one understands what you are going through. There may be some truth to this. If your friends and family have not had a loved one with dementia, they may struggle to understand.
The more people understand the disease, the easier it will be for them to empathize with your situation, and the more comfortable they will be in the presence of your loved one who has dementia. Also, by educating yourself about dementia, you can have a better idea of what to expect over time. This has the added benefit of helping you plan for future care needs.
7. Try not to avoid social situations
When a loved one has dementia, it is natural to avoid uncomfortable social situations. You may not be able to leave your loved one at home and therefore refuse social invitations.
With proper planning and setting expectations, it is possible to stay connected to friends and family. Let people know that your visit will be time-limited and that you may need the environment to be quieter and less distracting than usual.
Tips for Avoiding Caregiver Loneliness When Caring for Someone With Cancer
Caring for someone with cancer brings unique challenges. You may be caring for someone who is expected to have a complete recovery after treatment or a loved one who has a terminal condition. Cancer treatment can be arduous with multiple side effects.
Most cancer treatment is administered in outpatient settings, which puts enormous stress on caregivers. There is evidence to suggest that stress and loneliness for a cancer caregiver are second only to someone caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.
8. Ask others for help
Accept that you may not be able to do everything as a caregiver for someone with cancer. How to ask for help can be a challenge because you don’t want to inconvenience people, but in most cases, people want to help; they just don’t know how or what to do. When you involve other people, you won’t feel so alone.
- Make a list of practical tasks that you could use help with.
- Reach out to friends and family and ask for help with these specific tasks.
- Use one of the many online or apps to schedule and organize people.
- Hire out chores like grocery delivery, house cleaning, and yard care.
- Consider in-home professional caregiving. There is a cost for this service, but it might make a significant difference in your stress level if you budget carefully.
9. Arrange for social visits
Waiting for people to initiate visits might be a long wait. Be proactive by inviting one or more people over. Help your friends and family understand that your loved one might have limited energy. Regular visits will probably lift both of your spirits.
10. Join caregiver support groups
Many of these cancer support groups will be virtual, which still has value. Joining with others provides companionship, support, and education.
Designate a time each day or week to participate so that time doesn’t fly by, and you haven’t joined the group. If there is an in-person group in your area and you can leave your loved one, it will get you out of the house.
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11. Try to keep your job
If you are working, try to keep your job. To keep working and be a caregiver, you will need help. Many people have to quit their jobs and disrupt their careers to become caregivers, which might be unavoidable.
But if your employer is flexible and allows you to reduce hours to keep your job, do it. Getting back into the workforce later could be challenging. Work will keep you connected to other people and help with your self-esteem.
Other Tips for Preventing Caregiver Loneliness and Isolation
Put together your caregiver’s “care plan” to defeat and cope with loneliness and isolation. Your efforts will be individual, but there are some other tips to add to your objectives. Make your plan and stick to it!
12. Focus on your health
You may ask what a focus on health has to do with loneliness and isolation. We know that loneliness puts you at risk for health problems. By making healthy choices each day, you can reduce those risk factors. And by including others in your health plan, you have a chance to engage socially. Ask a friend to go for a walk with you.
Share healthy recipes and if you want to lose weight, enlist the help of friends towards that effort. There are plenty of health apps that allow groups to share progress and tips. Self care should be at the top of your list as a caregiver.
13. Continue to pursue your passions
When you become a caregiver, many of your passion pursuits might suffer. You may not be able to do everything you did before, but make the time to keep some of your interests alive.
This is another area where online activities can be a big benefit. Virtual cooking and exercise classes and learning opportunities will keep you connected to others.
14. Keep your friends close
Isolation and loneliness can creep up on you. Keep your friends close by calling, texting, emailing. Whatever works to let your friends know that you care and you need them. Friendships need nurturing to grow and continue.
Caregiver Loneliness or Isolation
Caregiving is stressful, and caregiver burnout can exacerbate problems of loneliness and isolation. There are only so many hours in the day, but you and your loved one need to make time to stay socially connected. Start with a couple of our tips and continue to work on combating loneliness and isolation.