What Caregivers Can Learn from Isolated Seniors-The Caring Generation®
The Caring Generation® – Episode 48 July 22, 2020. On this caregiver radio program, Pamela D Wilson, caregiving expert shares tips for Feeling Isolated – What Caregivers Can Learn from Isolated Seniors. Guest. Dr. Liz Barnett shares Conversation Tips to Reduce Caregiver Burden that can also result in caregiver isolation and loneliness.
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What Caregivers Can Learn From Isolated Seniors
00:03 Announcer: Caregiving can sometimes feel like an impossible struggle. Caregivers may be torn between taking care of loved ones and trying to maintain balance in life. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. The Caring Generation with host Pamela D. Wilson is here to focus on the conversation of caring. You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in exactly the right place to share stories and learn tips and resources to help you and your loved ones. So now, please welcome the host of The Caring Generation, Pamela D. Wilson.
00:47 Pamela D. Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert. I’m your host. You are with me on The Caring Generation radio program. Coming to you live from the BBM Global Network, Channel 100, and TuneIn Radio. The Caring Generation focuses on conversations about health, well-being, caring for ourselves and loved ones, all tied together with a little bit of humor and laughter that are essential to being a caregiver. During this program, we will talk about feeling isolated. I will share what caregivers can learn from the lives of isolated seniors—and vice versa— what isolated seniors can learn from caregivers. Caregiver isolation and loneliness is very common in all caregiving relationships. Being in the physical presence of another person without having an emotional connection can result in feelings of loneliness.
01:43 Pamela D. Wilson: The term isolation means physical separation or distancing. For example, the feeling that we are all experiencing from the coronavirus by not being able to be together. Caregiver isolation and loneliness. They’re two different experiences, and they’re different between caregivers and isolated seniors or lonely seniors. Because caregiving can be all-consuming, caregivers can also experience what is called caregiving burden, which is the emotional, social, financial, relationship, and other negative effects of being a caregiver.
02:20 Pamela D. Wilson: Our guest for this program is Dr. Elizabeth Barnett. She is an expert and trainer in an evidence-based communication style called Motivational Interviewing. She will demonstrate this technique of motivational interviewing related to the subject of caregiving conversations to reduce caregiver burden. Dr. Barnett has published multiple peer-reviewed journal articles on the application of motivational interviewing and has developed online videos and practice models. She joins us in the next segment of this program. Let’s talk more about isolated seniors and how isolation happens.
02:57 Pamela D. Wilson: According to research, about 28% of elderly people live alone. Isolated seniors result from experiencing the death of a spouse, separation in the event of a husband or a wife who has to move into a care community, or when isolated seniors stop driving. When they become physically disabled such that they can no longer easily leave the home. These are the obvious reasons. Let’s talk about some of the less obvious reasons that result in isolated seniors.
03:29 Pamela D. Wilson: How many of you have parents who want to remain independent? Elderly parents who are very reluctant to ask for or to accept help, at this point at least. Do you wonder why some elderly parents prefer to be that isolated senior versus the alternative of having you—their adult children—move them out of the home and into a care community or a nursing home. A dreaded change in life. For these elderly parents joining the ranks of isolated seniors is much better than being told by adult children that they have to leave their home because they—mom or dad— can’t care for themselves. Let’s talk about aging adults who live alone with children who live hundreds or thousands of miles away.
04:13 Pamela D. Wilson: Isolated seniors may experience changes in friend relationships. Isolated seniors are more frequently diagnosed with memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s disease. Research confirms that friends communicate and visit less with friends diagnosed with memory loss because they don’t know how to maintain a friendship. This is similar to adult children who say about a parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, “Well, mom or dad doesn’t remember me. Why should I visit?” On the other hand, friends say, “Well, why bother talking to somebody who has Alzheimer’s disease? They won’t remember anyway.” Other responses are, “Well, I guess you can’t do this anymore.” This could be attending a social group or singing in the church choir. It’s as if society, people, friends, dismiss a person with memory loss as not being useful anymore. Just as the healthcare system can look at the elderly who they believe may not deserve medical care or treatment.
05:16 Pamela D. Wilson: Isolated seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer’s might begin socially distancing themselves from friends and activities because they are worried about their behaviors. Worried about their memory. Worried about doing or saying something embarrassing that they might not remember. Other situations of isolated seniors occur when a neighborhood—where mom or dad has lived for 40 years—has changed so much that that neighborhood may no longer be viewed as safe for outings unless mom or dad goes with a middle-aged child. You may live in a safe neighborhood today that may be very different in 20 or 30 years. One of my clients walked several blocks to the grocery store for years. It was close to her home. One day she was knocked over to the ground by a group of young boys who attempted—quite unsuccessfully—to steal her purse. She was quite strong. That fright, however, meant that from that day forward, she was afraid to go out of her house alone. The apartment manager began helping my client order groceries online, and she recognized that she had the beginnings of memory loss.
06:23 Pamela D. Wilson: This event resulted in my client befriending other isolated seniors who lived in the same building who also needed a little bit of help. My client, in her younger days, was fearless, socially active. She attended parties. She threw parties for hundreds of people. Now, in her mid-80s, she was scared to death to leave the safety of her apartment. How many of you have elderly parents in this situation where the environment where they live have changed? Or they may have been in a car accident or another accident. They’re afraid to leave their home. Many adults, especially in large cities, might live in high crime zones. I lived in the Los Angeles area—Venice Beach in the mid-1990s. My experience with isolated seniors was becoming involved at a volunteer program at Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Marina del Rey. The goal of that volunteer program was to connect isolated seniors with visitors. I was paired with a very sweet woman named Billy. She lived in a high rise. Because of her health, she was an isolated senior.
07:26 Pamela D. Wilson: Her brother drove to see her once a week to bring groceries. The only other people that she saw were me and healthcare providers who visited her home. I visited her for several years until she passed away, and those visits were a joy for me. I loved her. We became wonderful friends—even though our age difference was about 60 years apart. She is one of the reasons that I do what I do today, in working with caregivers, educating caregivers, and aging adults. We’re going to continue this conversation about isolated seniors and talk more about caregiver isolation and loneliness, how it occurs, what you can do about it, in the second half of the show.
08:07 Pamela D. Wilson: Isolated seniors and caregivers have so many things in common, but they don’t realize it. Up next, we’re going to have Dr. Elizabeth Barnett, an expert, and trainer in an evidence-based communication style. It is called motivational interviewing. She’s going to join us to demonstrate the technique of motivational interviewing and how to relate this to the subject of caregiving conversations that we may be a little hesitant to have with our elderly parents or within our families. These conversations can actually reduce caregiver burden, anxiety, depression, isolation, and loneliness.
08:47 Pamela D. Wilson: Helpful information and practical tips for caregivers and aging adults are in my Caring for Aging Parents caregiving blog. That is on my website at ww.PamelaDWilson.com. You can also follow me on social media on my Facebook page. It is PamelaDWilson.page. Join my caregiver support group. It’s called The Caregiving Trap. This is Pamela D. Wilson on The Caring generation, live on the BBM Global Network, Channel 100, and TuneIn Radio. Stay with me. We’ll be right back.
11:38 Pamela D. Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert. I’m your host. This is The Caring Generation radio show for caregivers, live from the BBM Global Network, Channel 100, and TuneIn Radio. Joining us is Dr. Elizabeth Barnett, a motivational interviewing expert. Dr. Barnett, welcome to the show.
11:56 Dr. Liz Barnett: Thank you, thank you for having me.
11:58 Pamela D. Wilson: My pleasure. So let’s start with questions for you. Where can caregivers begin in thinking about ways to talk to elderly parents about reducing caregiver burden. Which is all those tasks they have to do on everything that they worry about?
12:14 Dr. Liz Barnett: So, motivational interviewing would really have us focus in on what’s important to the individual. Having any conversation, that’s really a prime point, is what’s important to people? What values do they have? And from there, we can start to approach some of the pieces, the agenda, all the things that have to be done. We can approach them, and it helps us to prioritize. So one of the strategies for narrowing down all the options, all the things that need to get done, is to really lay them out and then invite people to choose. So throughout, I think, our motivational interviewing choice is such an important part of activating people. Of getting people involved and giving people responsibility for the direction things take so that we don’t have to take on all of that burden ourselves.
13:17 Pamela D. Wilson: And so when caregivers want an elderly parent to do something. What is a good approach?
13:23 Dr. Liz Barnett: Well, when you approach a conversation, number one, it’s important to have thought it out. So we say that you want to have an agenda but hold it lightly. So you have an idea of where you want this conversation to go, and of course, we’re never pushy with our agenda, but we also—we have it in mind, and that allows us or helps us to then structure a conversation to be able to get something done. So first we need to be clear in our own mind, what behavior we want to achieve or where this conversation needs to go, and then really asking them, from their perspective, what would be the good things about doing that thing. So again, the premise is that, the motivation is in there. That people have their own reasons, and so if we ask really the right questions or better questions that draw out that information, you can really get a lot done. I haven’t mentioned this yet, but the big picture with motivational interviewing is we have to stop telling people what needs to be done. What should be done. Why it should be done. What the benefits would be, and instead get people to tell us. Trusting that some of the stuff they know, it’s in there. And if we can avoid doing things that shut down a conversation, we can actually draw it out of them.
14:56 Pamela D. Wilson: So let me give you a specific example, and you can model this. So let’s say a caregiver is worried about a parent bathing or showering because they’ve fallen. The parent doesn’t have good balance and they’re worried something’s going to happen. How would you start that conversation?
15:12 Dr. Liz Barnett: The first thing I would do is I would give them advance notice before jumping into the talk. So I might say something like, “I’m going to be over here tomorrow and I’m hoping we can have a conversation about bathing. I know in the past we’ve tried to talk about this and maybe it hasn’t gone that well, but I’m hoping we could talk about it again.” So some advanced notice. Another thing I would do is I would set a timeframe. How long should they expect that conversation to go on for? So, conversations that we really don’t want to have or we’ve had in the past, the shorter they are the better, in a sense. It allows people to really be present. So if I said to someone, “Just for five or 10 minutes, I promise that’s all we’ll talk about this.” That enables somebody to show up in a conversation with the attitude like, “Okay, I can do this for 10 minutes.”
16:13 Dr. Liz Barnett: Another thing I would do is, then I would share my concern. So, calmly and succinctly. This is, again, for planning ahead. And if I can, I want to tie my concern to maybe something that the doctor said. So once I’ve done all that, so maybe I might say, “I know how important it is to you to stay at home, and the doctor is worried that you might fall in the bathroom if you don’t get stronger and your balance doesn’t improve.” So I’m tying my concern to the doctor’s concern. And then the last thing that I want to do is just ask them, “What do you think of that?” Allow them to react to the concern. Give them an opening and an opportunity to have their own reaction to it. So that’s how I would approach—in many, many conversations, I would approach that way.
17:08 Pamela D. Wilson: And then let’s say they try this, but the elderly parent just shuts down the conversation and refuses to talk about it, and maybe it’s a different subject. Maybe it’s about diabetes or self-care or counting carbs, and we’re going to head out to a break, so if you want to start the answer to this question, we can finish it after the break.
17:24 Dr. Liz Barnett: Okay. I would say there’s really two things, and one is like I was just saying, you want to set up that conversation for success by giving them advanced notice, setting a time frame, being succinct in what you want to say. Sometimes we say too much, and that can ultimately cause us problems in the end. And then the other piece is to truly understand why. Really have some empathy for their perspective and their position. Where are they at with their diabetes? It may look to us like they’re not taking care of it. They’re not worried. They’re not concerned. But if we really give them some time and some space and meet it with empathy, we may find out—we may be able to find out more. Learning more gives us an opportunity to really have something different happen, and sometimes that’s really what you’re after is this new conversation. This new space, so that who knows what will come out of it, but some progress or something positive.
18:37 Pamela D. Wilson: Well, and that’s great advice, because sometimes, to your point, I do think caregivers, we babble on so much, and we’re not as empathetic as we should be.
18:45 Dr. Liz Barnett: Yeah. I think of it…
18:46 Pamela D. Wilson: Listeners, we will continue our conservation with Dr. Liz Barnett, an expert in motivational interviewing and having difficult conversations after this break. The podcast of this radio program for caregivers, it will be on my website in about a week, at www.PamelaDWilson.com, on the page called The Caring Generation. This is Pamela D. Wilson, you are with us on The Caring Generation, live on the BBM Global Network, Channel 100, and TuneIn Radio. Stay with us. We’ll be right back.
21:33 Pamela D. Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert. I’m your host for The Caring Generation, on the BBM Global Network, Channel 100, and TuneIn Radio. We’re back for more on the subject of caregiving conversations with Dr. Liz Barnett. Dr. Barnett, another question that I get from caregivers all the time is how can they have a conversation with a parent or a spouse who is apathetic. The parent or the spouse just doesn’t care. They don’t want to share any responsibility, and they’re not taking care of themselves, and they expect the caregivers to do everything.
22:06 Dr. Liz Barnett: So, my first thought, based on that question, is to avoid using the word “apathetic” or anything that might sound judgmental. As soon as something that sounds judgmental might occur in a conversation, people get defensive, and people start to shut down. But basically you would use the same approach that we were discussing a minute ago. So the key to activating people in their own care is engagement in the conversation. So engagement in a conversation comes from doing things that evoke collaboration, respecting their autonomy, giving choices. And then the opposite of that is also true. There’s so many things that we can do that precipitate disengagement from a conversation. So telling people what to do or being perceived as judgmental is the first step to getting people to really disengage.
23:00 Dr. Liz Barnett: So, asking nice, big open questions that elicit their ideas. So you might say something like, “So dad, I know you really want to stay at home. And sometimes it seems like there are things you could do to help make that possible. The doctor said, being able to stay at home is about being strong enough to manage the tasks of daily living. What do you think about what she said?” So there’s that succinct—you’re putting the problem out there in a non-judgmental way. Even those words like, “Sometimes it seems” as opposed to “You never do anything”, that kind of language allows somebody to engage. And then that nice open question, “What do you think about what the doctor said?”invites them to talk and lets them do the work of assessing or sorting out, making meaning of the conundrum that they’re in.
23:55 Pamela D. Wilson: So the coronavirus has been with us for a while, I think it’s going to be with us for a while. A lot of changes in the lives of caregivers and the elderly, including children who really can’t go visit their parents. How can everybody learn to talk about this and accept these changes?
24:10 Dr. Liz Barnett: Oh, that’s so important because some of the changes are so huge. So again, this is where we come back to empathy. So motivational interviewing, sometimes I call it the heart of motivational interviewing, is reflective listening. It’s the ability to just hear somebody. Not to comment on it. Not to express our feelings about it, just to be able to listen. So if you have one of these conversations or if one of these conversations needs to happen, it’s really being able to hear what it all means to them. What they’re worried about. What their concerns are, and then eventually also to be able to steer. So we start really by listening and being non-judgmental and with somebody, and then hopefully we can start to direct the conversation to something more accepting like, “we know it’s really hard, and we’re going to do the best we can to come and see you, or to use technology to see you.” But it always starts off with some really good listening.
25:15 Pamela D. Wilson: And how can both parties become more resilient? Because we’re having ups and downs. It’s like, first everything is open, then it’s closed. Then we can go visit. Then we can’t visit. How do we become, I guess, more accepting of all this, and then not really reactive if parents are complaining about things?
25:37 Dr. Liz Barnett: So, one thing I like about reflective listening is it’s sort of the antidote so that you don’t react. As long as you’re just listening, you won’t be doing all those other things. So I would say if somebody is complaining, you can always just listen, and it needs to be—and we’d all be better off if it was the really the go-to skill. Rather, for most people, what tends to happen is we react. We comment. We share our opinion, and that just sets off a little cycle. So really learning to listen is the key to getting through those kinds of situations where what you’re hearing may not be particularly productive or helpful, or it’s repetitive, but really just the ability to just actually hear it and not react to it is the key to that.
26:28 Pamela D. Wilson: And then to your point earlier, I’m going to loop back around, so let’s say we’re listening and we don’t want to say anything negative. It would be asking you a question like, “Well, what do you think about this, or sometimes this happens.” Is that kind of how we wrap that around?
26:43 Dr. Liz Barnett: Yeah. So, again, big open questions. Invite them to tell you and then just be really curious about the answers. It’s really a very loving and respectful thing to do, is to ask a big open question, and be truly interested in their answer and not always feel like we have to solve the problem. I’ve been thinking a lot about that stress often comes from taking on too much responsibility for what fundamentally is the other person’s responsibility. So motivational interviewing—when people start to learn it and use it—one of the things that they talk about is feeling less responsible for the other person’s change. And that doesn’t mean less caring about the other person change, but just less responsible. And it kind of frees people up.
27:35 Pamela D. Wilson: I think that is a great idea. So on your website, you have this wonderful resource, and it is called Seven Secrets For Having Difficult Conversations. Can you talk a little bit about that and then give your website address where caregivers can find it?
27:50 Dr. Liz Barnett: Absolutely. So some of what’s in there, I have already mentioned. It’s things like setting that time frame or giving people advance notice before you want to have a difficult conversation. So there’s a few other ones that didn’t come up in our conversation, so they should definitely check that out. So my website is www.drlizbarnett.com. So that’s D-R-L-I-Z-B-A-R-N-E-T-T, so drlizbarnett.com. And right on the front page, there’s a button to click to get the seven secrets. So if they do that, they’ll be asked for an email address, and then that’ll just get delivered to them in their email box.
28:28 Pamela D. Wilson: Perfect, any other last-minute advice you want to give out before we have to head out to a break?
28:34 Dr. Liz Barnett: Well, I think the last thing I would say is about activation and that activating people starts in conversation. So if you want someone to be more activated, it’s really going to begin inside of the conversation that you’re having. So that’s where some of the things that I’m talking about. The advanced notice. The time frame. The giving people choice—being clear. That can really be helpful to get people activated, and a lot of the reflective listening comes from Carl Rogers. Who believes that people would move in the direction of health or make better choices under the right conditions. And so then it becomes our job just to create the conditions. It’s not our job to get people to do stuff. It’s not our job to fix things. It’s our job to create the conditions where people will decide to change. And we really can do that if we can create a non-judgmental environment.
29:32 Pamela D. Wilson: Perfect. Dr. Barnett, thank you so much for joining us. Listeners, you can share, like and follow The Caring Generation on your favorite podcast apps, like Apple, Google, Spreaker, Spotify, Stitcher, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Castbox, Amazon, Alexa, and more. This is Pamela D. Wilson, your host on The Caring Generation live on the BBM Global Network, Channel 100, and TuneIn Radio. Stay with me. We’ll be right back.
31:14 Pamela D. Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert. I’m your host, you’re listening to The Caring Generation radio program for caregivers and aging adults, live from the BBM Global Network, Channel 100, and TuneIn Radio. The Caring Generation focuses on the conversation of caring, giving us permission to talk about aging, the challenges of caregiving, health, and everything in between. How is everybody? Are you feeling isolated? Earlier in the program, we talked about isolated seniors and factors that contribute to social isolation for the elderly. Let’s shift to the idea of caregiver isolation and loneliness. As you might imagine, the reasons for caregiver isolation may be very different from the reasons for isolated seniors.
31:58 Pamela D. Wilson: Isolation is being physically distanced. That’s called social isolation. Loneliness—very different. Here’s a quote from a lonely senior, “Isolation is being by yourself. Loneliness is not liking it.” How many of you like being alone with yourself, without anybody else around? I know people who enjoy a lot of this “me time”. I know other people who go crazy when they’re alone or isolated, they can’t do it. Statistics confirm that caregiver isolation and loneliness can result in greater health concerns like heart disease, depression, memory loss, and other conditions. The experience of caregiver isolation and loneliness also can result in longer healing times and more frequent illnesses.
32:40 Pamela D. Wilson: Caregiver isolation and loneliness. It has far-reaching impacts. Between 40 to 70% of family caregivers experience depression caused by caregiver isolation and loneliness. Working caregivers can feel more isolated and lonely. What was your life like BC—before caregiving? You may have been building a career, loving your job, spending weekends with friends, a lot of social activities. Today you’re juggling work and caregiving. You’re trying to hold on to your job. Your mind might be distracted with all of those tasks to care for an elderly parent. You don’t even remember what a free weekend was like. You don’t have time for social activities or even maintaining relationships with friends. Some adult children and spouses provide 24-hour care, which means that they can’t even leave the home unless somebody comes into the home to provide that break.
33:31 Pamela D. Wilson: Caregiver isolation and loneliness have significant impacts on caregiver well-being, as many of you know. Caregivers can just become so tunnel-visioned and focused on caregiving—that everything else outside of that disappears. Add to caregiver isolation and loneliness, the similar experience of isolated seniors. There’s this feeling of being invisible. Aging adults tell me that they feel invisible in some social situations, like shopping in a store where they might be ignored by the clerks because the clerks say, “Well, old people come in here and they don’t buy anything.”
34:06 Pamela D. Wilson: Caregivers tell me that they feel invisible because their co-workers, bosses, and friends have no idea about the caregiving experience. Even today, when people ask what I do, and I talk about caregiving, some people who are not caregivers will acknowledge the possibility of having to care for elderly parents. But they have no idea what might happen. That comes as a total surprise. According to a study by the AARP Public Policy Institute, 6 in 10 family caregivers are working. Half of these, 51%, are employed caregivers, workers, they are age 50 and older. On average, all of these caregivers, 21 hours a week of unpaid care to sick or aging family members, in addition to that 40 or 50 hours a week of holding down a full-time job.
34:56 Pamela D. Wilson: No wonder they’re exhausted. Thirty percent of all caregivers are millennials. Millennials are more likely than caregivers over age 50 to report being fired from a job or receiving a warning about their performance or work attendance as a result of being a caregiver. Those statistics take me back to the question of, “Why don’t corporations support working caregivers?” HR departments support child care, family care, and other programs, but not yet do many support caregivers of the elderly who are growing in numbers. How do isolated seniors link with caregiver isolation and loneliness? What can they learn from each other?
35:37 Pamela D. Wilson: The idea is similar to what can caregivers learn from caring for elderly parents? Caregiving is a role. It’s a responsibility, a duty for some. Something that they feel they have no choice to do. But for all, being a caregiver really truly is one of life’s great lessons, if we are open to learning. We know from talking about caregiving burden that being a caregiver is stressful. It results in caregiver isolation and loneliness and health issues. So how do we translate that for lonely seniors and isolated caregivers? One antidote is the idea of human connection; we all need this. It’s a strong sense of community and connecting with others. It’s a significant factor in living a longer and happier life. People with friends are happier. The meaning of human connection for isolated seniors and caregiver isolation and loneliness is very different person-to-person.
36:34 Pamela D. Wilson: For some, a smile, opening the door for somebody, giving a compliment—that can brighten the day and reduce feelings of loneliness. For others, it’s the idea of having somebody we know who cares about us. Even though that person may not be with us. Just knowing that we can pick up the phone and this person who cares about us will be there to talk to us is enough to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. So back to the idea of what seniors can teach caregivers and vice versa, about isolation and loneliness. Isolation is that thought of being comfortable being alone, something that we can all learn.
37:12 Pamela D. Wilson: Many seniors that I know fill their days with activities. They connect with other people. They may be physically isolated, but they’re not lonely, because they maintain those connections with friends. Knowing this, it’s extremely important for caregivers not to walk away from social and friendship aspects in your lives because those relationships offer mental and physical health benefits. While your time might be limited, pick up the phone, make a call, do a video chat. Those little small connections keep you in touch with people. They also help maintain and improve social skills, which is significant for isolated seniors and for caregivers, because as we age, it becomes more difficult to make new friends. Sometimes family will replace the importance of having outside friendships. Look at how your friendships have changed over time and what you can do to maintain them.
38:04 Pamela D. Wilson: We’re going to continue to talk about caregiver isolation and loneliness after this break. You can join me on my Facebook page. My Facebook page is PamelaDWilson.page. On there, I have an online caregiver support group that is called The Caregiving Trap. If you join, you will meet caregivers in similar situations who post questions. I post responses. It is a great group of very friendly caregivers, non-judgmental, who have a lot of helpful experience, and people who enter the group really do establish some friendships outside of the group, which is beneficial. Because sometimes, if you’re a caregiver, you know this, you don’t have a lot of outside time, but sometimes just checking in to an online group gives you the benefit that you know that people are going to be there. If you pose a question, they’ll answer. They’ll be helpful, and most of all, it lets you know that you’re not alone in caregiving situations. We’ll continue this conversation after the break, this is Pamela D. Wilson on The Caring Generation, coming to you live from the BBM Global Network, Channel 100, and TuneIn Radio. Stay with me. We’ll be right back after this break.
41:31 Pamela D. Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, author, and speaker, on The Caring Generation, coming to you live from the BBM Global Network, Channel 100, and TuneIn Radio. Information for corporations and human resource departments about caregiving training and education on-site, online with webinars, caregiving videoconferencing, and virtual training programs are on my website, at www.PamelaDWilson.com. What do we do about senior isolation and caregiver isolation and loneliness? There are two parts to reducing loneliness. Both involve cultivating and growing our social skills. Let’s talk about social skills first. Social skills help us to improve human connections, and they reduce that isolation and loneliness.
42:17 Pamela D. Wilson: When caregivers become isolated or exhausted, our body language can show frustration, and it can take over our personal interactions. What’s the risk here? Research confirms that human interaction when we are together with other people is 55% body language. If you’re an exhausted caregiver, what do you look like? How do you appear to other people? Human interaction is 38% voice and 7% the words that we speak. Does that surprise you? What does an isolated and lonely caregiver look like? Do you need to hear spoken words, or can you tell if a person is depressed by the way that they appear and the tone of their voice—which usually isn’t light or uplifting? What about elderly parents or a senior, is it the same?
43:05 Pamela D. Wilson: People who experience caregiver isolation and loneliness—I say they lack that spring in their step. They are definitely not laughing, not smiling, not taking an interest in other people, or really engaging in thoughtful conversations. If you want to shift from caregiver isolation and loneliness or being in that group of isolated seniors, it’s time to pay attention to your appearance. The way you appear to others and your connection and social skills. Over time, especially if we experience that caregiver isolation and loneliness, we can lose our friendship-making skills. Think about this. When was the last time you made a new friend, a really good friend? Good friends, they are blessings from up above. Caregiver isolation and loneliness can result in that lack of companionship. It can result from feeling disconnected from other people and being too busy to invest time in ourselves. Recognizing this today can help caregivers avoid becoming that lonely or isolated senior years into the future.
44:12 Pamela D. Wilson: So a couple of basics that work for everybody, for lonely seniors, isolated seniors, isolated and lonely caregivers. Think about this. What if you made one phone call a week to connect with a friend? Just one call a week to maintain that existing relationship. How does that sound? Easy? Difficult? What if you did this for just five minutes, 10 minutes? Can you work that into your schedule? Do you even know who you would call? Can you make a plan for one person a week for the next four weeks? Then think about making new friendships. Are there people in your life who invited you, they said, “Oh, let’s plan to get together, call me.” Yet you never say yes, you never reciprocate, you never make any plans. Those people, they are potential good friends for you. Think about what you could have in common with this person. What shared interests might you have? This topic is especially important for men who, research shows, as they age, elderly men have less frequent contact with their children and other family members, versus elderly women.
45:21 Pamela D. Wilson: Elderly men are less likely to seek medical care or use any other types of support services. So knowing this, young caregivers, the elderly, what can you do today? What can you do if you’re a male caregiver? Research also shows that men prefer groups that focus around career or sporting activities, veterans or service organizations, getting together to watch or participate in sports, golf, bicycling, boating, other activities, fishing. Caregiver isolation and loneliness can be reduced by accepting an invitation or extending an invitation to someone to focus on some common interests. You might wonder how much time does it really take to make a good friend.
46:09 Pamela D. Wilson: I compare this to growing a garden. You plant a seed, the seed sprouts. It grows, you have to water it. You have to give it some attention. Let me share some research that might put caregiver isolation and loneliness into perspective for busy and working caregivers and isolated seniors. This is from a research study from the University of Kansas by Jeffrey Hall. He is going to be an upcoming guest on this show in a couple of weeks. His research shows that it takes 40 to 60 hours to build a casual friendship. Eighty to 100 hours to get you to through next level of friendship, and more than 200 hours spent with somebody to be a really good friend. When you think about this—the time might be substantial. But remember when you were young? You made a lot of friends. You invested a lot of time in friendships. We can make new friends. We’re going to continue this conversation after the break. This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving author, expert, and speaker. This is The Caring Generation, live from the BBM Global Network, Channel 100, and TuneIn Radio. Stay with me. We’ll be right back after this break.
49:33 Pamela D. Wilson: This is Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert. I’m your host on The Caring Generation radio program for caregivers and aging adults, live on the BBM Global Network, Channel 100, and TuneIn Radio. Visit my website, www.PamelaDWilson.com, for practical information for caregivers and aging adults. Encourage your human resource department to check out my virtual online training for caregivers, Taking Care of Elderly Parents: Stay at Home and Beyond. Let’s talk more about caregiving friendships. As we talked about, it takes time to devote to making a really good friend. But the long-term benefits are significant. Think of having more friends when you are older—like your elderly parents today may not. That support, those friendships, mean everything when we’re older. We can have friends across the country that we travel to go see. We can have friends for daily activities. So let’s talk about how we make those connections. How often do you meet somebody new and you can’t remember their name or you forget it, and you’re embarrassed?
50:43 Pamela D. Wilson: Think of it this way, making an effort to remember the name of a person that you meet is like giving somebody a compliment. Even if you have to do some type of word association or jot down the name of the person on a piece paper that you want to remember, make that effort. When you meet that person, and you’re talking to them, be with that person. Don’t be thinking about your aches and pains, or a long list of caregiving tasks that you have to do. People know if you’re distracted. Remember those statistics? Fifty-five percent body language, 38% voice, 7%, or what you’re saying. Smile during those conversations. As we talked about with Dr. Barnett, think of creative questions. Think of open-ended big questions instead of making small talk about the weather or other things, other complaints that you might have. Think about what you might have in common with the person. Be a good listener. And think about this, allow people to talk and then ask questions about what they just said. This lets the person know that you’re interested in them. Also, you don’t want to compete on the idea of, “Oh, my life is more stressful than your life is.” Or, “I have more aches and pains than you do.” [chuckle] A lot of times, our elderly parents can get stuck in those conversations. You definitely want to empathize, but give up the need to win or have your situation be worse than somebody else.
52:12 Pamela D. Wilson: If you’re not regularly out and about, you might wonder how to put yourself in situations where you can meet people. This could be taking your dog out for a walk. It could be joining an interest group. Whether you are that isolated caregiver or an isolated senior, you can do this. Take a class, join an activity at a recreation center. Find a service project, help other people. Join a community, cause, or a group that you are passionate about. There are plenty of opportunities if you look for them. They—like new friends—are just not going to drop in your lap from up above. And remember, when you do meet somebody who invites you. Accept the invitation, say “Yes.” If you go and it doesn’t work out the way you expected, you don’t have to stay for the entire time, but at least you tried, and you’re getting into the habit of making that effort to say, “Yes.” You never know—friendships can begin under the most unusual circumstances.
53:14 Pamela D. Wilson: Take action today in small steps to alleviate that caregiver isolation and loneliness, knowing that it’s going to take time. It won’t improve overnight. Celebrate the small action, celebrate your successes, start a relationship diary and say to yourself every day, “I changed the world around me by changing myself, I’m going to make small steps.” Be good to yourself, change negative thinking to positive thinking. Sometimes we do have to push ourselves to make those steps, otherwise, nothing will change. Think about this: Do you want to be in the same situation that you are today one year from now? Most of us would say, “Absolutely not,” but sometimes we’re not sure how to make that change or how to get there.
54:00 Pamela D. Wilson: We have to create that change in our own lives to change your situation. Whether that’s taking a class, joining a support group, finding a way to love what we do, maintaining existing friendships, making new friends. We have the power to change. Don’t wait. Don’t wait to start until you’re in your 60s, 70s or 80s, but also realize that it is never too old to invest time in yourself. Friendships—human connections—they can inspire us to get out of bed every day. They can improve our physical health, our mental health, and the quality of our lives. Take steps to improve your life today. There are a lot of things that you can do.
54:43 Pamela D. Wilson: Caregivers, improve your work-life balance by asking for the help that you need from your families and the workplace. Caregiver support in the way of online support groups, online virtual training, and programs, they exist. They’re all on my website at www.PamelaDWilson.com. All you have to do is get there, click a couple of buttons, and you’ll find a lot of help and support. Which, by the way, it’s also her every Wednesday evening on The Caring Generation. Invite your family, friends, and co-workers to join us. Next week we’ll be talking about guardianship. Dr. Bernardo Reyes is going to join us. He is a geriatrician. He’s going to talk about sepsis. It is a deadly condition for older adults that actually can relate to the coronavirus, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections. Invite your family, friends, and co-workers to join us. I’m Pamela D. Wilson, caregiving expert, advocate, author, and speaker. God bless all of you caregivers. Thank you for the work that you do. Sleep well tonight, have a fabulous day tomorrow and a fabulous week until we are here together again next Wednesday evening.
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