The Dangers of Senior Isolation
We often prioritize the physical well-being of our aging loved ones. And while physical health, nutrition, and a thoughtful fall-prevention plan are essential, families and caregivers must prioritize social engagement to prevent isolation.
The better we are at keeping seniors socially active, stimulated, and engaged, the better off they are in almost every area of their lives.
Before we start, it’s important to define the term loneliness. In this context, it does not necessarily mean being alone – it means feeling alone. Feeling alone or lonely often has more to do with the quality of the relationships you have rather than the number of connections in your life.
So, for example, your parent may seem to have family or neighbors popping in to check on them, but if they aren’t feeling seen, heard, wanted, or loved, your mom or dad may still legitimately feel lonely.
A recent CDC post on senior isolation and loneliness provides several alarming facts that should influence loved ones’ long-term care plans.
Many Older Adults Report Feeling Lonely
According to the same CDC post, by age 46, more than one-third of adults report feeling lonely, and these ratios increase exponentially with age. About 25% of those 65 years old or older are considered socially isolated.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation are more common for aging adults who:
- Have lost a spouse
- Were recently diagnosed with dementia or a terminal prognosis
- Live with a spouse or partner with a chronic/terminal health condition or dementia
- Transitioned their spouse/partner into assisted living, memory care, or a nursing home community
- Experience continuing death losses of their friends
- Have friends who have moved into senior communities or long distances to be closer to their families
- Recently transitioned out of their home and into a senior living community
- Are LGBTQ+
- Are immigrants, especially if they do not speak English or English is their second language
As you review the above list, odds are there are more than one that relates to your loved one, a sure sign they’re at risk for the dangers of senior loneliness and isolation.
How to Help
If you recognize any of the above risk factors in your loved one’s life, start a conversation and ask lots of questions.
- Are they feeling lonely?
- What’s it like for them to have to keep saying so many goodbyes to their favorite people?
- How are age-related changes in the physical/social realm affecting their daily lives or seasonal rhythms?
- How can you support them?
- What are three to five things (or more) that would support feelings of social connectivity and stave off loneliness?
Answers to these questions should shape how you move forward, and they are also helpful to share with prospective in-home care providers and companions.
Social Isolation Increases Health Risks
It isn’t much of a stretch to state loneliness and social isolation lead to broken hearts. CDC research shows “loneliness among heart failure patients is associated with a nearly four-times increased risk of death, 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and 57% increased risk of emergency department visits.” Those are powerful statistics.
Also, adults who report feeling lonely or socially isolated have significantly increased risks of premature death from all causes. This risk may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity. Loneliness also increases a person’s risk of depression, anxiety, and despair.
How to Help
While it is true that loneliness exacerbates existing health issues, it also depletes the will to make healthy lifestyle choices. Two of these – eating well and exercising regularly – are areas for you to focus.
Maybe now is the time to talk about how regular meal preparation services, companion care, or transportation support will ensure loved ones eat well, get the exercise they need, and honor essential healthcare appointments.
Loneliness Increases Risk of Dementia
Here’s another glaring statistic: loneliness increases an adult’s risk of developing dementia or significant age-related memory loss by 50% or more.
Healthy brains have neurons that fire often and regularly. In best-case scenarios, those synapses fire in new and unique ways, which keeps the brain younger and more alive. High-quality social engagement is a key to positive and healthy brain activity.
At the beginning of this post, we noted loneliness, “…is the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact.” So, not only do we owe it to our parents, grandparents, or aging clients to support regular social engagement, we must ensure the social connections are meaningful.
How to Help
Make sure your loved one has access to activities and outings, social gatherings, volunteer opportunities, and seasonal activities that align with their interests, hobbies, talents, and passions. If you live far away or your parent/grandparent has bid farewell to their inner circle of friends, begin connecting with local senior home care agencies to learn more about their services.
The Impact of the Pandemic
We are painfully aware of the high senior death toll resulting from Covid. But feelings of loneliness, abandonment, and despair were higher in older adults as a result of pandemic-related isolation. This, in turn, increased the toll on their physical and neurological health.
How to Help
As we come out of the pandemic and social restrictions are removed, it’s our responsibility to conscientiously connect with seniors and help them comfortably get out and about in the world again to begin engaging with their peers, community, and the natural world.
But this may not be the end of pandemics requiring social distancing. Enlisting the support of senior in-home care providers now means your loved one is immediately part of a loving, compassionate, and supportive “pod.” We’ll provide regular, high-quality social connections, help with daily tasks, and other senior home care services should another shutdown occur.
Limit Risk of Social Isolation With Affordable Senior Home Care
It’s difficult to think of our aging loved ones being lonely. But there is a lot we can do to prevent this feeling and the risk of social isolation.
Start with Affordable Senior Home Care. We can help your parent, grandparent, or other loved one stay active and engaged in the comfort of their own home. If it’s time for you to establish a caring network of home care professionals to keep your senior loved one connected, the team at Affordable Senior Home Care is here for you.