Despite the growing number of over-65 people in this country, many of our aging loved ones struggle with feeling lonely and isolated. Without social interaction with family and friends, later years of life can be sad and even dangerous. It’s important to explore the causes and risk factors for senior isolation, and to be aware of the potential consequences and implications for health and wellness.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 28% of people over 65 years old (11 million) lived alone at census time. Living alone doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is lonely and isolated, but it can certainly be a predisposing factor. Also, social contacts typically decrease for several reasons, including retirement, death of friends/family, adult children moving away, inability to drive, and lack of physical mobility. Social interaction and activities are crucial to maintaining personal connections, positivity, and general wellness, for many different reasons.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation can cause:
- Poor physical and/or mental health
- Unhealthy behavior (i.e., poor diet, smoking, lack of physical activity)
- Depression and negative feelings about the future
- More rapid cognitive decline and risk of dementia
- Vulnerability to elder abuse
- Less likelihood to have symptoms checked, resulting in medical issues
- High blood pressure
- More need for long-term care
- Risk of social isolation for caregivers
Understanding the risks and potential consequences of loneliness and isolation is important; but, learning about resources and ideas for preventing and addressing these issues is the key! Ensuring that seniors have access to family and friendship support is crucial to alleviating loneliness and feelings of isolation. This can be achieved in many ways – success depends on the individual’s preferences and likelihood of pursuing solutions based on interests, geography, and motivation.
Ideas for combating loneliness and isolation include:
- Living in Continuing Care Retirement Community with resident interaction and activities
- Learning about transportation options, public or senior transportation services
- Visiting senior day centers
- Taking an educational or training class, i.e. computers, art
- Joining regular group exercise classes
- Engaging in community activities (i.e., book club, support group)
- Setting up regular phone calls — with video, if possible — with family or friends
- Utilizing technology to access news, information, and communication
Senior isolation is not a definitive part of aging, and loneliness isn’t necessarily a challenge for all; however, it’s important to be aware of the far-reaching risks of allowing isolation and loneliness to occur. It’s crucial for seniors to know that there are many ways to combat this issue and live a connected, happy, and healthy life for as long as possible.
Lifematters’ social companion program called Friendly Visitors provides college-educated adults who are personally matched to each client based on their needs for social engagement. Our companions provide accompaniment to outings, assistance with errands and appointments, working together on hobbies and crafts, reading and organizing, and fun outings in the community. At home or out-and-about, Friendly Visitors bring an energy and enthusiasm to their clients that greatly enhances their well-being and helps to prevent loneliness and isolation. Visit our Friendly Visitors web page to learn more, or call us at 703-237-9048 to speak to representative about your specific needs.