Senior Social Isolation – When Alone Time Becomes Problematic
Senior social isolation may not be new, but the pandemic forcing many people to find new ways to interact has caused an increase in awareness of the negative effects of social isolation. Seniors are especially prone to the effects of loneliness on mental and physical health.
Read about the growing population of social isolation on the retired population and how you can help if you suspect a loved one is withdrawing from regular social engagement.
How Social Isolation Effects Senior Health
Regular social interaction is a key part of human nature. Isolating from other humans, especially those we care about, can have a significant impact on senior health. Smoking, obesity, and social isolation are considered similarly deadly to humans, according to researchers at Brigham Young University. For seniors with existing conditions and cognitive function concerns, being isolated from others can worsen the effects and also encourage a lifestyle without much physical activity.
Stress is also a common effect of loneliness and social isolation, as studies report higher blood pressure and even elevated levels of stress in seniors who are lonely. If there’s one time that should be less stress, it should be after you’ve retired and are enjoying life.
Another concern with senior social isolation is the link to creating and maintaining unhealthy lifestyle habits like smoking, drinking, poor food choices, and lack of physical activity. Conversely, even if lifestyle habits are not a part of the discussion, interacting with others provides motivation to maintain a healthier lifestyle. An easy way to get both the connectivity, healthy and gourmet meals, and fitness opportunities is to move to an active senior living community that’s focused on the entire picture!
Cognitive decline is another possibility of loneliness in seniors. Studies have shown an increase in the risk for Alzheimer’s disease in those who are lonely. In fact, Alzheimer’s progresses twice as quickly and there was an increase in mental decline in lonely adults when compared to seniors who received regular mental stimulation. The lack of mental stimulation and opportunity to talk with others often means they are less likely to notice or report early symptoms, which raises the risk Alzheimer’s is too far progressed before it’s diagnosed to receive treatment to slow down progress.
Elder abuse is a concern for all seniors, but seniors who socially isolate are at an increased risk of unreported elder abuse. Fraud, financial abuse, and neglect are often targeted toward seniors who are lonely. Make time to check in with seniors in your life regularly, so they know they have a trusted ally to report any concerning behaviors to.
Did you know… socially isolated seniors are 60 percent more likely to predict their quality of life will decline over the next decade than seniors who are regularly engaged with friends and family? Active living communities for seniors focus on providing one location for them to age in place. They can maintain friendships and expand offered services as needed, so they’re not trying to move during a change to their health status.
What Puts Seniors At Risk for Social Isolation?
There can be many reasons seniors isolate from friends and family. There has been an increase in senior social isolation since the pandemic began in April 2020. Over this time, three out of five caregivers reported senior relatives had mental or physical health changes due to the pandemic isolation.
Keep an eye on seniors in your life who may be doing the following:
- Missing preventative care appointments
- Skipping regular physical activity or fitness classes
- Previously diagnosed or showing new signs of depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns.
- Serving as the sole caregiver for someone
- Suffering from chronic illness and postponing appointments
- Living with dementia and not receiving cognitive and sensory stimulation, or are missing familiar faces
Living in a luxury senior living community that focuses on physical, mental, and social health provides many benefits to retirees and seniors. There are opportunities for independent living, assisted living, and memory care programs. In addition, residents can subscribe to housekeeping services and choose to eat meals with a group when they don’t want to cook themselves. All the while, this takes stress off of family members who were previously a major part of the care team.
What Causes Seniors to Live Alone?
Loneliness and senior social isolation aren’t necessarily unique to the pandemic. For some seniors, the loneliness may not disappear just because the world opens back up. Below are some of the top reasons seniors find themselves socially isolated and lonely.
- Changing neighborhoods. Neighborhoods have a lifecycle, usually with younger families moving in, then the kids grow up, the adults retire and possibly downsize for retirement. This leaves seniors who have not moved feeling isolated when the young families come back again.
- Shifting family dynamics. Between the growing physical distance between families and the decline in births in the US, seniors can often be separated from their families. In addition, adult children with school-age kids may find themselves running from activity to homework to dinner with little time to visit with parents.
- Life events. Sometimes we know it’s coming, and sometimes we don’t but major life events can cause loneliness and isolation.
Keeping Senior Social Isolation at Bay
Concerned about friends or family members who may have socially isolated or are feeling lonely? Here are some tips for keeping them engaged with others. Even 15 minutes of face-to-face contact a day can help.
- Make virtual fun. Instead of calling on the phone, try using a video chat service. Set up a time to talk while watching a movie at the same time. Invite them to play interactive scrabble or other games online.
- Discover active living communities. When you find a community that provides a holistic approach to senior health, you’ll discover a new way of living. Friends are only a short walk away; as are fun activities, fitness classes, and gourmet dining. These group activities allow for regular engagement for seniors.
Baby Boomers are going to overtake the number of minors in the US in the next decade or so, which means more seniors who could be withdrawing. Open up the possibility of having everything you need at your fingertips: transportation, entertainment, social engagement. It becomes easier to maintain relationships.
LivGenerations Agritopia provides vacation-inspired amenities to balance the fun with the necessary for retirement-age adults. Don’t take our word for it here; schedule an appointment to tour and see for yourself!