Healthy Connections: Senior Isolation and How to Combat It
Deeply rooted in all human beings is a need for community. But did you know that lack of connection and social interaction is a health concern? According to research by AARP’s Connect2Affect initiative, 26% of adults over age 65 are at an increased risk of early death due to feelings of loneliness. One of the best steps to take to maintain seniors’ health is to foster existing social connections and develop new ones. But it’s not always simple.
Many factors contribute to social isolation among seniors. Older adults can experience a decrease in close social contacts as friends and family members move away or pass on. And opportunities to make new friends or reconnect with old acquaintances become more challenging as seniors’ mobility becomes increasingly impeded. They may face limitations in walking, driving or access to public transportation. And when a person’s need for connection goes unfulfilled, their body will find ways to let them know it’s in distress, potentially exacerbating preexisting health conditions.
Senior Isolation: An Increasing Concern
As baby boomers age into retirement, the number of seniors experiencing potentially harmful loneliness is expected to increase, driven by the fact that a higher percentage of baby boomers did not have children or live farther away from their kids compared to generations before them. Adult children frequently serve as primary or secondary caregivers as well as cornerstones of social connection. Without that support, more seniors find themselves isolated.
Social isolation in older adults can worsen preexisting conditions like heart disease, depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, obesity and cognitive decline — and can even contribute to early death. If you believe you or a loved one could be suffering from senior isolation, here are some symptoms to look for:
- Significant changes in appetite or weight
- Altered sleep patterns
- Negative self-image
- Lax personal hygiene
- Increased idleness
- Cognitive decline
Solutions: Helpful Social Activities for Seniors
Isolation is a serious issue, and though today’s seniors may not have access to some of the same family support their predecessors had, there are several innovative modern solutions to lessen social isolation among seniors.
Volunteering: Donating time and talents to a worthy organization is one of the best ways to combat isolation in older adults. Connecting with like-minded peers and contributing to a cause can provide a senior with social opportunities and also a deeper sense of purpose. Take into consideration one’s interests and abilities to find a truly enjoyable volunteer opportunity.
Education: Cognitive decline can sometimes be a symptom of social isolation in older adults. Learning a new skill or diving back into an old one can help seniors make new connections and help keep them mentally sharp as they age.
Physical activity: Exercise can greatly ease symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as enhance physical health. Group exercise classes provide even more benefits by adding a social component. You can find classes to fit any ability, like chair yoga, water aerobics, and chair-based Tai Chi.
Senior living: Senior living communities are wonderful facilitators of social activities for seniors. All the solutions listed above are typically included as part of their regular schedule of events. Plus moving to a community can provide an influx of new and interesting people into one’s regular social circle.
While mobility may still be a problem, there are modern solutions for that as well. Senior living communities will likely provide regular transportation to local shops and attractions as well as doctors’ appointments. If you live in a house or if you want to travel beyond a community’s provided outings, there are ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft. You can request rides via an app on a smartphone. And GoGoGrandparent lets you use ride sharing services without a smartphone. Just call their phone number, and they’ll order the ride for you.
Seniors are too vibrant and too important to remain isolated. If you think community living might be right for you or your loved one, find an LCS community near you and schedule a tour.