Senior Social Isolation – A Silent Health Problem
Social isolation is a growing health problem for senior citizens that’s more likely to occur during a pandemic due to reduced contact with others and increased health concerns. When senior social isolation does occur, it can have significant consequences that affect your loved one's health and quality of life.
Below, we'll discuss how social isolation affects the growing senior population of Baby Boomers in America and what you can do if you think someone is withdrawing themselves from social activity.
Physical and Mental Health for Seniors: The Risks
Humans are meant for companionship, to be a part of a pack, and regular social engagement helps fill that innate need. When that’s missing from our lives, it can have a mental and physical impact on our health. Researchers at Brigham Young University found that social isolation can be as deadly as smoking or obesity. Social isolation among seniors may worsen existing conditions, encourage a sedentary lifestyle, and lower cognitive function.
Social isolation and loneliness can also lead to stress. A study found that people who are lonely often have higher blood pressure and stress levels. When you’re in retirement, you should be feeling less stressed and spending more time doing what you love.
Researchers also report that senior social isolation is often linked to unhealthy habits. In addition to smoking and excessive drinking, lonely seniors are more likely to neglect their physical fitness. Conversely, regular social interaction promotes healthy eating, regular exercise, and healthier lifestyles among seniors without even discussing the holistic health choices with our friends and family. Living in a vibrant and active senior living community provides ample opportunities for social engagement, healthy and delicious meals, and physical fitness.
Studies have found that senior loneliness is a risk factor for cognitive decline and can increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer's disease develops at double the pace and mental decline occurred at a faster rate in lonely adults than those who engaged in meaningful conversation with others often. According to the study, isolated older people might have less mental stimulation. They may also have a lower likelihood of reporting symptoms before the disease has advanced, reducing the opportunity to slow down or halt progress.
When seniors socially isolate, they are at an increased risk of being subjected to undetected elder abuse, including fraud and financial abuse. Neglect is one of the seven types of elder abuse and among the most common. Yet, it is often overlooked because seniors are reluctant to report abuse without a trusted ally around.
Lonely seniors are most likely to have a negative outlook and assume the worst. It is 60 percent more likely for socially isolated seniors to predict a decline in quality of life over the next ten years. Senior citizens are also more concerned about aging in place. They are more likely to seek help from community programs as they get older, according to a study done by the National Council on Aging.
Active living communities for seniors focus on providing opportunities for social and mental stimulation through fun community activities and various extended learning classes.
Who Is at Risk of Senior Social Isolation?
Families agree that the stress of the pandemic has affected their aging relatives. A survey found that 62 percent of family caregivers claim their senior relatives suffered mentally or physically during the pandemic isolation.
The following groups are particularly vulnerable to senior social isolation:
- Seniors needing preventive health care who may postpone appointments, tests, and elective procedures.
- Elderly individuals who might lose the benefits of regular physical therapy or activity.
- Older adults who suffer from depression, anxiety, or other mental disorders may not get the help they need without a therapist.
- Families and individuals with unpaid caregiver responsibilities. They often have little respite and are more likely to suffer from "caregiver stress" and develop health problems.
- Elderly individuals with chronic illnesses. They may not receive adequate support to manage their illnesses and postpone their medical visits to avoid exposure to COVID-19.
- Seniors living with dementia who benefit from seeing familiar faces and need cognitive and sensory stimulation.
The benefits of moving to a top quality active senior living community include being able to engage with others regularly, choosing independent living or adding in assisted living help, the ability to have housekeeping duties managed for you, have your meals delivered, and unique memory care programs. Doing so can take the stress off of both the caregiver and the senior family member.
Why Are More Seniors Living Alone?
Many seniors will struggle with isolation even after the pandemic is over. Some seniors have experienced loneliness due to the COVID-19 epidemic. But, other seniors experience loneliness because of conditions that persist even once the pandemic is over.
Neighborhood dynamics are changing. As seniors age, they often cite community ties as their main reason to age in place. Yet, relationships within communities change with time.
Changing economic conditions, gentrification, and urban living can attract younger neighbors. Thus, isolating seniors. For seniors who enjoy a sociable atmosphere, a luxury retirement living community can be a good option.
Family dynamics have also changed. The birth rate in the United States also decreased after the Baby Boomer generation. This resulted in more childless seniors and fewer family caregivers, often stressing relationships with those who step in to help.
Unexpected life changes, or maybe even some expected ones, can also lead to senior social isolation and loneliness. Divorce or the death of a partner or child can increase the feelings of loneliness in seniors.
Combating Senior Social Isolation
More than ever, reaching out to friends, family, and acquaintances is essential. Even 15 minutes of contact a day - face to face or via video - may help seniors who are feeling lonely.
As a result of the Coronavirus, senior social isolation has increased. On the upside, it has also shown us how well we can communicate from afar. Schedule a fun virtual movie night with your aging loved one. You can even play online games with each other like Scrabble or Chess. Finding an active living community that focuses on holistic health for seniors is another great way to combat loneliness. Many of these active adult communities encourage exercise, learning, and safe socializing.
Residing in senior living communities may be the best choice for your loved one. They don't have to worry about transportation, entertainment, or family dynamics. Seniors can focus on living their lives to the fullest and enjoying the company of their family instead of letting them stress as their primary caretaker.
As the population of seniors is growing, we need to know how social isolation can affect them. The best way to help older relatives stay healthy as they age is by making sure that they maintain meaningful relationships.
At LivGenerations Mayo Blvd, we value holistic health for seniors. Are you ready to combat social isolation in favor of an active senior living community? Reach out to us here! We'll help schedule a tour of your future home. We're looking forward to hearing from you!