Aristotle's profound proclamation that 'man is a social animal' resonates strongly in today’s world, where the ever-expanding realms of science and social observation continually reinforce the validity of his statement.
A person who lives without any social interaction is in just as much danger as a person who smokes 15 cigarettes a day. Fortunately, young people, with their educational and financial pursuits, are exposed to situations where social interactions become a necessity.
Regrettably, the same cannot be said about the seniors. In the U.S. alone, about 27% of the older population lives in their homes alone and is at high risk of facing loneliness and isolation. Although slightly different concepts, both have a proven track record of leading to several physical and mental health conditions, along with increased mortality.
In this article, we are going to take a deeper look into the debilitating effects of social isolation and loneliness in older adults, and how we can save lives with our timely and innovative intervention.
Understanding Social Isolation and Loneliness
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social isolation is “a lack of social connections. Social isolation can lead to loneliness in some people, while others can feel lonely without being socially isolated.”
If it goes untreated, social isolation can lead to poor health and increase the risk of premature death.
On the contrary, loneliness is defined as a “perceived state of being alone that causes discomfort or uneasiness.”
This means a person can be surrounded by people and in a social setting, but still, feel alone with a lack of companionship and intimacy.
Causes of Loneliness and Isolation
There are numerous social, psychological, physical, economic, and logistical factors behind loneliness and isolation in older adults. Some of these factors include living alone, losing your partner, losing friends and family, not having children or grandchildren around, loss of hearing, chronic illness, decreased mobility, dementia, anxiety, limited finances, lack of freedom, etc.
The reason why the older population faces an increased risk of loneliness and isolation is that they are more likely to be exposed to these factors due to age, poor health, and living conditions.
Effects of Loneliness and Isolation on Mental and Physical Health
Loneliness and isolation not only stem from physical and mental health issues, but they also exacerbate the development of additional physical and mental conditions. It also increases the chances of developing cognitive conditions and premature mortality. This has been consistently proved by extensive research on the subject.
As individuals aged 50 and above face a high risk of experiencing both this isolation and loneliness, they are particularly vulnerable to their detrimental consequences.
Following are some of the many ways in which lack of social interaction and feelings of loneliness affects the mental, physical, and cognitive health of the older population:
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Increased inflammation
- Impaired immune system functioning
- Substance use and abuse.
- Heightened stress response
- Changes in appetite
- Eating disorder
- Inconsistencies in sleep patterns
- Suicide attempts
- Progression of dementia
- Mood shifts
- Anger, frustration, disengagement
- Changes in shopping habits
Strategies for Family and Caregivers to Stage an Intervention
As dangerous as social isolation and loneliness can be it only takes someone to notice the symptoms and stage a timely intervention. Thankfully, we have an abundance of community resources and facilities around us to help us with the task.
Caretakers and family members should keep in mind that older adults are reluctant to express their loneliness and might not take kindly to being confronted about it.
Every step to help them become socially active must be taken tastefully and discreetly, and in a manner that they enjoy.
Here are some of the most effective strategies for caretakers, friends, and family to help their seniors come out of loneliness and isolation:
- Create a Supportive Environment
Many times, loneliness is a direct result of being misunderstood and undervalued. The seniors must have a supportive environment around them. As a caretaker, take the first step by listening to them attentively when they speak. Do not negate them but help them feel valued and useful.
Ask for their opinions and suggestions in day-to-day tasks. There’s a broad range of things that you can do, like calling them for their bread recipe, asking their opinion on personal matters, asking them to help you choose between two pairs of shoes, etc.
- Promote Social Connections
Older adults often lack the means to build a social network, especially if they have had their driving license revoked or live with limited mobility or loss of hearing.
Look for social activities, events, and resources around you that best suits their situation. It's better to start with places that share common interests. For instance, a book club if the older adult is fond of reading, a chess club if they enjoy playing chess, etc. There are also college volunteer programs where young people sign up to spend time with older adults. You can apply for one of those programs and slowly introduce the seniors to new people.
A well-organized weekly schedule goes a long way in improving the quality of life of an older adult. Nurture all the necessary aspects of life and arrange an activity for each such as physical activities, social activities, emotional well-being, etc.
Something as simple as reading a book, solving puzzles, doing regular exercises, going for a walk, meditating, dancing, counseling, talking to a friend or family member, leisure activities, a hobby, etc. substantially improves the quality of life.
- Avail Mental Health Resources
If the adult in your care is worn down from mental health issues due to isolation and loneliness, get it treated by a professional. There are psychological facilities that not only excel in treating the symptoms but also provide a wholesome environment that encourages social interactions. There are also high-quality retreats that help in eliminating loneliness in adults.
Seek Professional Guidance - Get In Touch With Northwood Intouch!
It’s crucial that we, as caretakers, must acknowledge the overall well-being of seniors in our lives, and that includes their social life. Neglecting the symptoms of isolation and loneliness can negatively impact the physical and mental well-being of older adults and increases mortality rates.
Thankfully, we can take meaningful actions to ensure that our loved ones continue to live high-quality lives that lead to happiness and complete wellness. This includes the use of assistive devices such as the ones offered by Northwood Intouch, that can provide you and your loved one peace of mind.
For more information on our products and services call us at +1 (902) 492-3346 or email us at email@example.com