Helping Seniors Avoid Isolation And Loneliness

Posted by on May 20, 2015 in Depression, Elderly | 0 comments

Helping Seniors Avoid Isolation And Loneliness

(As Seen In Anton Publications May 13 – 19, 2015)

In a time when many American families do their best to juggle the needs of their children with the necessity of dual incomes, making time to see our parents isn’t always easy. As time goes on and they get a little older their deteriorating health and mobility may further impede their ability to socialize and eventually many seniors find themselves feeling isolated and alone. They may see a doctor who will check for heart disease. They may have a nurse to assist with basic needs they can no longer do for themselves but they may have no one to tend to their emotional health.

Elderly02Studies have revealed a strong correlation between social isolation and poor health outcomes. An individual is considered to be socially isolated when she has minimal social contact and has few fulfilling quality relationships. Social isolation has been known to impact both the psychological and cognitive wellbeing of older adults. Those who have poor social connections and do not participate in social activities are at an increased risk of cognitive decline. Men who are less socially connected are at a significantly increased risk of death from suicide, as well as from other causes. Conversely, an extensive social network has been shown to have the opposite effect, including decreasing the likelihood of dementia in older adults.

Considering the identified risks and the growing census of seniors in the population as baby boomers enter their golden years, it’s increasingly important to identify, encourage and enable social integration among our older loved ones.

Family members will often be the first to notice if their loved one is isolating and the degree to which it may be affecting their wellbeing, but not every senior has the benefit of loved ones who live nearby. Public health professionals should therefore be on the lookout for signs of social isolation.  If detected early, health risks may be avoided through preventative and mitigative efforts but since social isolation is not typically assessed for in primary care settings it often goes unnoticed.

Elderly01Encouraging hobbies, pets and other interests may help make older adults less likely to succumb to the negative effects of social isolation. They can provide a sense of purpose and many hobbies, especially those that involve a group are inherently social in nature. Pet owners have been shown to suffer less loneliness, remain more socially engaged, experience less depression, require less medication, feel more secure and are more motivated to make constructive use of their time than non-pet owners. Animal companionship can also be a social icebreaker and provide a reason to get up in the morning.

Many studies have concluded a direct relationship between regular church attendance and lower mortality rates in seniors. Older church members may not only enjoy the benefits of increased social interaction and sense of purpose, but they also benefit from the watchful eye of other churchgoers, who become more likely to recognize any physical, cognitive or emotional decline that may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Older adults may be less likely to socially engage if they feel self-conscious or embarrassed about their appearance, like being overweight or feeling the cosmetic effects of aging. Compliments may go a long way to boosting their self-esteem. If a senior is genuinely overweight, addressing it by encouraging weight loss through healthy eating and exercise can be helpful, but always remain positive and sensitive when seeking to encourage older loved ones to lose weight.

Finally, lack of adequate transportation can create significant barriers to socialization. Many seniors no longer drive. The inability to get around or make independent choices about travel can affect their social health. When we are able to offer rides to our older loved ones or help them to learn to use public transportation, we enable them to maintain their social connections and a healthy sense of independence.

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