The Effects of Loneliness and Isolation on Senior Health and How to Cope
Throughout our lives, our social connections play a role in keeping us happy and healthy. We need people who we care about and who care about us to share our joys and to sympathize with our pain. However, as we age it can be more difficult to stay socially connected.
Children grow up and leave home, we retire, and loved ones may pass away. Changes in health and mobility can prevent us from enjoying the activities that we used to enjoy. All of these things can contribute to social isolation and feelings of loneliness.
Although they have similar causes, loneliness and isolation are not exactly the same thing. Social isolation is the actual state of not having social interactions, while loneliness is a negative feeling caused by a person’s perception of not having enough contact with people. They may not inspire the same fear as more obvious health risks, like cancer, but both conditions present serious threats to a person’s quality of life and overall health.
What are the Risks?
Loneliness affects mental and emotional health. Seniors who report feeling lonely are also at greater risk for depression, overeating or malnutrition, and alcohol abuse.
Loneliness contributes to physical health problems. Lonely people are more likely to suffer from arthritis, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Loneliness is associated with cognitive decline. Seniors who are lonely may experience quicker cognitive decline and are at a higher risk for dementia.
Fighting the Effects of Loneliness
The key to keeping the effects of loneliness or social isolation at bay is to create more opportunities for social interaction. This can be difficult, especially if limited mobility or lack of transportation are issues. Add to this the fact that many seniors live considerable distances from children and grandchildren, so frequent visits aren’t always possible. Even with these challenges, though, many seniors still manage to combat feelings of loneliness and live lives that are full of social interactions. Here are a few possible ways for seniors to give their social life a boost:
Create Opportunities to Get Out
- Be part of a Group. Joining a group such as a book club or a seniors group is a great chance to connect with people who have similar interests. These connections have the possibility to blossom into deeper friendships.
- Take a Class. Senior centers and adult education programs offer classes that range from basket weaving, to photography, to yoga, to learning a second language. These learning opportunities can be a great chance to connect with fellow students.
- Volunteer. There are many opportunities for seniors looking to volunteer. From becoming a foster grandparent at a local school, to playing with animals at a shelter, to helping out at a food bank or library, seniors who volunteer are both forming social connections and using their lifetime of experience to make a difference.
- Use Public Transportation. Average life expectancy is several years greater than the average safe driving expectancy. But inability to drive doesn’t need to prevent seniors from engaging is social activities outside the home. Many communities offer low-cost transportation for seniors. Services like Uber and Lyft have created senior-friendly options in many locations as well.
Getting Social Without Leaving the Home
- Use Social Media. Simply being able to check in and see what their loved ones are up to can decrease feelings of loneliness.
- Pick up the Phone. Especially if family or friends are too far away for regular visits, the phone is a great way to keep in touch. A phone conversation, even if it’s only for a short time, can help seniors to feel connected. Many families enjoy adding a visual component to their phone calls by chatting via Skype or FaceTime.
Loneliness and isolation in seniors are not inevitable. If you see signs of loneliness in someone you care about, encourage them to improve their quality of life by reaching out socially.
Visit the Davis Community’s Assisted Living and SNF in Wilmington NC
If you or loved one are no longer capable of living a safe, independent lifestyle, then call the Davis Community today at 910.686.7195 or simply complete and submit our online information request form. We provide exceptional assisted living and skilled nursing services in Wilmington, NC with a strong and supportive environment where your loved one will feel welcomed and part of an active community. Get to know the difference today — schedule a visit to the Davis Community!