More Americans are living longer and enjoying many more years of retirement compared to prior generations due to better health choices such as eating better and exercising more, preventative medicine, advancing technology, a decrease in smoking, and simply living through countless medical innovations that have been proven to extend our lives. Yet with a longer lifespan, it is important for seniors and caregivers to be aware of the risk for potential social isolation.
Social isolation can occur when someone loses a spouse, a best friend, an illness, or simply feeling depressed because of retirement or relocation of their residence. Social isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and is an issue that should be considered by anyone who is considering remaining in their home as they age. A 2012 study showed that people who felt lonely — whether or not they lived with others or suffered from depression — were at a heightened risk of death. It also showed that 43 percent of people over 60 felt lonely.
Research also shows that older adults who feel lonely are at greater risk of memory loss, strokes, heart disease and high blood pressure. The health threat is similar to that of smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to AARP. Loneliness and isolation are also linked to physical inactivity and poor sleep, as well as poor immune functioning.
So how do you prevent social isolation and feelings of loneliness?
There are socializing challenges when you live alone. A complication that many seniors may face is transportation. If you do not live in a residence that offers activities and transportation and you are unable to drive, socializing can become a burden. Look into public and private transportation options or ask friends or family members. Ensuring seniors have transportation is a key to keeping social connections.
Here are some ideas for seniors to keep connected:
Volunteer your time. There are opportunities to volunteer everywhere. Contact schools, hospitals, libraries, soup kitchens, churches and local charities for available opportunities. Try to stay mentally engaged in your community and surroundings.
Find a hobby. Whether playing cards, scrap booking, knitting, playing Bingo or fishing, make it a point to meet with friends regularly to enjoy a hobby together.
Move every day ! A simple walk outdoors or gentle stretches can do wonders for your mental and physical well-being.
Schedule a regular weekly time to meet with friends. A morning cup of coffee, lunch, tea or sitting at the park; make an excuse to have a regular meeting with friends each week.
Schedule family time. Use a smart phone for texting or skyping. Call your family regularly to touch base, laugh and share stories.
Attend church. Even if you haven’t before, now is a great time to get involved. Church will get you out of the house and may open new doors for volunteering, hobbies and friends.
Hire an experienced and caring in-home caregiver who can help to ease feelings of isolation for both family members, friends and seniors. Freeing up family to take care of themselves when needed, a home care aide is there as an additional support system, helping to connect you to better health and increased socializing.
Senior loneliness is never irreversible or permanent. When you care enough about yourself or your family member to make an effort and stay engaged, social isolation and feelings of loneliness can be minimized and aging at home can be a positive social experience to help the senior live a happy and healthy life.