Seniors at Risk: Social Isolation and Loneliness

Social isolation and loneliness are both risk factors for poor aging outcomes. About 28 percent (13.8 million) of older Americans live alone but many are not lonely or socially isolated. While they may seem similar, they are two different challenges older adults face daily. So, what’s the difference?

Social isolation is the lack of social connections. Loneliness is the distressing feeling of being alone, no matter the amount of social contact. For example, a person can be surrounded by friends and family yet still feel lonely. It is important to know the risks and how to support an aging loved one who is encountering changes because they are growing older.

loneliness and social isolation

Know Your Risk for Social Isolation or Loneliness

Older adults are at risk of loneliness and isolation for a variety of reasons. The primary reason is due to age. With age comes the loss of friends, mobility, hearing, vision, and the ability to access transportation.

Risks for Loneliness

Living alone

Homebound

Major loss or life change

Cognitive changes or depression

Trouble hearing

Not meaningfully engaged in activities

Life changes are inevitable, whether it is retirement or the death of a spouse. The risk of isolation or loneliness increases when life changes leave the aging individual feeling they are without purpose or cannot access opportunities for social interaction. For example, even with the constant presence of an aging spouse, a married person can feel lonely if unable to connect with the community at large for socialization and interaction.

What are the signs of loneliness in the elderly?

From lack of communication to loss of appetite, the signs of a lonely person are universal. A person experiencing loneliness is usually described as lacking initiative, signaling no interest in the usual activities they enjoyed before they aged into a period of loss. Loss of hearing, loss of mobility, loss of independence – these changes can add up to an overwhelming reason to just stop trying.

How do you help a lonely elderly person?

The best way to help a lonely elderly person is to understand that the distress they are feeling is very real. Letting them talk or just sit with them in silence is an effective first step towards building trust and bridging the gap of loneliness. In time, they may be open to a new hobby or start to engage in a plan to socialize more regularly.

What Not to Say to a Lonely Person

Why can’t you just be happy?

You should get out more.

You’ll stop being lonely when you make more friends.

It could be worse.

When you tell someone not to feel how they are feeling, it’s dismissive. We are all guilty of trying to cheer someone up rather than just really hearing them out. Feeling lonely is completely normal and reminders that there are resources and support that can help is the kindness they need.

What are three health consequences of being lonely?

There are many health consequences of being lonely. The body begins to feel the effects of prolonged loneliness and health problems become more noticeable. There are negative effects on the body such as cognitive decline, depression, and heart disease.

Health Consequences of Loneliness

Cognitive decline

Depression

Heart disease

Social isolation and loneliness can also lead to high blood pressure, obesity, and anxiety. In addition to food, sleep, and physical activity, we all need social connections. If you are sad or worried more days than not, it is time to check in with a family member, friend, or your primary doctor.

loneliness

Tips for Staying Connected

  • Talk to your doctor about your concerns. Be open about the changes that have occurred and how they impact your daily life. Prepare for your appointment by writing down your concerns – even getting them down on paper can help when it comes time to say them out loud. When you are open about what is going on with you, your medical provider is better able to work with you on a plan forward.
  • Let your family know you want to spend more time with them. If getting out of the house is difficult, or distance is a complication, sort out options that include video chats, scheduled phone calls, and sharing photos through digital frames. Technology can make distance much more manageable.
  • Start a new hobby or take a class to learn something new. Find a program that focuses on seniors to find peers that are likely in the same situation. Or, classes with younger participants may be the boost of energy you never knew you needed!
  • Meet your neighbors.
  • Adopt a pet or volunteer at a pet shelter.
  • Start exercising every day. Walk short distances to start, gradually building up distance. If you can’t walk, stand up. Standing up works your core muscles so you may be surprised how standing up ten times, three times a day strengthens your mind and body. If you can’t stand up, do range of motion exercises to stretch your muscles. However you can do it – it is important to move.

Whether you live across town or the country, concern for an aging loved one can be a daily disruptor. Regular check-ins with a parent throughout the day, evening visits to drop off food, pick up laundry, or just put “eyes on” for peace of mind can be exhausting for the working adult and ineffective for the lonely senior. If you are stretched thin between work, an aging parent, and a family at home, private duty home care is the answer you are looking for.

How does Private Duty Home Care help with loneliness?

Spending time with a private duty caregiver can significantly reduce the risk of isolation. From setting up the technology to connect with family to providing transportation to activities and volunteer opportunities, a private duty caregiver is a daily intervention for the lonely senior. A caregiver helps the senior stay engaged with their family and within their community. Who else is happy to listen to all those stories from childhood? (Again.)

loneliness

Private Duty Home Care keeps seniors connected during a time when loneliness and social isolation seem to be inevitable. With increased losses – hearing, mobility, access to friends – every senior can feel the social and health benefits of having a private duty caregiver to share their day with. If you want more information about how Private Duty Home Care can help provide peace of mind for you and socialization for an aging parent at home, call Champion Home Health Care – Private Duty Brevard at 321-608-3838.

For seniors at risk of isolation and loneliness, Private Duty Home Care is a Resource We Love. Learn more about the services they offer and the benefits of private duty home care in the Resources Section of our Blog.

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