As seniors age, their social circles can shrink. Older adults may no longer feel comfortable venturing far from home to run errands and participate in events that were once a regular part of their lives.
Seniors struggling with isolation and loneliness may be experiencing more than an emotional toll. Our physical and mental health are so connected, persistent feelings of sadness can accelerate disease processes and contribute to illnesses. Helping the elderly adult in your life ward off loneliness is a crucial part of caring for their overall health.
How loneliness affects health in older adults
Nearly a quarter of adults over the age of 65 experience social isolation. It’s no surprise that a lack of companionship can contribute to anxiety and depression, but over time, loneliness can actually affect the physical structures of the brain. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that loneliness accelerates cognitive decline, increasing the risk of dementia by as much as 50%.
Recent studies reveal that isolated seniors have a 29% higher rate of coronary artery disease and are 32% more likely to experience a stroke than their well-socialized peers. More unfortunately still, elderly adults who don’t have regular interactions with others are less likely to seek out preventative care, making them more prone to hospitalization and emergency room visits.
Identify the warning signs of loneliness.
Seniors who live alone are at obvious risk for loneliness, but it can also be triggered by life events. The loss of a spouse or partner, surrendering a driver’s license, or moving to a new community can leave seniors feeling vulnerable and alone, even if others are nearby.
If you suspect that an older loved one may be experiencing loneliness, watch out for:
- Changes in appetite
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Changes in shopping or spending habits
- A significant increase or decrease in the frequency of phone calls or other attempts to connect
Help prevent loneliness in seniors.
Anyone who has ever felt alone while surrounded by people knows that rewarding social connection must be personal and meaningful. Whether you live across the country from your senior loved one or down the hall, a high-quality social support
network should validate their experiences and support their interests.
With more seniors embracing technology, it’s easier than ever before to set up face-to-face interactions online. Virtual visits can be even more fulfilling than a phone call if your senior adult is separated from friends and family by distance or mobility issues.
Encourage your senior to make regular plans to connect with the people they enjoy, and you’ll give them moments to look forward to even when you aren’t able to be with them.
Explore your community.
Belonging to a group of like-minded people is a powerful safeguard against loneliness. Whether the older adult in your life is processing a loss or a difficult diagnosis, or simply interested in making friends, many support groups and community center events are geared specifically towards seniors.
As we get older, we don’t stop seeking connections, learning, and growing. Research what your community has to offer, and help your senior loved one find a sense of belonging with others who share their experiences and interests.
Prioritize mental health.
We wouldn’t ignore a broken leg, but we don’t always treat mental health with the same urgency.
The connection between the brain and body is so strong, seniors’ emotional wellbeing is directly related to their physical wellbeing. Older adults struggling with loneliness and isolation should talk to their healthcare providers. Openly sharing their feelings with their medical team is an excellent first step in developing a plan of action that supports total-body health.
Get professional companionship and respite care.
As you balance your role as a caretaker for your senior loved one with a world of other responsibilities, don’t hesitate to call in reinforcements.
Professional in-home caregivers do more than assist your senior with personal care, errands, and light housekeeping, they can actually make their world bigger and brighter. Caregivers can help support interests and hobbies, provide friendship and conversation, and facilitate the activities that help older adults feel confident and independent.
Whether you are seeking coverage on a short-term basis or regular in-home care, companion care and respite services are a fantastic way to support your senior loved one’s social health.