Senior Social Isolation: A Bigger Problem Than You Think
Think about the movies, TV shows, or books that contain a stereotypical crotchety older character that refuses to let anyone in their home, on their property, or leave their house. For example, Carl Fredrickson from the movie Up.
This stereotype is portrayed as a lighthearted, laughable foil for the protagonists in the story. However, the truth of the matter is that isolated, lonely seniors are a common occurrence. Meanwhile, as the population continues to age, their numbers will only grow.
Currently, 17% of adults 65 or older live in isolation. 26% have a higher risk of early death due to personal feelings of loneliness. And 46% of women who are 75 or older live alone. [i] Additionally, some studies estimate that as many as 43% of senior men and women suffer from loneliness and isolation. [ii]
Senior social isolation can be voluntary or involuntary, and getting at-risk seniors the help they need is challenging.
Learning the signs and the effects social isolation can have on the elderly is vital. So if you believe your loved one is at risk, this article can help you.
Isolation vs. Loneliness [iii]
There is a difference between social isolation and loneliness. According to the National Seniors Council of Canada, senior social isolation has several characteristics:
- Contact with others is low in quantity and quality
- Few social interactions or roles
- An absence of mutually rewarding relationships
- It is a physical state where individuals can count the number of connections they have
Social isolation increases the chances of loneliness, even when around other people. These two things are linked, but they aren’t the same. Moreover, loneliness is related to the individual’s personal feelings or state of mind. It can occur when the quantity or quality of social interactions don’t match up with what the person wants.
Effects of Social Isolation [iv]
Senior social isolation isn’t just a problem that affects a single individual. It can also impact their families as well.
If you know someone who struggles with feelings of loneliness or isolation, it is crucial to find them the help they need.
The effects of social isolation can be lifelong and make it more challenging to maintain or find new relationships.
Studies show that some of the effects of social isolation rival those of smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure. It can have several negative consequences, such as:
- Greater chance of premature death
- Decreased well-being and quality of life
- Disabilities from chronic diseases
- Lower mental and general health
Caregivers are not exempt
Senior social isolation is a troubling problem, but it isn’t only the elderly that are at risk for this issue.
Loneliness and isolation complicate existing problems and makes care difficult at times.
Whether they realize it or not, family caregivers can also fall into social isolation.
Most caregivers work alone, and about 53% have little to no time for friends or family because of their duties. And many prioritize the care of their loved one over their social well-being. Consequently, they also exercise less and maintain a more deficient diet. Additionally, 70% of caregivers are clinically depressed. [vi]
Taking care of your health and general well-being may be difficult, especially for those who frequently experience guilt for taking time for themselves rather than performing other duties. However, failing to care for yourself can lead to caregiver burnout in addition to social isolation.
If you think your responsibilities might be getting the best of you, take a moment to take time for yourself. Besides, you don’t have to give up your place as your loved one’s primary caregiver. For instance, respite care is one option. Or, you can hire a professional in-home care worker from MeetCaregivers.
You may not need someone full-time, but even a part-time caregiver will give you the chance to watch out for yourself.
Risk Factors [vi]
Senior social isolation can happen to anyone, no matter how active they have been in the past. But some seniors are more vulnerable than others. So if you are worried that someone you know is at risk, look for these factors:
- Little to no assistance or support for routine activities such as cooking, shopping, and transportation
- Limited emotional support
- Decreased activities both physical and leisure
- They live alone
- Limited interactions with friends, family, community, or other social groups either voluntarily or involuntarily
- Reduced sense of comfort in their neighborhood.
A large part of social interactions for seniors is a lack of involvement in their community, either through organizations or volunteer groups. Those who are the most prone to experiencing social isolation include:
- Older seniors, those who are in poor health, or those with poor self-esteem
- Those living in urban areas
- Those without a partner
- Health complications that limit activity
- Those who live in poverty
Ways You Can Help
While this problem can be tricky to tackle, it isn’t altogether impossible.
So here’s what you can do to help someone you believe may be at risk for senior social isolation:
- Transportation assistance. Call your local community or senior center and ask about volunteers who can help with transportation. Hiring a caregiver is another way to make sure your loved one gets out of the house. [vii]
- Manage their health. Problems such as eyesight and hearing loss can contribute to a reluctance to leave home. Similarly, incontinence can play a large part in your loved one’s social withdrawal. Frequently check with your loved one and find treatment as needed. Also, make sure they are eating right and exercising regularly as these things will help improve mood and stave off depression. [viii]
- Promote self-esteem. Everyone struggles with body image issues, and the elderly are no exception. Compliments go a long way to help your loved one feel confident. Discourage negative self-talk and fretting when you hear it, and reinforce with kind words. [x]
- Pets and hobbies. Many seniors (especially women) may feel a lack a purpose if they have nothing to care for. If their health allows it, encourage your loved one to adopt a companion animal like a dog. If they aren’t a pet person, starting a new hobby such as gardening, volunteering, or painting will improve their well-being. [xi]
- Be affectionate. Those with limited physical contact with other people may experience loneliness the most. Show affection to your relative when you visit them. Even if touching isn’t in either of your natures, just one embrace can help. [xii]
- Age-friendly communities. Age-friendly communities are great for senior engagement, and Massachusettes has many organizations. The Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative, Boston AARP, and the Age-Friendly Boston Project have many resources as well.
How MeetCaregivers Can Help
MeetCaregivers works with you and your loved one to make sure they match with the perfect candidate.
In addition to the services caregivers can provide (such as transportation and errand running), they can help provide companionship when you are not available.
The stereotype of the grumpy elder might cause many to think that senior social isolation is just another part of aging.
But the reality is that it is a troublesome, challenging, and sometimes debilitating problem for the individual and their families.
So, take the time to identify the signs and get your loved one the help they need. It will improve their quality of life and make their golden years the best that they can be.
For more information, contact MeetCaregivers at 1-888-541-1136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking for more resources? Our blog has plenty of information for you to read and learn about the topic.
[i] End Social Isolation Among Seniors. (n.d.). Retrieved May 14, 2019, from https://connect2affect.org/
[ii] Anderson, J. (2018, October 03). 14 Ways to Help Seniors Avoid Isolation. Retrieved May 14, 2019, from https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/help-seniors-avoid-social-isolation-8-14-2014/
[iii] Social Isolation and Loneliness Social Isolation and Loneliness – RISE – HelpAge Canada. (n.d.). Retrieved May 14, 2019, from https://rise-cisa.ca/about/social-isolation-and-loneliness/
[v] Anderson, J. (2018, October 03). 14 Ways to Help Seniors Avoid Isolation. Retrieved May 14, 2019, from https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/help-seniors-avoid-social-isolation-8-14-2014/
[vi] Social Isolation and Loneliness Social Isolation and Loneliness – RISE – HelpAge Canada. (n.d.). Retrieved May 14, 2019, from https://rise-cisa.ca/about/social-isolation-and-loneliness/
[vii] 6 Powerful Ways To Help Seniors Avoid Isolation. (2019, February 27). Retrieved May 14, 2019, from https://www.bayalarmmedical.com/medical-alert-blog/6-powerful-ways-help-seniors-avoid-isolation/
[ix] Anderson, J. (2018, October 03). 14 Ways to Help Seniors Avoid Isolation. Retrieved May 14, 2019, from https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/help-seniors-avoid-social-isolation-8-14-2014/
[xi] Anderson, J. (2018, October 03). 14 Ways to Help Seniors Avoid Isolation. Retrieved May 14, 2019, from https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/help-seniors-avoid-social-isolation-8-14-2014/