Everything You Need To Know About Senior Isolation

Did you know that one-quarter of seniors (adults aged 65 and older) report feeling socially isolated and lonely? Data also shows that social isolation increases the risk of dementia by 50 percent. These statistics indicate that senior social isolation needs to be perceived as a serious public health risk.

The statistics above may be worrying, but the good news is that there is a lot we can do to reduce social isolation and loneliness among seniors. These efforts start with first understanding what senior isolation is, and then involves learning how it differs from loneliness, what research concludes about its impact, and how we can assist in reducing social isolation among this group.

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Gay, lesbian, and bisexual populations tend to have more loneliness than their heterosexual peers because of stigma, discrimina-tion, and barriers to care.
Social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.

Social Isolation Impacts Physical and Mental Health

Generally, when a person is socially isolated, it is not easy for those that care about that individual to see the signs of any health issues. Therefore, the effect of health issues on socially isolated seniors may ultimately lead to death even though acting early might have saved the affected individual’s life.

Some of the negative health outcomes identified by Louise Hawkley and John Capitanio, who conducted a study on social isolation fitness and health outcomes, include “depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, unfavorable cardiovascular function, impaired immunity, altered hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical activity, a pro-inflammatory gene expression profile, and earlier mortality.”

Increased Mortality

The CDC reports that “Social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.” But is this assumption supported by credible science?

A study by Andrew Steptoe and colleagues published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States (PNAS) attempts to answer this question. The researchers report that they “found that mortality was higher among more socially isolated and more lonely participants.”

Effect of Social Isolation on Cognition

We have already noted that isolation increases the risk of dementia by 50 percent. John Cacioppo and Louise Hawkley conducted research focusing on perceived social isolation and cognition.

After analyzing several studies, Cacioppo and Hawkley conclude that “perceived social isolation … is a risk factor for, and may contribute to, poorer overall cognitive performance, faster cognitive decline, poorer executive functioning, more negativity, and depressive cognition, heightened sensitivity to social threats, a confirmatory bias in social cognition …, heightened anthropomorphism, and contagion that threatens social cohesion.”

Grab every chance to smile at others or begin a conversa-tion

Grab a Chance to Smile

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service suggests that seniors should “Grab every chance to smile at others or begin a conversation” in places like the grocery store or when waiting to see the doctor. The NHS also advises those who are shy and unsure of what to say to simply ask the people they are attempting to converse with about themselves.

Use Technology

If there is one thing that COVID-19 accelerated, it is the development of communication technologies. For example, technologies like Zoom have aided communication for millions of people working from home. These tools can also connect seniors with friends and family members across the world.

In April 2020, Florida State University’s Institute for Successful Longevity announced that it had launched an initiative to help seniors continue learning and connect with friends and family.

Of launching the initiative, Neil Charness, who is director of the institute, said, “Research studies suggest that about a quarter of the U.S. older adult population suffers from loneliness, and we are concerned that this could become more widespread under the social distancing required to prevent [the] spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

Seniors may also avoid social interaction because they might struggle to hear what others are saying. This is where technological advances like utilizing the best hearing aids on the market come into play.

Suppose your senior loved ones live on their own. In that case, you may also consider getting them outfitted with a medical alert system to ensure that someone is alerted when the individual living alone experiences an emergency and needs help.

Explore Senior Living

The restrictions imposed to stem the spread of COVID-19 have taught us that it is not always possible to provide companionship to our loved ones despite our best efforts. In such situations, considering senior living options could be the way to go. However, it is vital to ensure that the senior involved is part of the decision-making process and is assisted in selecting a home that best fits their needs and desires.