One of the biggest dangers affecting older adults today may not be what first comes to mind. Physical ailments such as chronic pain, increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s Disease are common concerns as we age. The risk of falling and medication side effects can also be causes of worry. But did you know that one of the biggest dangers facing older adults today is isolation? Isolation and loneliness not only affect an individual’s mental health negatively, but their physical health can suffer as well.
A new study by The National Poll on Healthy Aging found that 1 in 3 adults between the ages of 50 and 80 feel socially isolated. The study was conducted between 2018 and 2023. Although the number of those feeling isolated has decreased since the height of the COVID pandemic, the numbers are still higher than they were pre-COVID. The adults most affected were those with disabilities and those who were unemployed.
Dangers of Isolation
When an older adult is home-bound and unable to attend events and social gatherings, isolation can quickly affect their mental health and well-being. Depression caused by isolation can be particularly dangerous, as one can get caught in a depression-isolation cycle. The more depression takes over, the less motivated an individual will be to socialize. The more the individual withdrawals from their loved ones and society, the stronger the feelings of loneliness and depression get. It can be easy to get trapped in this cycle of depression and social isolation.
Having conversations with others is a great way to keep cognitive skills sharp. When an individual becomes isolated, they no longer have the opportunity to use their language skills, practice keeping focus, and recall memories through conversation. An increased risk for dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other cognitive health problems may develop without regular interaction with others.
Not only affecting mental health, isolation and loneliness impact physical health as well. According to the CDC, older adults with poor social relationships have a 29% increased risk of developing heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. Social isolation has also been found to significantly increase a person’s risk of premature death – so much so, that it rivals the risk of premature death caused by smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
If your loved one lives alone and is facing loneliness, take time to visit. While long visits are most likely appreciated, even a short stop-in will help lift the spirits of your loved one. Drop by while running errands, bring a meal, or have morning coffee together. If your loved one has grandkids, make a quick stop before a musical concert or recital, when the kids are dressed up. Even if your loved one is unable to make it to the event itself, the visit will make them feel like they’re still part of the special occasion.
When visiting, be sure to interact with the senior and engage in conversation. Ask questions and inquire about their activities and feelings. If holding a conversation is difficult due to dementia or other cognitive issues, bring a favorite book and read it aloud to your loved one. Listening to the spoken word can still stimulate cognitive function and bring entertainment.
If a senior is able to drive or get transportation, encourage them to get involved in their church or local community senior center. Many great activities and ways to connect with others are available. A benefit of living in a retirement community or assisted living, such as Snyder Village in Metamora, IL, is the instant community it provides. For example, Snyder Village has a team of staff members dedicated to creating engaging activities and social opportunities for its residents. Daily opportunities for fun activities are available, such as card games, crafts, exercise classes, Bible studies, and trips and outings. It is easy for residents to make friends with their neighbors as they take part in activities together.
If your loved one resides in a skilled nursing center, volunteer to accompany them to activities. They may feel more comfortable with you there and may be encouraged to try the activities on their own in the future. Visiting and bringing their favorite restaurant meal or taking a walk with them are other ways to lift the spirits of your loved one and keep loneliness at bay.
Human connection is a basic need we all crave. If you or someone in your life is facing isolation and loneliness, reach out. Call a friend, visit a neighbor, or get involved in your local community. No matter the age, it’s still possible to make meaningful connections and valuable friendships. Connect with someone today – it will do your mind, body, and soul good.
Snyder Village in Metamora is a Life Plan Community that offers independent living, assisted living, memory care programs, skilled nursing care, therapy, and home care. For more information, call (309) 367-4300 or visit www.snydervillage.com.