According to research, social interaction is one of the most important aspects of living a long, healthy life. However, for seniors, regular opportunities for social engagement tend to diminish. They retire from jobs, children move away, friends and spouses pass away, and eventually they may become housebound if they lose the ability to drive or become ill.
According to the most recent U.S. Census 28% of people aged 65 and older lived alone, with numbers estimated to be much higher now. Studies show seniors who live alone often experience social isolation and chronic feelings of loneliness, which cause depression, illness, and even death.
Here are some surprising facts about loneliness in seniors:
Senior isolation and loneliness increase risk of death
Research shows that lonely or isolated seniors are more likely to decline and die faster. One study found that older adults who reported feeling lonely had a 59% higher risk of mental and physical decline along with a 45% increase in their risk of death.
Loneliness increases cognitive decline and risk of dementia
Seniors who live alone have higher rates of cognitive decline and dementia than those who live with other people. One Dutch study that followed more than 2,000 seniors found that feelings of loneliness increased the risk of dementia by more than 60%.
Loneliness causes heart disease
A recent study found that people who suffer from loneliness or social isolation were 29% more likely to develop coronary heart disease and 32% more likely to have a stroke than those who were socially engaged. These statistics put loneliness on par with smoking and obesity as risk factors for heart disease.
Loneliness is linked to long-term illness
Seniors who live alone experience conditions such as chronic lung disease, arthritis, impaired mobility, and depression at higher rates than those with strong social support.
Social isolation makes seniors more vulnerable to abuse and scams
Isolated seniors experience elder abuse and are victims of senior scams at higher rates than their peers. This is most likely because there are fewer people around to notice the signs of elder abuse or to put a stop to the poor treatment.
How to Help Fight Loneliness in Seniors
Address the issue and develop a plan
Take a look at what might be causing your loved one to feel lonely. Is the person physically isolated from others because he or she lives in a remote area located far from friends or family? If so, consider moving them closer. Or, perhaps your loved one is surrounded by people but still withdrawals from social interaction. If it seems they are simply unwilling to participate, try finding an activity that they love such as a ballroom dance class, book club, or knitting group. Studies show being involved in a community can help maximize friendship, health, and happiness among seniors.
Urge family members to reach out
Encourage family members to engage with your loved one on a regular basis, even if they live far away. It can be something as simple as mailing a card with a handwritten note, or a five-minute phone call once a week. If your loved one lives near, try bringing the grandkids over a couple of times a month and plan activities that they can enjoy together, such as baking cookies or simple craft projects. Grandparents are an often-overlooked source of wisdom and love sharing their life stories with the younger generation.
One of the leading causes of senior isolation and loneliness is a lack of transportation. Although your loved one may no longer drive, they still need to get out and about in the community. Most family members are probably too busy to act as a taxi service, but fortunately, there are many free or low-cost transport services available for seniors. Research the local Area Agency on Aging for a list of options. Enlisting home care services can also be helpful. As part of an overall care plan, a caregiver can safely drive your loved one to and from appointments and social activities.
Consider a pet
According to research, pets have a significant impact on our physical, emotional, and mental health. In fact, the effects of pet therapy are so powerful that it has become routine part of care in hospitals and nursing homes to help patients recover faster and combat depression. For seniors who are still able-bodied and live on their own, the benefits of having a pet can be life changing. Pets ease feelings of loneliness, protect against heart disease, calm anxiety, and improve mood.
Most seniors want to stay living at home for as long as possible and meeting their desire to age in place has many advantages. But, it’s important to make sure that your loved has a healthy amount of social interaction, which can be difficult if they live alone. Hiring an in-home caregiver not only helps your loved one with activities of daily living, but also provides them with necessary social stimulation to live a healthy, happy life.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.