Seniors who are socially isolated and lonely are often sicker and may not live as long as others who remain close with family and friends. In a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers found seniors who had few ties to the community had an increased risk of cardiovascular issues. In addition, lonely individuals were twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Socially isolated seniors do not have the strong social networks necessary to overcome health challenges, and this leads to an increased likelihood of poor health and a shorter lifespan.
Medicare reports that loneliness and isolation account for 6.7 billion dollars in healthcare costs each year. In a study by Brigham Young University, researchers tracked adults for 35 years and found that those who experienced loneliness associated with social isolation had a 26%-32% rise in early death. Other effects on seniors who experience loneliness include an increase in depression and suicide. Those who do not have close friends often enter an assisted living facility earlier than their counterparts who have friends and ties to organizations within their towns and the surrounding community.
There are many reasons why seniors experience isolation, such as living longer than spouses and living far away from family members and friends. Also, more than 30% of all those over the age of 50 are single. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) reports isolation can stem from mobility issues, low income, psychological issues, or cognitive impairment as well as being a caretaker for someone with a disability. Whatever the reason is a senior has become isolated, being disconnected poses significant health risks.
There are many things seniors can do to reconnect with others. These opportunities exist as one-on-one, small groups, or community-based interactions. Technology offers seniors the possibility to connect online with individuals or groups and can lead to a decreased feeling of social isolation according to the AARP. Some examples include one-on-one support by telephone for caregivers, volunteer home visiting, mentoring programs, and virtual senior centers.
Some of the interventions to help a senior include:
- Helping a senior join a church group or community-based group in an area of interest
- Giving a senior a dog or other small animal to care for daily
- Spending time with a senior weekly in his or her home
- Offering assistance to caregivers through phone, video or email
- Making technology accessible such as FaceTime, Skype, and other resources
- Assisting with transportation to appointments and errands
- Encouraging hobbies and other interests.
Seniors who are active in their communities experience a higher quality of life and tend to live longer, too. Those who have strong connections with others tend to practice healthier behavior which may be one of the reasons they are less likely to stay ill if they have healthcare issues. If you know a socially isolated senior, offering new ways for them to connect with others can make all the difference.
If you have an aging loved one and are concerned about their quality of life, including loneliness and social isolation, we can help. Contact the compassionate life care planning team at Bratton Law today.