Elderly Loneliness and Isolation
There are a few reasons why elderly individuals may choose to confine and shelter themselves from the outside world. Isolation prompts loneliness, and loneliness prompts isolation. We should all embrace our endeavors and support each other to break this endless loop that has significant repercussions. Isolation amongst seniors is alarming, and may continue to become a more serious concern if preventive actions are not implemented.
Social isolation and loneliness influence around 33% of the elderly population, and negatively affects physical and emotional wellness. Fortunately, seniors do not have to stay alone or live by themselves. There are numerous opportunities available to seniors to live around other senior citizens and to socialize daily. Such opportunities include assisted living facilities as well as retirement communities, which not only have similar-aged adults living in the same community, but also routinely have social events to promote social relationships to reduce isolation.
In this article, we provide recommendations to help you consider how you can help your elderly loved one maintain a strategic distance from isolation.
Senior Loneliness: A Serious Issue
You don't need to go extremely far to notice the essence of senior loneliness. Loneliness is abundant and omnipresent. From the elderly woman sitting alone in a church, the sad elderly man angry at the airport, to your elderly friend who refuses to leave their home.
Loneliness contributes a sentiment of void, hardship, and pity. As our population ages, an ever-increasing number of senior natives experience the ill effects of loneliness. This feeling of isolation is felt considerably more during holidays, although it can likewise be felt on a daily basis. Loneliness in elderly seniors should be taken seriously as it can prompt concerning outcomes:
- Greater danger of constant ailments (heart or vascular, mainly):
- Suicidal considerations;
- Sleep issues;
- Increased stress and nervousness;
- Eating problems and lack of appetite;
- Loss of freedom
- …And the list continues…
It is our obligation to keep our elderly loved ones from experiencing isolation. Together, we can conquer and overcome loneliness.
Seniors and Loneliness: Overview
Perhaps, the population most affected by loneliness our elderly people. As indicated by one report, around 20% of seasoned adults with more than 50 years of experience are affected by social isolation.
Seniors may encounter loneliness for a variety of reasons. For instance, older people may no longer feel comfortable or may now experience reduced energy, which inhibits them from socializing to the extent they did during their older days. This lack of energy and motivation can cause them to remain at home alone. As a result, their relationships with their companion, friends, and family may take a toll.
Reasons for senior isolation and loneliness
Some common reasons or factors contributing to loneliness and isolation in the elderly, may include:
- Illness (i.e. malignant growth, Alzheimer's disease);
- Difficulty communicating and conveying expressions (language or hearing issues);
- Fear of falling and injury;
- Concern about becoming a burden to others;
- Lack of support system;
- A change in their living condition;
- Adult children and grandchildren moving away;
- Death of a life partner.
How to Help Seniors Avoid Isolation and Loneliness
Loneliness and isolation are connected very profoundly, which can be seen in seniors commonly.
As we discuss the dangers that older people are facing and understand the seriousness of the issue, we must determine how we may help make our elders feel more safe and secure. As their family, friends and neighbors, we have the power to truly make a difference and to help them in the best way. There are certain things we can do as adults to help elderly seniors not feel lonely or isolated. They include:
Convey and encourage a sense of purpose:
Seniors with a feeling of direction, motivation, and passion are more reluctant to capitulate to the negative impacts of social isolation. Volunteering is an extraordinary method for maintaining feelings as a contributing member to society, embracing a sense of pride and passion, and creating social relationships. Urging seniors to dynamically maintain involvement with their pastimes and interests, and hosting volunteer opportunities can enable them to keep up their self-confidence and can be a powerful strategy to prevent them from becoming detached and desolate.
Make transportation more readily available:
Any transportation improvements that help seniors get around and enjoy independency promotes their social health. Social integration can be provided by developing a robust public transportation infrastructure or creating opportunities so that ride-shares, taxi services, and platforms like Uber and Lyft are more available and accessible to you as the senior citizen, or the senior in your life.
Have you considered how you, yes you, may be able to offer rides to elderly people, help them use public and private transportation, maintain social connections, and enjoy a healthy sense of independence?
Connect the senior with accessible versatile technologies:
Versatile technologies help seniors make up for age-related shortfalls and insufficiencies that can obstruct social involvement. Numerous seniors don't fully utilize these gadgets, such as voice assistants and GPS map applications to guide them to where they need to go. At times, they might be humiliated because they would prefer not to show up, as they may feel “too old”. In some cases, the device might be excessively costly and they may be concerned about any potential harmful effects of the technology, such as constant supervision. We can empower and encourage the senior to not be afraid to use latest technology that can support seniors to participate more in social activities. Even using things like Skype can be a very easy way for an elderly adult to keep in touch with their family members who live far away or who are unable to visit them on a daily basis.
Recognize isolated seniors:
Relatives may often be the first to notice when social isolation is influencing a senior's wellbeing. However, not all seniors are fortunate to enjoy the advantage of friends and family who live close by and can be aware of their health. Hence, general wellbeing experts and trained caregivers ought to be watchful for indications of social isolation issues. There is no hope to support socially detached seniors if nobody sees that they are missing from social events, and if no one supports them to feel socially accepted.
Recognize the challenges of a caregiver:
You may be surprised to learn that being a caregiver can trigger social isolation in the elderly. Caregivers may not seek support when they are wiped out, and have practically zero time to exercise or eat well. Caregiver burnout is quite common.
Studies show that up to 70% of caregivers have clinically critical manifestations of melancholy and burnout. As caregivers, it is crucial we care for ourselves. It's not merely the individual you are thinking about who's in danger of social isolation, it is also you. If you are a caregiver who is burning out, consider an assisted living facility or alternative options to continue to provide the best care to your loved one. If you know a caregiver, a friend or family member who bears the weight of providing care, take strides to help the caregiver live more simply, feel more comforted, recognize your appreciation, and encourage them to still take them for themselves and to maintain social relationships by participating in social activities. If you do not care for yourself as a caregiver, you will not want to be socially engaged with your elderly loved one. And if that happens, that can lead to your elderly senior being isolated.
Provide additional help to seniors who have lost a relative, companion or life partner:
Older adults might become more socially withdrawn during the period of time after a relative, companion or mate has passed away. Therefore, it's essential to ensure you are extra enthusiastic and provide the needed social help to ongoing grievers and widows, while they are grieving. As a loved one passes away, seniors are likely to consider their own time when they move on from their current lives. These thoughts could result in great anxiety and sadness and for them to be withdrawn and isolated from everyone around them.
Accomplish more and bring more blossoms; go the additional mile and invest more energy with your elderly loved one for the days and weeks following their misfortune. Such occurrences can have a significant effect on the senior's wellbeing and state of mind. With your care, you can support a quicker recovery from such a sad event, as opposed to the senior winding into a state of deep sorrow, senior loneliness, and social isolation.
There truly is nothing quite like a hug. Research has demonstrated that hugs from family members, similar to hand-holding or embracing, can alleviate tension and make people happier. On the other hand, elderly adults who are denied of touch can experience diminished wellbeing and the feeling of not being wanted or valued. So, regardless of whether you or the senior’s other relatives are not the hugging types, integrate hugs and touch into your welcomes and goodbyes.
Consider pet therapy:
Numerous specialists note that having a pet or even petting a pet that isn’t your own can diminish sentiments of social isolation. As pet therapy becomes increasingly popular in senior living communities and other places, elderly adults can have less melancholy, endure less loneliness, embrace a sense of safety and security, have more inspiration for spending their time with other people, and thereby require less medicine than those that never touch any pet. Pet therapy is a social ointment which gives elderly people the necessary motivation to get out of bed and care for a pet or give love to a pet, even if it’s not theirs. For seniors who are pet owners, a pet depends on them and it is their responsibility to care for the pet. The pet is there with them during the great times and hardships, and his or her love is unconditional.
As a note, please verify and confirm that the senior is competent and is willing to consider the responsibilities as a pet caregiver before you allow them to embrace their pet. If the senior is not competent, then this could be devastating for all involved. If you feel the senior is up for the challenge, then this could be a very beneficial technique to curb senior loneliness and isolation. Tending a nursery can fulfill our sustaining drive, so giving seniors cultivating possessions as a blessing can be helpful as well.
Accompany seniors to places of worship and their favorite places:
Consider accompanying elderly people to their favorite places. This could help them take a walk down memory lane and feel the joy from revisiting their favorite places.
For religious seniors who have been frequent churchgoers or worshippers, the social association from regularly attending a place of worship may continue to be very beneficial. The peace brought upon from attending church or another religious sanctuary may also stimulate motivation, a sense of direction, and passion
Consider frequent hearing and vision tests:
Seniors with undiscovered or untreated hearing issues may be humiliated by their challenges, and prefer to avoid social situations. It is important to encourage seniors to have their hearing and vision regularly checked, so any concerns may be treated. A listening device or a new pair of glasses with updated prescription lenses might just be the solution for the senior to enjoy a better social wellbeing. Vision, hearing, and annual physical tests are important to identify concerns before greater challenges develop.
Support feasting with others:
Eating together is a social activity. Urge seniors to enjoy a dinner with others whenever may be possible, regardless of whether it's at a congregation gathering, the cool new bistro, or the popular burger joint. As enjoying meals together will help ensure proper nourishment, assisted living facilities and nursing homes perceive dining services as an important aspect of daily living for the elderly.
Empower positive self-perceptions:
Compliments and positive affirmations can go a long way to boost the confidence of seniors. So, it is important to understand and deter their thoughts if a senior is worried about their appearance or the associated impacts of aging. Try to consistently encourage elderly people to become more self-confident, as aging brings upon a variety of challenges that can negatively affect self-esteem.
Reduce Senior Loneliness and Isolation Together Through Teamwork
As we have discussed, senior isolation and loneliness are one of the most common social issues amongst elderly people. Together, with the support of others, you can help your elderly loved one rekindle their social relationships and their role as an important member of their community.
- Encourage elderly people to join or pursue different exercises with others: bingo nights, arts and craft classes, excursions with a seniors' club, and so forth.
- Take turns with other caregivers to accompany and tour your loved one around town so they enjoy time away from the shelter of the home.
- Invite the individual for lunch or dinner at your home, preferably with the company of family and friends. Such communal meals provide great opportunities for the seniors to socially connect and appreciate the special time with their loved ones.
- Offer to help your loved one declutter, organize, and tidy their house or take care of otherwise mundane household chores. Perhaps, you could also invite their grandchildren to join the party so a boring activity can become a fun activity with a team of supporters.
- Encourage the individual to remain dynamic. Take a walk together or follow along when she or he exercises.
- Talk about subjects that interest them. Show enthusiasm for the subjects that are at the forefront of their thoughts: everyday life, wellbeing, side interests and concerning issues.
- If you are not sure what topics are interesting to them, then try to include them in discussions of friendly topics you are passionate about.
- Daily call and video chat them, and urge them to do the same with you. Whenever they need anything, regardless of time or what they ask for, they should feel comfortable seeking support.
- Visit the elderly individual as regularly as possible, even if you need to make more trips of shorter durations.
Considerations for How to Recognize the Triggers of Senior Isolation and Loneliness
If a senior no longer has his or her existing support system, then they may become isolated. They might be detached from society if they are experiencing the heartbreaking loss of a partner or dear companion. They might also be reluctant if they are not feeling well, if they are sad, or troubled by a concerning memory. They may also be upset about their aging challenges, such as poorer hearing and vision. They may be disinterested and concerned about leaving the home due to fear of falling or an unfortunate driving accident.
It is important that caregivers listen carefully, observe closely, and urge their loved ones to share their thoughts and feelings. By understanding the reasons, together you can identify strategies to help them feel more comfortable attending social gatherings, and using technology for social support.
A Key to Lock Away Loneliness:
As we have discussed, there are a variety of ways that you create social encouragement. It all begins with understanding the reasons for their loneliness and social isolation. Try to encourage your loved one to leave the home and meet others. Maybe visit a park, attend a bingo night, or enjoy a night dancing away at the nearby country club. If your loved one still does not feel comfortable leaving the home despite your efforts, then consider pet therapy or visits from their grandchildren, as such techniques can help brighten their spirits. Remind them that in order for the society to progress, they must fulfil their important responsibilities. As our elders have done for us for decades, it is now our turn to embrace our roles to care for them.
About the Author:
"Loneliness in Seniors and Elderly Isolation" is authored by Anisha Rao, MPP, Healthcare Consultant, Certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Healthcare Professional. Anisha holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Health Administration and Public Policy, a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and a Minor in Management of Aging Services. Anisha has extensive experience in Healthcare Services and Aging issues, including dementia care, senior health, and nursing home care. Anisha is passionate about ensuring seniors receive the best care possible and empowering seniors to become more involved in their care planning decisions.