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Keeping Seniors Connected Combats the Harmful Effects of Senior Isolation

October 1, 2019

Senior isolation is a serious health risk for seniors in America, and its devastating effects can evolve into loneliness, depression, heart disease, diabetes and other serious health conditions. However, identifying signs of isolation and early intervention may be key to preventing both the isolation and associated health risks.

While loneliness can lead to isolation, senior isolation is more than just being alone. According to AARP Foundation Connect2Affect, “It’s the result of feeling detached physically or psychologically, or being disconnected from support groups of family, friends and community.” There are quantifiable measurements for objective isolation, such as the size and frequency of someone’s social network, availability of transportation, and the ability to access resources and information.

If you think you or someone you know is isolated, Connect2Affect provides a self-assessment to not only determine if someone is isolated, but also to provide resources and suggestions targeted for that individual. For more information on available resources, call your local senior center to find out what programs and services are available for you or a loved one to get connected. Many social welfare agencies will conduct well-being visits or care calls and your senior center may be able to connect you to those services.

Some of the most prevalent causes of senior isolation are death of a spouse or close friend, lack of transportation options, untreated hearing or vision loss, frail health and mobility issues, becoming a caregiver, and poverty or belonging to marginalized groups, among other issues.

Some common preventions can include, affordable and accessible transportation options, support groups, senior centers, continuing education, volunteer opportunities, and home-sharing.

How To Identify Signs Of Isolation

There’s no one cause of isolation in older adults, so it may be difficult to recognize the signs. Some signs of isolation can be seen as the normal processes of aging, such as changing physical and mental health, hearing or vision loss, difficulty walking, living alone, and challenging life-style changes such as the loss of loved ones or retirement.

Although there is no one cause of isolation, there are signals to watch for. According to Connect2Affect statements like, “I don’t talk to many people” or “It’s too hard to get anywhere, so I’d rather stay home” are possible signs of loneliness and isolation. Also, an isolated older adult may appear bored, disinterested or withdrawn. Their personal hygiene may drop, or you may notice changes in appetite or poor eating habits. There may even be clear home disrepair, clutter or hoarding.

Family members and neighbors are often the first to notice signs of isolation, but not all seniors have loved ones who live nearby to check on their well-being. Therefore, many seniors must rely on public health professionals to be on the lookout for signs of social isolation problems in clients and patients so that appropriate interventions and referrals can be made.

How to Help Seniors Avoid Isolation

Considering the health risks and the increasing commonness of this issue, it’s helpful to find out how to promote social networking among our senior loved ones, or even ourselves. Here are some ways to combat senior isolation:

  • Volunteer: Helping others is a great means to not only connect with others, but it can also be good for your health. Research has shown that volunteers experience an improved sense of well-being, a sense of purpose, less stress, and longer life. Volunteering is especially helpful for seniors in reducing isolation, managing chronic health issues, and boosting their well-being. Connect2Affect has a database of volunteer opportunities that can be searched by zip code.
  • Life-long Learning: Senior centers, community centers, colleges and libraries offer low-cost and even free classes for seniors in areas such as cooking, writing, technology, art and more. Older adults can meet new people, keep their minds stimulated, and participate in something fun.
  • Stay active: Participating in group exercise programs designed for seniors is one way to keep active. Seniors can connect with other people their age and experience physical, mental and emotional benefits from exercise. Seniors may be eligible for SilverSneakers, a popular exercise program for qualifying seniors who are enrolled in participating Medicare Advantage plans.
  • Pets: A pet offers companionship and unconditional love. One study showed that pet owners were thirty-six percent less likely to report a feeling of loneliness. If a senior is capable of caring for a pet, it can decrease loneliness, depression, and isolation.
  • Religious involvement: A place of worship is a wonderful place to meet other people, stay connected spiritually, and find opportunities to volunteer in the community through charitable work. The weekly religious services keep seniors connected on a regular basis.
  • Get hearing and vision tested: Many seniors begin to withdraw socially when their hearing or vision begins to diminish. They can become self-conscious or frustrated in social situations. Once hearing and vision are tested, hearing aids or glasses can greatly improve someone’s confidence and ability to socialize.
  • Readily available transportation: Lack of adequate transportation is a primary cause of senior isolation. Many seniors do not drive, so affordable, reliable and accessible transportation helps seniors get around, provides a sense of independence and promotes their social health. Family and friends offering rides to elders and helping them to learn to use public transportation will help them maintain their social connections. Many senior centers offer transportation to medical appointments and local shopping areas.
  • Bucket List Items: As highlighted on CNN, the nonprofit My Jump! helps seniors fulfill their bucket lists, from skydiving to hot air balloon rides to driving a big rig. They focus on seniors living in isolation, who need extra attention to get re-engaged in life.

More than 8 million adults age fifty and older are affected by isolation. If you or someone you love is feeling the effects of isolation, use some of these resources – both online and in-person – to break the cycle and prevent prolonged isolation that can reduce longevity and decrease personal well-being.

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