One of the most overlooked conditions facing our senior citizens these days is the misfortune of isolation. Whether it’s physical isolation, or the emotional isolation of not feeling truly connected to other humans, it’s a serious issue that has many serious side effects.
Here are 22 shocking facts about senior citizen isolation that you should know:
1. Physical health is seriously affected by feelings of isolation
Most people relate loneliness to a purely emotional state. We think loneliness causes sadness, depression, and even stress, but we often fail to recognize the drastic affect these emotions have on our physical health. Studies have shown that loneliness and lack of social interaction has an affect on not only the emotional health of seniors, but on their physical health as well.
2. Elder abuse runs more rampant amongst isolated seniors
The sad fact is that not everyone values and honors the elders in our world. Though these wise men and women have seen more life, gained more wisdom, and benefited their family and society more than we can imagine, many may see them only as an inconvenience to their selfish lifestyles.
It’s tragic but true, and the sad result is that many seniors are either neglected or abused. But keeping more people around our loved ones creates a greater hedge of accountability with which to protect them. Seniors who live alone or with only one person who looks after them run a much greater risk of abuse than those who are consistently around people who can alert you if something is amiss.
3. Loneliness is a worldwide instigator of unhealthy habits
Many people believe that addictions and unhealthy habits are hereditary or are simply the result of a bad decision, but there are often many other factors that lead up to these choices that can have a devastating affect on anyone’s life – including seniors.
As seniors find themselves spending lonely days in isolation, they will be much more likely to numb the longing for human interaction with alcohol, constant television, overeating, under-eating, tobacco products, lack of exercise, and even drugs.
In a study published by NCBI about the ties between loneliness and behavioral and biological health indicators, they discovered that “Both social isolation and loneliness were associated with a greater risk of being inactive, and smoking, as well as reporting multiple health-risk behaviors.”
4. Social isolation has been linked to long-term illness in seniors
In the same study, it was found that social isolation also has a direct affect on health issues. For instance, isolation can affect C-reactive protein (a substance released by the liver that causes inflammation within the body) and fibrinogen (a soluble protein that assists in the formation of blood clots) levels.
If your loved one is already suffering from some type of illness, then it is very possible that extreme isolation would only make it worse, or cause it to turn into an even more serious condition.
As seniors grow older, many times they are less mindful of health habits that they used to adhere to, and may even forget to take medications or important vitamins, so having people around will also help maintain the healthy habits that your loved one already had in place.
5. Being cut off from simple errands & outings can greatly intensify senior loneliness
When we are young we take things like running errands for granted (or even as an inconvenience to get out of the way quickly). But what we don’t realize is there are many social interactions that happen throughout our day as we do something as simple as taking care of these chores.
As seniors get older and less mobile, little things like “getting around town” start to slowly get cut out of their life and then by default, so do the social interactions that came with those activities. Doing something as simple as including your loved one on your own errands, or helping them complete some of theirs, could greatly protect them from social isolation.
6. Debilitating depression can be caused by isolation
Those who have never dealt with depression cannot quite understand just how debilitating and paralyzing it can be. It can come in any phase of life, but it can hit especially hard in the senior years when freedoms we’ve grown accustomed to for years are suddenly taken away due to decreasing eyesight, failing memories, and other factors of aging.
Being stuck in one location with little human interaction is one of the largest factors in senior depression, which can sap their motivation for anything from exercise and hobbies to eating and taking medications. Many studies show that depression is directly related to loneliness.
7. Dementia and cognitive decline are serious risks of isolation
The Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience University of Chicago did a study that showed the drastic effect that isolation has on humans and other social species. In their report they explained, “Research indicates that perceived social isolation (i.e., loneliness) is a risk factor for – and may contribute to – poorer overall cognitive performance, faster cognitive decline, poorer executive functioning, more negativity and depressive cognition.”
If your loved one is showing any signs of cognitive decline, the best thing you can do for them is simply to keep them connected to social interaction on a consistent basis.
8. Isolation drastically reduces a senior’s self esteem
People draw a sense of value from many different things throughout our lives: the ability to provide for our family, our intellectual achievements, our athletic prowess, and our physical appearance.
Aging can change all this.
When many of the things that seniors used to identify with have faded away, they can suddenly find themselves re-evaluating their value and identity. This can be a very difficult season to face alone, but with the interaction of others going through the same season of life, as well as family that loves them for more than just their former beauty, talents or power, they are much more likely to navigate this “identity crisis” with ease.
Being isolated in this crucial time will keep them “shut up” with their own negative thoughts and could seriously affect their self-esteem.
9. Volunteer opportunities can counteract isolation amongst seniors
These days, many Assisted Living facilities provide volunteer opportunities suited for seniors. These opportunities can include everything from quilting circles that donate their finished products, to creating crafts for charity auctions, to organizing special event fundraisers. Activities like these can help seniors not only interact with each other and contribute their talent to a worthy cause, but also helps them feel a sense of connection with their community.
10. Loss of a spouse can catapult a senior into extreme isolation
One of the most difficult seasons of anyone’s life is the loss of a loved one. For seniors, these losses start to come more and more frequently, and when it comes to the one with whom they’ve shared most of their days, it can feel nothing short of paralyzing.
The loss of a spouse can launch seniors immediately or gradually into isolation as they struggle to deal with intense grief.
11. Proper grief recovery processes can greatly reduce senior isolation
While everyone’s grief journey is unique, it has been found that including people in your journey (sharing with them about your emotions and your deceased loved one) actually helps to heal grief. Grieving done alone can be harmful to a senior’s life and increase their isolation.
12. Remaining in familiar surroundings can add to feelings of isolation
While most people believe that allowing seniors to remain in a location that feels homey or familiar is the best route to take, in some instances it can actually end up causing a deeper sense of isolation.
A senior who has a strong attachment to their house but has lost the partner or family they once shared it with might simply sink into depression. Trying to remain where in the place where so many memories are but without the people with whom they were created may have a negative affect.
A move to a fresh location where new friendships and memories can be forged might be the best thing to prevent a sense of isolation.
13. Socially active seniors can still suffer from intense loneliness
Another misconception is that a lot of activity and human interaction equals quality connection.
This isn’t always true.
It is quite common to attend an event or group and never truly connect with the other people there. One can slip in, engage in the activity or discussion, and slip out without ever allowing others to get to know you or getting to know the other individuals in the group.
This false sense of social connectiveness can cause the feelings of personal isolation to deepen, even for those who are not physically isolated from others.
14. Loneliness can cause high blood pressure
One of the most common health issues that affect people across the country is high blood pressure. As of 2016, 32% of Americans dealt with high blood pressure. Since this condition can lead to more serious health risks such as heart disease and stroke, it’s no small matter, especially amongst seniors.
With studies showing that loneliness can also lend to high blood pressure, it’s all the more reason to find a solution for isolation among the aging loved ones in your life.
15. Simple eye contact and true listening are huge combatants of senior loneliness
As mentioned before, simply attending a class or joining an activity with other people may not actually solve the feelings of isolation and loneliness. Probably the best, longest-lasting cure for loneliness is to actually have conversations with your loved one in which they are the sole focus.
Show them that you are present and listening by making eye contact, and try to listen without thinking about all the things you want to say next. Show them you’re making a real effort to understand them and their feelings. If you take the time for connections such as these, loneliness won’t stand a chance. Even for those with dementia – who may talk in circles and make little sense – they still need that undivided attention and one-on-one connection to remain healthy and happy.
16. Seniors who are isolated are much more likely to need costly long-term care
Not only can isolation increase blood pressure and other negative health side affects, but all these health concerns will grow into bigger issues if left unchecked. Taking care of something that seems less “dire” such as loneliness can greatly reduce the risk of your loved one developing serious health conditions that will require intensive long-term care. And intensive long-term care can get really costly, really quickly.
17. Classes can reduce loneliness
While meaningful, safe one-on-one connections are always the best way to kill loneliness, this can often be instigated by joining a class or group of some kind. Many seniors sign up to pursue educational pursuits they never had time for while supporting a family, or discussion groups with subject matters that have always fascinated them.
Through these activities they will come in contact with likeminded people with similar interests, and that is often the starting point for deeper friendships.
18. Physical activity can reduce senior isolation and it’s effects
While loneliness is primarily an internal and emotional issue, an isolated and sedentary lifestyle may be one of the largest roadblocks in healing it. Seniors who refuse to get out and engage in physical activity – if they are physically able to – may be shortchanging themselves.
Exercise has also been shown to drastically reduce depression by the release of endorphins, and depression and loneliness often go hand in hand.
19. Technology can add to feelings of loneliness
Studies have shown that social interaction through technology can often lead to a false sense of connection. If connecting through electronics (such as e-mail, Facebook or FaceTime conversations) is the only way your loved one is interacting with people, chances are they’re still feeling as lonely as ever.
20. Technology can ease feelings of loneliness
While technology can increase feelings of loneliness, if it is used in a responsible way it can actually help ease loneliness. This happens when the senior uses it primarily to share experiences with friends and family that live too far away, and to set up in-person meetings with those who live nearby.
21. Senior isolation can speed up a senior’s mortality
Keeping our loved one in our lives for as long as possible is a huge priority as they increase in years. Aging brings on a host of ailments and consequences of bad health choices throughout one’s lifetime, but there is one factor in a senior’s mortality that most people overlook: loneliness.
In a study regarding social isolation among seniors conducted by the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), they “found that mortality was higher among more socially isolated and more lonely participants.” This is a serious and sobering fact about the crucial need for social interaction for anyone, including our dear seniors.
22. Seniors are not the only ones susceptible to social isolation
Caregivers of the elderly are also at risk of social isolation. The long hours of caring for someone else’s daily needs can cut a caregiver off from needed “self” time, or connection time with their own family and friends.
While this career is very rewarding, it can also become very isolating.
If you enlist the aid of a caregiver for your loved one, take the time to schedule their days off and vacation times. There are plenty of adult day care centers or other care centers that are perfectly prepared to look after your loved one for a short time while their usual caregiver is away getting some rest and refreshment. In the end, everyone will feel more connected and happier for it.
Now that you are aware of these shocking facts about senior isolation, you are much better equipped to ensure that the elderly folks in your life are well looked after.