Caregivers in residential assisted living homes must observe seniors, ensuring they do not become overwhelmed with feelings of loneliness and isolation. These feelings can lead to serious health consequences. Understanding the causes and risk factors can help prevent it.
Nobody wants to age alone. Social connections help seniors laugh, create memories and cope with the difficulties of aging.
Unfortunately, many seniors age without the necessary support.
As 10,000 baby boomers cross the threshold of turning age 65 every day, and 4,000 seniors turn age 85 daily, many elderly people still feel alone.
Even those living in crowded residential assisted living homes often wrestle with feelings of loneliness.
STATISTICS ON SENIOR ISOLATION
According to the recent U.S. Census Bureau, 11 million people live alone. Now, with the current pandemic, these same people are even more isolated from society. As people age, their likelihood of living alone increases. The AARP reports indicate that more older adults do not have children, which means there are few family members to assist with activities of daily living (ADLs).
Living alone does not have to result in social isolation.
For many, living alone and the lack of social activities are considerable contributors to isolation. Unfortunately, social contacts tend to decrease as we age.
This decrease can result from retirement, the death of friends and family, or lack of mobility, and many other reasons.
Did you know that about 20 consequences of senior isolation can be detrimental and extremely alarming? Also, many older individuals struggle with feeling lonely and socially isolated.
Fortunately, research regarding the risks, causes, and prevention of loneliness in seniors provides the insight needed for caregivers.
Exhaustive Facts About Senior Isolation
- Senior isolation increases the risk of mortality.
- Feelings of loneliness can negatively affect both physical and mental health.
- Perceived loneliness contributes to cognitive decline.
- Social isolation makes seniors more vulnerable to elder abuse.
- LGBTQ seniors are much more likely to be socially isolated.
- Social isolation in seniors is linked to long-term illness.
- Loneliness in seniors is a significant risk factor for depression.
- Loneliness causes high blood pressure.
- Socially isolated seniors are more pessimistic about the future.
- Physical and geographic isolation often leads to social isolation.
- Isolated seniors are more likely to need long-term care.
- Loss of a spouse is a significant risk factor for loneliness and isolation.
- Transportation challenges can lead to social isolation.
- Caregivers of the elderly are also at risk for social isolation.
- Loneliness can be contagious.
- Lonely people are more likely to engage in unhealthy behavior.
- Volunteering can reduce social isolation and loneliness in seniors.
- Feeling isolated? Take a class.
- Technology can help senior isolation — but not always.
- Physical activity reduces senior isolation.
Senior isolation is neither inevitable nor irreversible – you can prevent it, and you can do something about it if you are already experiencing it.
Understanding the facts can help individuals prevent loneliness as seniors adjust to the changes of aging.
WHY LONELINESS CAN BE FATAL FOR SENIORS
Loneliness in seniors may be fatal. Sources report that the lack of social contact leads to an early death, regardless of underlying health issues.
Over 1,600 adults over age 60 in the U.S. say they feel lonely or excluded. Seniors who report feelings of loneliness often experience a significant decline in their ability to maintain optimal health and ability to function.
About 25 percent of adults who experience feelings of loneliness also report having trouble carrying out activities of daily living. Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) include bathing, dressing, grooming, eating, and getting in and out of bed.
Research shows that there is also a clear connection between loneliness, isolation, and premature death.
Research also suggests a link between isolation and loneliness leads to the following:
- High blood pressure,
- Heart disease,
- A weakened immune system,
- Depression, anxiety,
- Cognitive decline,
- Alzheimer’s disease and
- Early death.
Isolation often leads to poor lifestyle choices. Those who are lonely are more likely to smoke and eat poorly. As such, lonely people are prone to inactivity, which exacerbates additional health issues for seniors suffering from feelings of loneliness.
On the other hand, those who partake in meaningful, productive activities with others are generally happier. These seniors have a sense of purpose and tend to live longer. Social activity plays a vital role in mental health and physical wellbeing.
While social activities may be difficult during the pandemic, they are not impossible, but residential assisted living homes should follow CDC guidelines.
COMBATING LONELINESS IN SENIORS
Fighting loneliness does not have to be difficult, especially with caregivers, family, and friends. When caregivers and family members are committed to engaging in meaningful interactions with seniors, it’s relatively easy to keep loneliness in the distance.
There are several things that caregivers can do to make sure loneliness does not negatively impact seniors.
Tips to Battling Loneliness
- During conversations, listen to how seniors feel.
- Take seniors out for lunch, dinner, religious services, movies, and visits with friends.
- When the family is unable to visit during COVID-19, call and write often.
- Ask to participate in residential assisted living home activities with them.
- Allow your elderly family member to pass on their knowledge by teaching you something.
HOW SOCIAL ISOLATION CAN HARM HUMAN HEALTH
Even before the pandemic began, national studies indicated that nearly a quarter of older Americans were socially isolated and about one-third of middle-aged and older adults experienced loneliness.
Having few social connections and feeling isolated have been associated with various health-related conditions, including chronic diseases and psychiatric disorders. Social isolation is a risk factor for premature death, similar to cigarette smoking, physical inactivity, or obesity.
Social distancing during the pandemic is causing family members, friends, and neighbors of older adults to stay away to avoid exposing their loved ones to the virus. While that protects older adults from some health risks, the limited physical interactions reduce feelings of connectedness with others. It can also exacerbate other health risks.
Without frequent and meaningful social interactions and stimulation, older adults’ cognitive functioning can decline. As the days of isolation weigh on, older adults are especially susceptible to depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.
Remaining at home also makes it harder to engage in healthy lifestyles, including physical activity and eating well.
Without exercise, muscles can weaken, leaving older adults more prone to falling. Inactivity can also lead to weight gain and other health problems, including declining heart and lung capacity. Access to healthy food is also necessary for staying healthy and for preventing and managing chronic conditions.
While not everyone will see the same impacts, the older adults most likely to be affected include those who already experience social isolation, live alone, or have limited financial resources, and those with multiple physical ailments, mental health concerns, and memory problems.
WHAT CAN OLDER ADULTS DO?
Although the immediate demand for COVID-19 screening, testing, and treatment has made it more difficult for health care and aging organizations to reach out to older adults, many still offer opportunities for older adults to engage in a variety of meaningful ways within their homes or communities and to connect with helpful resources, services, and programs. Some states, like Iowa, have set up free programs to connect isolated residents with counselors and support groups by phone and online during the pandemic.
Older adults can also take steps on their own to stay active and engaged:
- Plan your day. While the days may seem to be an endless blur, keep up with daily routines like getting out of bed, getting dressed, and engaging with small activities. Planning time for online classes, calls with friends, reading, puzzles, cooking, gardening, or home repairs can give meaning to the days.
- Stay physically active. Find exercises that can be done at home or in the immediate neighborhood, like walking. Many virtual and online physical activity and health promotion programs are available, which can remotely foster engagement and connection to others.
- Know your risk. Take the AARP Foundation’s Connect2Affect tool to assess your risk for being socially isolated and refer to the local assistance directory for support services you might need.
- Don’t be afraid to leave home but do so wisely. New CDC guidelines emphasize what older adults can do to stay safe when leaving home. For example, when going outside, practice everyday preventive actions: Carry a cloth face covering, tissues, and hand sanitizer; encourage others to wear cloth face coverings when out in public, and avoid close contact with others who are not wearing face masks to the extent possible.
- Think of others. Regularly reach out to others who may need to hear a friendly voice on the phone. Volunteering has positive health benefits, and there are online opportunities for doing so.
- Accept help from others. Many individuals and organizations are working hard to keep seniors socially connected. Remain open to accepting the kindness and support from family members, friends, health care providers, and social service agencies.
STRATEGIES FOR A HEALTHIER RESPONSE
Despite the need for social distancing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are ways to help older adults remain connected.
Phone calls and online platforms offer seniors in assisted living various ways to safely connect with peers and professionals, as well as friends and family. Online learning and internet-based volunteering can also provide interaction and intellectual stimulation.
For older adults, maintaining health demands social connections while following public health recommendations of the CDC.
Public health efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 should also consider the importance of social connectivity for maintaining older adults’ physical and mental health.
HELPING SENIORS LIVE QUALITY LIVES WITH RALNA
Music Is Another Great Way to Stimulate the Brain is another excellent resource blog article to engage seniors.
Visit www.RALNA.com to learn more about helping seniors live quality lives. The Residential Assisted Living National Association also provides a wide range of information to help owners and operators of RAL homes advance their businesses.
As coronavirus cases rise, it can be challenging for older adults to see any end to the need for social isolation and the loneliness that can come with it.
Inadvertently, the COVID-19 safety guidelines to self-isolate have created new health risks by leaving many older adults even more socially isolated and inactive than before.
Making the vaccination a priority for seniors is helping, along with understanding new developments in science, health, and technology.
Public health officials must look closely at this potential risk in their messaging and identify strategies to minimize the unintended consequences.