The Hidden Concern with Senior Social Isolation
Senior isolation, whether it’s due to self-inflicted social withdrawal or health concerns arising from the pandemic, is a problem that’s becoming more and more prevalent. While staying away from others means decreased risk of coronavirus, it can also lead to other serious health complications for your loved one.
Keep reading to learn the effects of social isolation in retirees and how to help when someone you love is become withdrawn.
The Risks of Senior Social Isolation
Companionship is an important aspect of our mental well-being. A long time ago, being a part of a group was essential for our physical safety as well. While we don’t live and travel in the same groups we used to, socializing with friends and family on a regular basis provides the same mental boost for us. When someone withdraws, especially those in retirement age and older, it can lead to mental and physical health problems. BYU researchers noted that social isolation ranks near smoking and obesity in deadliness. This is because it tends to lead to a more sedentary lifestyle, as well as have a negative impact on existing medical conditions and cognitive function in our brain.
Stress is often observed in seniors suffering from social isolation and the loneliness epidemic. Higher blood pressure and elevated stress levels in those that reported feeling lonely were found in some studies. Retirement should be a time when you’re out enjoying the things you want to do and feeling more relaxed now that you’re not reporting to work every day.
Unhealthy habits are also linked with senior social isolation, according to some researchers. Seniors experiencing loneliness are more likely to drink, smoke, and let physical fitness take a back seat in their daily life. On the other side of the coin, interacting with others on a regular basis encourages a healthier lifestyle for seniors, including a better diet and exercise routine. These lifestyle choices don’t even need to be a topic of conversations with friends and family; the improvement just naturally occurs. Active senior living communities built to promote interaction and engagement are a great place to find meaningful conversations and easy healthy options for dinner.
Loneliness, one of the main side effects of senior isolation, has been found to increase the risk for both cognitive decline and for Alzheimer’s disease. This study showed adults who regularly engaged with others had a lower rate of mental decline and slower progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers found that those who were isolated had less mental stimulation, and mental stimulation is one of the keys to maintaining a healthy brain for many retirement-age adults. In addition, those who are isolated may not notice the onset of symptoms or have a concerned loved one suggest they go to the doctor. This often results in the disease progressing beyond the point where treatments will be able to slow it down before they’re even diagnosed.
Elder abuse is a concern for many seniors, and it goes undetected in those that are socially isolated. While seniors may be victims of neglect, fraud, or financial abuse, they’re not likely to report the actions without a trusted person around. Having regular interaction with others can help seniors find the opportunity to open up about what they’re experiencing.
Seniors experiencing loneliness also tend to experience a drop in outlook on their lives. Seniors in social isolation are more likely to say their quality of life will decline in the next decade than those who engage with others regularly. The National Council on Aging conducted a study that found seniors are more likely to look for help from community programs as they age. However, seeking an active senior living community sooner will provide the social engagement, mental stimulation, and physical health benefits from many programs right in their own backyard.
Senior Social Isolation: Who Should Be Concerned?
The pandemic has impacted many families, including those in retirement. Almost two-thirds of family caregivers reported a negative effect on mental and physical health for their senior relatives during the pandemic.
Should you be concerned about your friends and family over 65? Here are some groups who may feel the effects of senior isolation the most:
- Those who are canceling appointments, procedures, and medical tests due to the pandemic. Many seniors have elected to forego preventative healthcare, which can mean missing diagnosis when something is wrong.
- Seniors who are no longer participating in physical activity daily. If they’re not going for walks or participating in fitness classes in person or online, they may see a drop in their mobility.
- Anyone suffering from depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders could see an increase in symptoms if they’re skipping regular interaction or even therapist visits.
- Families and friends who are unpaid and caregivers. Often without the help of others, family and friend caregivers can suffer from burnout quickly, which can lead to health problems.
- Seniors suffering from chronic illness. Ongoing health problems often require a team to make sure symptoms stay in check and can also have an effect on the mental health of patients living with them. Postponing these visits with doctors due to the pandemic can often have a negative impact on their health.
- Dementia patients. Those living with dementia often benefit from regular interaction with familiar people, as well as regular mental stimulation.
When living in a top-rate active senior living community, seniors have access to plenty of opportunities for social engagement, physical activity, and even delicious yet healthy food. With both independent and assisted living options, and the opportunity to add in housekeeping or meal delivery service, you’ll find everything in one resort-inspired location.
The Reason Seniors are Living Alone
While some seniors are struggling with social isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic, others will find the loneliness continues once the pandemic is over. Many seniors are choosing to live alone and even age in place after retirement.
While it can be tough to leave a neighborhood that has been a part of your life for a long time, neighborhood demographics and dynamics are constantly evolving as people downsize or move locations.
Young couples and families often move in as empty nesters move out, which can make senior neighbors feel more isolated. On the other hand, an active retirement community can bring together seniors from different backgrounds with similar interests. This allows them more opportunities to build meaningful friendships and participate in a social setting regularly.
In addition to changing neighborhoods, the traditional family units have evolved. Since the baby boomer generation, the birth rate in the United States has decreased and families have spread out over a larger geographic area. This means more seniors with no kids or no family nearby. In addition, it means less family to spread caregiver responsibilities across, adding stress to the ones who can step in. Life changes, both the expected and unexpected kind, can be a cause of senior isolation as well.
How to Prevent Isolation in Seniors
Staying in regular contact with your friends and family is important during normal times. Right now, it’s more important than ever. Visiting in person for a few minutes, or even spending the time connecting through video calls, can help those that are feeling lonely.
While one of the downsides of the pandemic is the physical separation that can cause increased loneliness in seniors, it has also increased our ability to connect virtually. Some fun ideas include virtual movie watch parties and game nights, or online games like scrabble! Another option is relocating to an active living community that focuses on senior’s mental, physical, and social wellness. These specialty communities provide opportunities to safely socialize, engage the mind, and maintain physical activity.
Luxury retirement communities provide many services for your loved ones to make their lives less stressful. They’ll have access to on-site entertainment, transportation, friends, and delicious foods. This allows them to focus on living the life they want and doing the things they’ve always wanted to try. If something were to happen that they needed additional support, assisted living services are available, while allowing family to maintain their relationship without the caregiver stress.
Since the number of seniors in our country is growing as Baby Boomers age, knowing how to care for their mental health is essential. One of the most important aspects of their mental health care is making sure they have regular social interaction is important.
LivGenerations Pinnacle Peak places a focus on both physical and mental health for seniors. Take a step toward combatting senior social isolation. Schedule your tour of our luxury senior community today.