According to the Pew Research Center, 27% of adults age 60 or older live by themselves. There are a number of reasons why older adults may become more isolated over the years. Disability, transportation challenges, and hearing loss are just a few of the possible causes of increasing social isolation. Sometimes added challenges can arrive on a larger scale. For example, cold and flu season or coronavirus can keep seniors more secluded. While senior loneliness can be trying on its own, feeling alone can also exacerbate existing medical conditions or create new challenges.
Complications of Senior Isolation
Feelings of loneliness can have far-reaching consequences. Seniors who feel increasingly alone are at a higher risk for high blood pressure, obesity, depression, anxiety, heart disease, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and death. Isolation and solitude can diminish seniors’ will or capacity to make healthy choices and maintain their well-being.
A senior does not have to find themself objectively alone to suffer from the complications of senior isolation. Just the perception of increased loneliness (subjective isolation) can spark further challenges. If an older adult has recently split from or lost a spouse, if their children have moved, if a long-held volunteer or professional position comes to an end — many factors can make a senior feel alone. Losing a connection to the community can intensify a senior’s subjective view of their isolation.
How to Combat Senior Isolation
Even when a senior knows they’re feeling lonely, or a loved one worries a senior is becoming more isolated, it can be challenging to know what to do. Whether the afflicted person is you or a loved one, be patient and understanding. Feelings of loneliness may not be alleviated all at once. It’s a process. That said, here are some ideas that can help ease senior isolation.
Feeling a sense of purpose can bolster a person’s self-confidence and connection to their community. Volunteer jobs don’t have to be intensive, but the more a senior can feel they’re working with a team to accomplish a worthwhile goal, the greater the effect on their feelings of loneliness. Think of a cause with which they have a particular connection or sympathy and look for ways they can contribute to it.
Fitness can feel impossible when a senior is living with a disability or limited mobility, but there are numerous mental and physical benefits to regular exercise. Building strength and stamina can reduce the risk for many health conditions, like heart disease and diabetes. Fitness can lessen anxiety and depression. As a senior feels stronger and more confident, they may become more likely to embrace social activities. Look for fitness options a senior can do now. Chair yoga and chair tai chi are very popular. Water fitness classes are easy on joints. Start with small, achievable intervals of activity and work to increase stamina.
Regular Doctor Visits
A senior’s isolation may be related to a health condition and connecting often with a team of health professionals can help you learn more about what activities are possible within the bounds of their condition.
One of the best ways to combat senior isolation is to look into senior living communities in your area. Whether a senior moves into independent living, assisted living, or any higher level of care, they will have immense resources to design fulfilling days. At a senior living community, there are volunteer initiatives residents can join; there are resident councils and clubs they can be a part of or even lead; there are fitness options specifically designed for seniors and professional trainers available to guide them, and there’s an entire campus full of potential new friends. If a senior loved one is becoming increasingly isolated, you can suggest tours of senior living communities nearby to see if they find a campus and a culture they would enjoy.