The older you get, the fewer friends you have, or so the saying goes. But should social isolation be part of senior life? In a 2016 research, scientists reported that a person’s social circle shrinks after 25 and continues until retirement. This makes older adults more vulnerable to feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
As priorities change and new responsibilities arise, people are likely to spend less time socializing. By the time they reach the age of retirement, they must cope with smaller social networks. Yet, while this development seems normal, many studies suggest that low levels of social integration in older adults shouldn’t be normalized.
From dementia to hypertension, many health risks are linked to the lack of social interactions in seniors. Find out the possible causes, risks, and interventions you can do to reduce social isolation among older adults.
Causes of Social Isolation in Older Adults
Social isolation refers to the objective condition of lack of or weakened contact with other people. Generally, there are many causes of social isolation in seniors. While many tend to link it to living alone, various factors lead to social isolation. As family structures change, children move out, and friends pass away, older people often have minimal social contact. Impaired mobility and generational gaps also often add challenges for possible reconnection with wider circles.
Risks of Social Isolation among Seniors
Many studies already recognized social isolation as a serious health concern affecting older adults. Among the possible health risks associated with this state include the following:
Memory problems naturally come with aging. However, this doesn’t mean that dementia is considered a normal part of senior years. As opposed to occasionally forgetting something, dementia symptoms are more severe and can interfere with a person’s day-to-day functioning.
Generally, there are many causes linked to dementia. These include traumatic brain injuries due to accidents, substance abuse, or brain infections. While social isolation doesn’t necessarily create dementia, loneliness due to lack of contact with others can.
In a recent study, loneliness has been identified as an important risk factor for dementia. The connection lies in how loneliness affects the brain. Often, lonely people tend to encounter sleep problems, anxiety, and depression. All these factors dramatically impair the brain and increase the risk of dementia. Since prolonged social isolation produces feelings of loneliness, this makes socially isolated adults vulnerable to cognitive decline.
High blood pressure
High blood pressure is another common problem among older adults. The condition puts people at risk of heart attacks, strokes, and even aneurysms. Generally, high blood pressure is often linked to smoking and obesity. However, recent studies suggest lack of social interaction is also partly to blame.
In a recently published study, researchers discovered a tie between social isolation and hypertension, especially among women. The research involved over 28,000 adults ages 45 to 85 years old. Researchers collected personal information from participants, including details of their living arrangements and social activities. The results show that women with smaller social networks and little to no social engagements are more likely to have hypertension.
Weakened immune system
Overall, prolonged social isolation affects our mental well-being. Accordingly, this also impacts our physical health. Since mental and physical conditions are interconnected, what happens to one affects the other. In a 2002 study, researchers found that chronic mild depression can weaken an older person’s immune system. They also identified a lack of social support as a risk factor for depression among the elderly.
Interventions to Reduce Social Isolation
Pets are friends
Animals have healing powers. They help reduce feelings of isolation among seniors. Moreover, they also help them stick to their daily routines and engage in physical activities. Hypoallergenic dogs and cats are beneficial. They can stay around your elders without the risks of giving them allergies.
Schedule weekly get-togethers
Weekly get-togethers aren’t just for celebrations. They are there to provide support and consistent feelings of belongingness. Older adults especially need these regular gatherings to feel connected with others.
Adaptive technologies are important
As people age, they are likely to experience hearing difficulties and vision problems. These factors interfere with their social interactions. To let seniors build relationships and create connections with people easily, adaptive technologies such as hearing aids and eyeglasses are necessary.
Nurturing seniors isn’t a family concern; it’s a communal concern. Hence, it’s best to notify your neighbors about the conditions of your seniors. This will make your community safer, more comfortable, and more nurturing to older adults. Moving your elders to assisted living communities is also a good option. These facilities promise productive and enjoyable programs that are well-suitable for independent senior living.
Social isolation significantly affects older adults. But with the right strategies, seniors can enjoy their twilight years.