A recent article in The Chicago Tribune estimated
that one-in-four seniors, or 19 million people, are or could becomesocially isolated.
Isolation can lead to depression, mental and physical health issues and
even mortality. Visits from friends and family could help prevent
isolation, but in many cases, professional home care may be a better
Seniors are at a point in their lives where friends may be passing.
Health issues can make it difficult for them to get around, so even if
your loved one has many friends, it can be challenging for them to get
together. Even if friends and family visit often, increasing numbers of
seniors live alone and are thus in solitude at the end of the day.
Thirty-three percent of
people over 65
and half of seniors over 85 years old live alone. Not every senior who
lives alone is lonely, but as more and more seniors live by themselves,
more and more identify as being lonely. In 1980,
20 percent of seniors identified as lonely. Now that figure is 40
Seniors can also become isolated, even when living with another person.
Even a family member playing the role of caregiver, in particular, can
be at risk of becoming isolated. If your mom is your dad's primary
caregiver and spends most of her day looking after him, she's not doing
the other things that she enjoys. Things like spending time with
friends or other members of the family, passing the time with her
favorite hobbies, attending social outings or even just getting out of
the house to the hairdresser are still essential activities your mom
needs in her life.
Isolation in seniors can cause severe health issues:
One major problem that can be brought on by isolation is
estimated 21 percent of American seniors suffer a depressive
episode each year.
Over six million seniors are estimated to be living with depression
and only 10 percent of them receive treatment. Studies show
“a significant relationship between depression and loneliness.”
a host of physical side effects including:
Decreased bone density
Also, look out for
these signs of depression
in your loved one:
Signs of anger, anxiety or guilt
Loss of interest in favorite hobbies
Neglect of personal hygiene
Neglect of household chores
If you believe your loved one may be depressed, talk to a medical
2. Physical Problems
Isolated seniors are also at higher risk of medical problems. One
recent study showed that isolated seniors were
29 percent more likely to develop congenital heart disease and
32 percent more likely to suffer a stroke.
disrupts sleep patterns, lowers immune systems and increases
Seniors with frequent social activity are
33 percent less likely to lose motor ability and 43 percent
less likely to become disabled.
3. Mental Decline
It’s also been shown that a healthy social life can help to
slow cognitive decline.
Seniors who are frequently socially active
are 70 percent less likely to suffer a reduction in their
They may be
40 percent less likely to develop dementia.
Another study in the Netherlands found that socially isolated
seniors were at a higher risk, with a
64 percent greater risk of dementia.
Loneliness and social isolation have also been identified as a possible
factor in early mortality. One study showed that
socially isolated individuals were 29 percent more likely to diethan those with more relationships.
Another study claims that
both social isolation and loneliness are factors in increased
for those aged 52 and over.
According to the US Census Bureau, the
average person moves 11.5 times in their life and one-in-four
Americans has moved city or state in the last five years.
With an increase in geographic mobility, the chance of families living
close enough to drop in on loved ones multiple times a week is much
Local senior centers could also be an option for social interaction and
might offer classes which can encourage your loved one to stay mentally
active. But the ability to attend will depend on your loved one’s
physical condition: Health issues might make it an impractical
Professional home care could also be an option. For seniors who are
becoming isolated, companion care may be an ideal solution. In
companion care, a professional caregiver will visit your loved one as
little or as often as is required. The caregiver will offer company,
compassion, conversation and reassurance. A caregiver might help your
loved one with light tasks around the home, with meal preparation or
give assistance to do the things he or she likes to do, like go for a
gentle walk or play cards. A companion caregiver could be a lifeline to
a senior whose family aren’t able to visit very often, and who isn’t
able to get out and about as much as he or she did in the past.
And if you or a loved one is becoming isolated because of caregiving
responsibilities, respite care could help you or this person reclaim
some normalcy. In respite care, a professional caregiver will visit and
let you take time away from the daily grind of caregiving. If your mom
takes care of your dad, a caregiver will sit with Dad in their home
while Mom runs errands, visits friends, goes to the hairdresser or even
just takes some well-deserved time to herself. Best of all, while the
caregiver is with her husband, Mom knows he is in good hands and is
the guilt that comes with leaving her husband to look after
And your Dad will benefit too, as he increases his social connections,
spending time with someone other than your mom.
It’s imperative that seniors stay social as the adverse effects of
isolation on health can be severe. Encourage your senior to make
connections and consider professional care if you are worried that your
loved one isn’t getting the social stimulation he or she badly needs.
Could connecting online help your loved one to stay social? This
offers some useful ideas.