Senior Isolation – Issues and Solutions

March 11, 2018

Photo by Soragrit Wongsa on Unsplash

 

Since extended families no longer live together in contemporary Western societies, the problem of senior isolation is very poignant. Not only is it an issue of its own accord – it also leads to a range of problems of both physical and mental nature. As of 2014, 11 million (28%) of 65+ seniors lived on their own in the United States, which is already a very significant number.

Furthermore, it is only slated to increase as vast numbers of baby boomers retire. With age, the likelihood of living alone increases, with about a half of 85+ Americans living alone. Another factor that contributes to senior isolation is the fact that there are more childless adults than ever before.
What are the specific and most relevant issues in senior isolations, and how can they be addressed and overcome?

Challenges

Increase in mortality rate

Clear and simple – even if one does not have a chronic disease, in case of an emergency, such as a stroke, a heart attack or a major fall, the risk of death is far greater for seniors living on their own.

Physical issues

The risk of heart disease and stroke is significantly increased by social isolation, by 29% and 32%, respectively, as a University of York (UK) study demonstrated in a 2015 longitudinal study. Aggravation of high blood pressure and further exacerbation of unhealthy habits, such as poor nutrition, lack of physical activity and smoking are also attributed in part to social isolation.

Mental issues

It’s already clear from numerous studies and surveys that social isolation at any age bears largely negative cognitive effects. At an older age, it is responsible for a tendency towards earlier cognitive decline, development of dementia, and is a major risk factor for senior depression. In fact, MIT scientists have recently revealed that the part of the brain linked to the feelings of isolation, the dorsal raphe nucleus, is also associated with depression.

Loss of a spouse and physical isolation at a remote place of living are certainly contributing factors to the feeling of isolation, as are a diminishing social circle, abrupt retirement, lack of access to transportation and/or reduced physical mobility due to chronic health issues like arthritis.

Solutions

Enough has been said about the negative consequences of social isolation, so let’s move on to a discussion of potential solutions. Nothing has been invented that most of us didn’t know already, but it pays off to be reminded of some of these ways of fighting social isolation. How can one counteract this depressing feeling?

  • Volunteering is a very positive way to communicate with the world and receive positive feedback. Your local community center should have extensive information on local volunteering opportunities.
  • Taking a class or participating in an educational webinar is a great way to meet people and stimulate your intellect.
  • Mastering gadgets such as smartphones and tablets opens up a whole new world of keeping up with far removed family members and friends, communicating at various forums and dating.
  • Physical exercises are known to alleviate symptoms of depression and feelings of isolation, keeping you in better shape both physically and mentally.

In Great Britain, there is already a network of 24-hour call centers that take calls from seniors in need of human contact, as well as other programs in place that seek to alleviate issues related to senior alienation, including government-funded programs. Besides the help phone lines, there are actual activities that target seniors, such as book clubs, woodworking shops, sewing circles, lectures, classes, and the employees also conduct home visits and try to get senior out of the house to socialize.

Senior isolation is not just an individual problem, it is, in fact a serious public health issue that requires public awareness and attention from the government. In

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