Social Isolation and Loneliness - the Real Risks for Seniors

Social Isolation in Seniors – the Real Risks

June 27, 2021

Social disconnection doesn’t just affect seniors’ mental health and quality of life, but their physical health too.

Social isolation and loneliness in the elderly is an increasing problem in the United States, but too often it’s one we don’t want to think about. The older adult population is growing. With that comes the risk that some seniors may lose the social connections that they need to thrive.

The Health Impact of Social Isolation on the Elderly

It can be difficult to measure loneliness and social disconnection precisely. The experience varies dramatically from person to person. There is strong evidence though that social isolation in the elderly is a problem that puts their physical health at risk:

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine noted that recent studies have  found that:

  • Lack of relationships was associated with about a 50% percent increased risk of dementia.
  • Poor social relationships were associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
  • Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety.
  • Loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with a nearly 4x increased risk of death, 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and 57% increased risk of emergency department visits.

The Risks of Loneliness

Aging and retiring from work are a major life transition. They can pose significant challenges to the health and well-being of older adults.

Large-scale studies have shown that around 25% of retirees in the US experience a significant decline in their health and well-being during this period. For every social group that participants reported losing in the years following retirement, they reported a 10% lower quality of life 6 years later.

While a decline in health is not universal and many factors are at play, overall there is evidence that social isolation in the elderly plays an important part in their health. Social relationships are a significant predictor of longevity. Social connections have shown to be even stronger influences than other health behaviors such as:

  • physical exercise,
  • smoking or
  • alcohol consumption.

Overall, socially engaged seniors report reduced depression and better cognitive health.

Special Populations Are At Higher Risk

Certain populations of older adults are at even higher risk for loneliness and social detachment. These include immigrants, LGBT populations, and minorities.

There has been less research done in these groups but the research that does exist shows that these populations experience loneliness and its impacts more often than other groups.

First-generation immigrants may experience stressors that increase their isolation. These include:

  • Language barriers
  • Differences in community
  • Family dynamics
  • Newer relationships that lack history

What Causes Social Isolation in the Elderly?

Social connection is a term used to describe the structure, function, and quality of human relationships and interactions.

Social isolation in the elderly and others occurs when there is a lack of or limited extent of social contact with others.  Loneliness is the subjective feeling of being lonely or negatively perceiving your lack of social connections.

Not all people who are socially isolated are lonely. Some people may naturally spend more time by themselves and are not bothered by it. Additionally, it is possible to have many social connections but still feel lonely if those connections don’t meet the person’s needs.

What’s most important is that older adults feel socially supported. Social support refers to a person’s ability to get their needs met by others in their social network. The amount of social support needed is unique to each individual.

Social Isolation Symptoms To Watch For

The signs and symptoms of social isolation in the elderly can vary from person to person. If you find yourself or your loved one consistently feeling any of the following, you might be suffering from a lack of connection or loneliness.

●      Feeling Unable to Connect with Others

  • You may have friends or family around but struggle to feel connected on a deeper level. You may have casual friends or acquaintances but don’t feel like you have a “best friend” or someone who “gets you.

●      Feeling Isolated Even Around Others

  • Even if you have friends and family around, you still feel isolated or separate. You feel like you are in your own bubble even when you are out in public spaces.

●      Doubting Your Self-worth

  • If you are feeling like you try to connect with others but it isn’t reciprocated, you may start to doubt yourself. Feeling less than or doubting your worth regularly can be a symptom of chronic loneliness.

●      Feeling Exhausted When You Try to Engage

  • When you are dealing with chronic loneliness, trying to engage socially can leave you feeling burnt out or exhausted even though you may think socializing was what you wanted.

How To Keep Seniors Connected

Social isolation in the elderly is not an inevitable fact of life. Fortunately, there are more ways than ever for seniors to stay connected to friends and family. Here are some ways that seniors can stay socially active as they age:

help seniors connect with others
Help seniors use tech to connect with others
  1. Seniors can seek out groups with similar interests. Whether it be a class for something they have wanted to learn, a volunteer group, or a faith-based group, group activities can be a lower-pressure way to meet new friends.
  2. An assisted living community can allow seniors to maintain their independence while still having easy access to friends and social activities.
  3. Technology is becoming more user-friendly every year. Seniors may find it easier than ever to utilize social media, video conferencing, or other communication technologies to keep in contact.
  4. If you do feel like isolation is causing depression, reach out for help and come up with a plan to manage and increase your connection.

Assisted Living Can Help

Isolation and loneliness can take a toll on older adults. Assisted living can help seniors stave off social disconnection by providing a supportive environment to age in place.

Some of the features at Amber Court Assisted Living that can help promote a sense of social connection and combat social isolation in older adults include:

  • Restaurant-style dining
  • Spacious recreation areas (indoor and outdoor)
  • Relaxation and social lounges
  • On-site hair, barber and (at some locations) even nail salons
  • Easy access to local transportation (at some locations)
  • Scheduled group activities every day
  • Regular, on-site visits by gerontologists and other specialists such as cardiologists, gerontologists and more

Reach out to Amber Court Assisted Living today and find out how we can help your family to prevent social isolation in someone you love.