Spending too much time alone without social interaction can be unhealthy for anyone but seniors are especially vulnerable. Research has shown isolation in seniors is responsible for increased risk of health problems in both the body and the mind. To protect loved ones from senior isolation, it is essential to understand its dangers as well as the possible reasons for it and steps to prevent it.
Humans are social animals and as a result are believed to thrive best with regular socialization, both physically and mentally. Looking first at how senior isolation can affect the brain, the psychiatry.uchicago.edu article “How Social Isolation Affects the Brain” notes that studies have shown isolation and loneliness actually impact three parts of the brain, and not in a good way.
The impacts of isolation on the brain are all negative and can include depression and anxiety, cognitive decline, problems processing information, inability to deal with stress, and a depressed immune system.
Since the brain and body work in symmetry, isolation in seniors is associated with numerous physical health concerns as well. These include increased risk of heart disease and stroke, obesity, and premature death, and according to the sixtyandme.com article “Senior Isolation Facts and the Effects of Loneliness” increased use of tobacco and binge drinking.
Isolation in seniors can often be a gradual process that occurs over time with the passing of a spouse, partner, or friends, when families relocate, or when driving is no longer safe. It can also be caused by deteriorating health, which can make it much more difficult to get out and about. Problems ranging from mobility challenges to sight or hearing loss to dementia can all be at the root of isolation in seniors. Other causes can be geographic such as living in remote areas without access to transportation or senior services. Or it might be that a senior doesn’t want to be a burden so they just accept isolation and suffer the consequences.
While it may be difficult to get a senior to admit feeling isolated, there are signs to know. According to the medicareadvantage.com article, “Senior Isolation: America’s Quietest Health Risk,” these can include:
Any of these could signal a senior loved one is experiencing the negative effects of isolation and steps should be taken to make changes.
As with all health threats, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure because long-term isolation and it’s repercussions can be life changing. One of the best ways to avoid isolation for seniors is to move to a senior living community where there are plenty of other seniors to meet and spend time with in an active and safe environment.
Today’s best senior living communities like Thrive Senior Living offer all the privacy of home with amenities that include daily activities and events ranging from classes to games and entertainment right on site. And when transportation is needed residents can rest easy knowing it’s available to take them to appointments, shopping and other local venues.
For families that live close by keeping a schedule of visits (in person and via phone or video chat) can be a lifeline to help limit the impacts of isolation in seniors. By enlisting the help of as many relatives and friends as possible seniors will feel less isolated and more included even if getting out is difficult. Also don’t forget to include senior loved ones in family gatherings to help them stay mentally sharp and physically well.
Other options can include local senior services available through the Eldercare Locator or the resources provided by The National Resource Center for Engaging Older Adults. Many states also have programs to help minimize isolation in seniors and can be found using “Resources Near You” links provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
At Thrive Senior Living our name says it all; we want our residents to not only live well but to thrive in a healthy, carefree and fun environment. If you’re not sure about making the move to a senior living community, download our free guide, Staying Home vs. Senior Living: Should You Stay or Should You Go? Learn more about Thrive’s communities, housing choices and amenities by contacting us today!