Social isolation among older adults is a growing problem that has significant physical and emotional consequences. According to a report by the National Council on Aging, about 25% of Americans aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. The report also reveals that social isolation increases the risk of premature death by 50%. It is also associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia and other serious medical conditions and can lead to serious health conditions such as depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
What is Social Isolation?
Social isolation is a state of being cut off from normal social networks. It can be triggered by things like loss of mobility, unemployment, and health issues. Isolation may involve staying home for long periods of time leading to being disconnected from social networks and the community. It is not just about being alone, but also about feeling lonely and disconnected. It can happen to anyone, but older adults are particularly vulnerable due to factors such as retirement, loss of friends and loved ones, and physical limitations.
Things to Look For
If you are concerned about a loved one in your life, there are some signs to look for that may indicate a disconnect. These include:
- Withdrawing from activities they used to enjoy
- Decreased interest in socializing with friends or family
- Spending more time alone than usual
- Not attending religious or community events
- A decline in personal hygiene
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Sleeping more than usual
How to Help
If you notice any of the signs above, there are several things you can do to help. The first step is to talk to your loved one about your concerns and offer your support. Here are some other ways to help:
- Encourage your loved one to participate in activities and events that interest them.
- Help them to find transportation if needed to attend events or appointments.
- Connect them with local resources such as senior centers, volunteer opportunities, or social clubs.
- Offer to visit or call regularly to check in and offer companionship.
- Consider hiring a caregiver or companion if needed.
There are many resources available to help older adults combat social isolation. Here are a few:
- AARP Foundation Connect2Affect: This website offers a variety of resources to help older adults combat social isolation, including a social connection quiz and an interactive map to find local resources.
- Eldercare Locator: This website will help you connect to your local Area Agency on Aging. They provide a database of resources and services for older adults, including transportation, meals, and community programs.
- The National Council on Aging: This organization provides a variety of resources and programs to help older adults stay healthy and connected, including evidence-based programs to reduce social isolation.
- AmeriCorps Seniors: This program connects older adults with volunteer opportunities in their communities, providing opportunities to give back and stay active.
Social isolation among older adults is a serious problem that can have significant physical and emotional consequences. It is important to be aware of the signs of social isolation and take action to help. With the help of local resources and a supportive community, older adults can stay connected and engaged, improving their overall health and wellbeing.
- Understanding Social Isolation: Sage Aging Podcast episode 4
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National Council on Aging. (2017). Social isolation and loneliness: Information and resources. Retrieved from https://www.ncoa.org/resources/social-isolation-and-loneliness/
AARP Foundation. (n.d.). Connect2Affect. Retrieved from https://connect2affect.org/
Eldercare Locator. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Index.aspx
Senior Corps. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/senior-corpsRegenerate response