Do you know anyone who deals with the isolation of seniors after the holidays?
(Good Things Utah) – Loneliness and social isolation among older adults are serious public health risks affecting significant numbers of people in the United States and putting them at risk for dementia and other serious medical conditions .
All humans need social connection and interaction as part of their survival. But often, as adults get older, they begin to spend more time alone, making them more vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness.
Older people are at increased risk of loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors that cause them to be alone. Some of the reasons a person may find themselves unexpectedly isolated include:
- Disability or lack of mobility
- Worsening vision or hearing problems
- Separation from friends or family
- Illness or death of a loved one
- Lack of access to transport
A person may be even more at risk if they:
- Struggle with money
- Can’t leave her house
- Are a caregiver for someone else
- To live alone
- Have experienced a major loss or life change
- Have language barriers
- Having limited social support
- have trouble hearing
- Are not engaged in meaningful activities or feel a lack of purpose
- Live in a rural, unsafe, or hard-to-reach neighborhood
- Having psychological or cognitive problems, or depression1
Social isolation is associated with an increased risk of dementia by about 50%. Loneliness is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide. Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) were also associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
It’s no surprise to find that a person’s risk of premature death from all causes is greatly increased by social isolation, a risk that can rival those of smoking, obesity and physical inactivity. Among heart failure patients, instances of loneliness increased the risk of death nearly fourfold, along with a 68% increased risk of hospitalization and a 57% increased risk of emergency room visits.
If you want to help older adults who may be experiencing social isolation, participating in meaningful activities can improve moods and give people meaning in their lives. In addition to living longer, research shows that productive people seem to improve their cognitive functions and are better able to maintain their well-being.
Here are some tips for staying connected:
- Learn something new – sign up for a class in your community. Optum Community Centers provide options and are free for anyone 55 and older.
- Reignite your passions with something you love – start an old hobby
- Explore volunteer opportunities with your local community that allow you to help others
- Be sure to keep in touch with friends and family in person or through phone calls, emails, video chats or social media
- Stay physically active and consider exercising in a group, such as a walking club or working out with a friend.
- Find a faith-based or spiritual organization where you can engage with others in a meaningful way
- If you can, adopt a pet. Animals can be a source of comfort and can also lower blood pressure and reduce stress.
There are also other ways to prevent and reduce the impact of social isolation and loneliness.
First, explain how a doctor can help you. It is important to discuss feelings of loneliness or isolation with a healthcare professional, as it can lead to serious physical and cognitive health issues. Talk about major life changes that have happened or stress, for example, the unexpected loss of a loved one or divorce.
Being open and honest about your feelings and health habits will help a doctor better understand your medical and emotional health and allow a provider to make suggestions that may be helpful.
Second – Look for resources as isolation options. For example, Optum’s Community Centers provide people 55 and older with a welcoming place to meet others, be active, participate in social programs, learn about important health topics, or simply enjoy a good conversation. There is no cost to visit or participate in activities. All activities follow CDC recommended COVID-19 safety guidelines
·Aging services have many programs designed to reduce isolation. For example, Optum begins volunteering with the Salt Lake County Aging Services Friendly Call Program, where volunteers are paired with a senior with weekly calls to chat, develop a relationship, and hopefully , ease the pressure of isolation.
Visit Optumcare.com/ut or call 1-866-637-5268 for more information.
This story contains sponsored content.