The thought of any parent feeling lonely and isolated can be heartbreaking and sad. The loss of a spouse, seeing friends move away, and a host of other factors can all contribute to someone circling the wagons and losing interaction with others, even nearby family. Lost on the island of social isolation, life gets tough quick both emotionally and physically. In fact, research suggests social isolation may be more damaging than we may think.
The Harmful Effects Of Social Isolation
As we grow older, our social circle becomes smaller. While it may start with the death of a spouse or a friend, other factors such as physical decline and hearing loss can have an equally devastating effect. A recent report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) considers one out of four adults over 65 as socially isolated.
Lack of meaningful social interactions poses a health risk that rivals sedentary lifestyles, obesity, and smoking. Recent studies indicate that social isolation:
- Increases premature death from all causes
- Correlates with a 50% increased risk of dementia
- Increases the risk of heart disease by 29% and stroke by 32%
Research also links loneliness to weakened immune systems and likens social isolation to fertilizer for other diseases. It also takes a toll on mental health. There’s a clear link between loneliness and higher rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide.
Additionally, cognitive challenges or memory-related issues often cause people to withdraw from social interaction, leading to a cycle of increased isolation and worsening mental health. An endless loop that seems impossible to break.
How You Can Help
The good news is loneliness doesn’t have to be inevitable. There are steps you can take to prevent an elder family member from living in isolation. Most importantly, you can help them to recover and regain enthusiasm for life. Here’s how:
1. Recognize Social Isolation Symptoms
Living alone isn’t the only relevant factor, and it doesn’t necessarily result in social isolation. The quality, type, frequency, and emotional satisfaction of social ties contribute to feeling connected.
On the other hand, someone might feel isolated despite frequent social interaction. Besides, older adults are less likely to reach out to their friends and family, making it all the more vital to recognize the symptoms and take action. Here’s what signs you should look for:
- Deep boredom
- Lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Poor eating and nutrition
- Losing interest in personal hygiene
- Significant disrepair, clutter, and hoarding
- Reluctance to leave the home
- Cognitive decline
- Unrest or anxiety
2. Maintain Frequent Contact and Visit Often
You don’t need a reason to call someone you care about. Sometimes, just hearing your voice can reduce feelings of loneliness.
A visit is even better! Not only can you see what is going on, but your physical presence and a warm hug can have huge benefits. Consider swapping phone calls for video calls when visiting isn’t an option.
3. Utilize Community Resources
Most cities have senior centers where older adults can actively connect with and make friends. Whether it’s entertainment and games, community projects, or volunteering, social activities help maintain well-being. Studies show an active social life may increase lifespan, boost mood, and improve cognitive function.
4. Be Proactive and Consider Full-Time Care
It’s not always possible to visit often. However, social isolation won’t resolve itself. The best option may be helping them move to a place where they’ll have access to a community of new friends and the support they need 24/7.
Discuss the possibility with your parents and other family members. Be proactive. It’s much easier to find the best solution before a health crisis prompts the need to act.
A senior living community typically offers activity programs, groups, and many opportunities to interact with others. The best communities create an environment centered around providing residents with an engaging and fun lifestyle that’s worry-free and socially fulfilling.
Moving In With Your Parents Is Not Always Best
Taking on the role of caregiver is a massive responsibility. Even if your parents don’t move in with you, the adjustment will be hard for everyone.
Caregivers are also at risk of becoming more isolated. Over time, a parent’s care becomes your sole focus. And as they grow older, their care may also demand more of your time. You may feel you don’t have time to see your friends and therefore socialize less often.
After a while, many caregivers feel their friends don’t understand their plight, and they find it increasingly difficult to relate to them.
Your parents were there for you, and you feel it’s your responsibility to take care of them later in life. But you don’t have to carry the load by yourself. We’re here to help!
If you have questions about social isolation or any conditions discussed here, connect with us and learn more.
At 12 Oaks, our team of caring professionals is dedicated to keeping residents safe, engaged, and connected to their families and friends while still leading fulfilling lives. There’s no better place to enjoy the encore season of life than at a 12 Oaks community.
For questions or to schedule a visit, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Searching for senior living help? At 12 Oaks Senior Living, we would love to learn more about your unique needs and the opportunity we may have to help you meet them. Our blog is one of the valuable resources we provide to inform and encourage seniors to lead fulfilling and thriving lives.