Many seniors may find that their daily lives lack regular contact with other people. Especially when living alone, these older adults often suffer from social isolation, a condition that can have a detrimental affect on their health and happiness.
What Is Social Isolation?
Connie Chow, founder of DailyCaring LLC, reports that social isolation among seniors occurs when minimal interaction with other people prevents them from developing close or fulfilling relationships.
“Often they feel like they no longer ‘belong’ in a social sense,” says Chow, who founded DailyCaring.com to improve day-to-day caring for older adults with to-the-point tips and information.
Social isolation is common in older adults. Chow cites one study, published in the Journal of Primary Prevention, which estimates up to 43% of seniors who live at home feel socially isolated.
Causes of Social Isolation
Social isolation is exacerbated by a variety of circumstances that are common in seniors’ lives. They no longer have a job to occupy their time or a family to raise. In addition, many seniors may be widowed, less mobile, and unable to drive.
Chow observes that medical conditions such as incontinence or dementia also may have a huge impact on seniors’ social lives. Losing family and friends, who either die or move away, likewise can lessen seniors’ opportunities and desires for socialization.
Social Isolation Symptoms
“Personality could also play a part in social isolation,” Chow says. “Behavior like pushing visitors away, being aggressively angry, or refusing help at home increase isolation. So would being shy and refusing to participate in group activities or visit senior centers.”
Chow points to a standardized questionnaire called the Lubben Social Network Scale (LSNS), which is used by some medical or behavioral professionals to assess a senior’s risk for social isolation. Questions focus on the quality and frequency of social interactions, such as:
- How many family or friends do you see or hear from at least once a month?
- How many family or friends do you feel comfortable talking about private matters with?
- How many family or friends would you feel close enough to call on for help?
Social Isolation Help for the Elderly
What are some ways you can help seniors avoid social isolation? Chow suggests helping them form personal connections, for instance by inviting family or friends to come over regularly for meals or coffee/tea.
For active seniors, Chow recommends these additional tips:
- Attend activities at local churches, community centers or libraries.
- Participate in activities at senior centers—some even offer transportation.
- Get involved with local service organizations or a national volunteer program like Senior Corps.
- Join a club that shares a favorite hobby, like knitting, book club or gardening.
For seniors who are homebound or have health conditions that may limit social interactions, Chow offers these additional ideas:
- Sign up for companionship with volunteer visitors from local service clubs (Rotary, Lions, etc.) or programs like Senior Companions.
- Attend an adult day care program where others are likely to have similar medical conditions.
- Use technology like video chatting to keep in touch with family and friends.
- Try a virtual companion that can have real conversations like the GeriJoy Companion.
Another idea is to invite family or friends to participate in a shared activity like knitting blankets for charity or completing a jigsaw puzzle. “This takes the pressure away from making forced conversation, but still strengthens the relationship,” Chow says.
Social Isolation Care Plan
It’s important to include strategies for alleviating social isolation in an overall care plan, especially since socialization is so important to senior health. Chow points to one study indicating that socially isolated seniors were 26% more likely to die than their socially active peers.
“If nobody is around to notice, seniors can’t or won’t get needed help to prevent a health crisis,” Chow says. “Isolated seniors are also more likely to make poor decisions like not taking medications or not eating regularly.”
By taking steps to diminish social isolation among your older loved ones, you can improve their quality of life, reduce risk for serious health conditions, and perhaps even extend their life.
What suggestions do you have to help combat the issue of social isolation of seniors?