Discovering new hobbies is highly beneficial for people with ages over 65. Photography, for example, is a great idea and our reviews of cameras for seniors can inspire them to make the right choice. However, individual hobbies are not enough for optimum health and wellbeing. Seniors are often threatened by a stronger sense of loneliness and social isolation.
While old age can be a wonderful time to explore or rediscover individual passions, it’s also a period when people can become much more isolated, which can be very detrimental not only for their mental health but also for their physical health. Senior isolation is a real phenomenon that needs to be taken seriously because it is one of the factors that can drastically impact seniors’ quality of life.
Why is isolation dangerous for senior citizens?
Loneliness is undoubtedly negative and unpleasant for people of all ages, including toddlers. Humans are social animals who can be profoundly impacted by rejection and isolation, leading up even to an inability to survive. All of us need to feel accepted and validated and social integration is essential for a normal, fulfilled life.
People aged 65 and above are impacted even more by the lack of a healthy social network. This phenomenon has been researched and studies have shown that loneliness and social isolation are directly linked to a higher risk of mortality, for people over 52 years old. Compared to groups of seniors with similar health conditions, the ones that experienced isolation had higher mortality rates.
Social isolation has a powerful impact on both men and women over 65 years old, that is comparable to the effects of smoking or obesity. Plus, social isolation increases stress levels and a high level of stress is also associated with an increased risk of mental and physical disorders. Scientific data shows that loneliness and isolation are connected to several health issues.
According to different studies, elderly people who are socially isolated also show a higher risk of dementia and depression, as well as high blood pressure and even malnutrition. Also, seniors who do not have a strong social network are at a higher risk of not receiving the proper medication or medical care in case of an illness or accident, when they need it.
We also need to consider the social downsides of senior isolation. Elderly people who do not engage in social activities are also less likely to take advantage of the various resources and institutions that could help them. By not participating in different programs or receiving certain benefits, they become even more isolated and loneliness turns into a vicious cycle.
Is social isolation a scientific fact or a matter of personal perception? As it turns out, it can be both. On one hand, social isolation can actually be measured by listing the number of people in one’s social network and the frequency of their social interactions with them. Based on this formula, it’s easy to see which seniors have a weaker social network and which have a lower risk of isolation.
On the other hand, loneliness is also subjective. Some elderly people are more comfortable being on their own and having less frequent social interactions, while others can feel lonely if they don’t interact with others on a daily basis. However, even introverted seniors who are happy on their own need to be included and to diversify their social activities, for a healthy life.
First of all, it’s important to note that there is a significant percentage of American senior citizens who live alone. Also, almost half of the people over 65 years old consider themselves to be lonely. Add to this the fact that the number of senior citizens in the U.S. is expected to double over the next 30 years, and the overall picture is already not looking very well.
Taking into account all of this data, as well as the research on social isolation, it’s plausible to say that senior isolation tends to become a growing threat. Another important factor is that social and economic circumstances of today’s society also contribute to a higher risk of loneliness for senior citizens.
Generally speaking, people become lonelier as they age because partners, relatives and friends begin to pass away. Retirement also diminishes their social network. A lack of physical mobility plus different health issues can make them more sedentary, which in turn makes them more isolated. After a certain age, some people no longer drive and this also limits their social activities.
Due to changes in their overall health and physical fitness, seniors are also less likely to engage in social interactions the same way they did previously. As they age, people often tend to give up activities they once enjoyed and, consequently, certain relationships or interactions that were connected to those past hobbies.
Today’s society has also changed a lot, as far as family dynamics are concerned. Divorce rates are high, especially for adults over 50, while more and more people do not even get married. Thus, the number of adults who are entering their golden years by themselves, without a companion, is at an all-time high. Geographical distance between parents and children or seniors and other relatives is another negative factor.
Senior citizens also face other specific obstacles, such as generational gaps, cultural barriers, and the need for caretakers. All of these factors diminish their social activities and stop them from creating a wider social network. Social changes make them feel more isolated and this, in turn, discourages seniors’ social initiatives.
First of all, identifying the symptoms of social isolation can save your senior loved one’s life, not just figuratively. After discussing the harmful effects of social isolation, the need to recognize it early on becomes imperative, in order to get your loved one out of this state and help him or her engage in social activities.
If you start to notice sudden changes in an older adult, pay attention to these warning signs. They can be physical, such as loss of appetite, increased or decreased weight, oversleeping and apathy, improper personal hygiene, or social, such as a sudden loss of interest for hobbies, self-isolation, becoming overly sedentary and giving up on social obligations.
In order to encourage a senior loved one to engage in social activities, it’s important to understand what is preventing them from interacting with others. Perhaps they are depressed or they feel inadequate in certain social environments. Maybe they are facing some of the previously mentioned barriers, which makes them retract and not want to engage in social activities.
Once they are able to open up about what worries them and what fears they might have, seniors need to feel that their social activities have a positive impact and that they matter. That is why volunteering, any type of charitable work or sharing their experience in some way are excellent social activities for seniors.
Giving them a sense of purpose and personal pride is the best way to encourage seniors to become more active.
Also, it’s highly advisable to get a peer to engage your senior loved one in social activities. Elderly people can feel misunderstood and pressured by their loved ones, even if they mean well. That is why it’s important for them to feel welcomed by their peers, who share similar experiences and maybe even have a mentor of a similar age, who can guide them.
Since social isolation increases the mortality rates among senior citizens, social activities represent the antidote that helps them live a longer, happier life. Seniors with a close inner circle are less stressed and live longer. Social activities such as joining a dance club, group walks or water aerobics are crucial for staying in shape and preventing health issues.
On the other hand, social activities such as taking classes, practicing arts and crafts and participating in active games improve their cognitive functions and prevent the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions. Plus, a better cognitive function also means the ability to live a normal lifestyle for as long as possible and to enjoy life to the fullest.
Plus, according to research, engaging in social activities and interactions is also helpful in reducing inflammation levels that are related to health issues that are common for seniors, thus improving their immune system and overall health.