While loneliness and isolation among seniors is a problem that has been around for a long time, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has raised awareness and increased sensitivity. Pandemic effects have created a new social reality for other people, prompting family and friends to understand the human experience of the elderly better and to work to reduce its negative consequences.
Nearly 30% of older adults report feeling lonely and socially isolated. 5% report feeling constantly or often lonely. According to the National Institute on Aging, loneliness and social isolation can have long-term detrimental effects on older adults’ mental and physical health.
* Poorer cognitive function
* High blood pressure
* Heart disease
* Weakened immune systems
* Cognitive decline
* Alzheimer’s Disease
There are many reasons why individuals can become socially isolated. Some of these reasons are growing older, weaker, the death of their spouses or friends, reduced mobility, illness or leaving the workforce. Many older people don’t have easy access to transportation and fear becoming a burden to their loved ones and friends. They may choose to stay home or decline to participate in social and family activities. Regardless of the situation, caregivers, social workers, and family members must make every effort to provide opportunities for seniors to socialize and help them cope with loneliness and isolation.
Recognizing isolation and loneliness
Research has shown that loneliness and social isolation often overlap and are sometimes used interchangeably. Individuals who are isolated from their social networks experience social isolation. Loneliness, however, refers to feeling isolated, alone, or apart from others. This lack of interpersonal contact can be described as an unequal relationship between actual and desired contacts. Social workers and gerontologists can distinguish between loneliness and social isolation. However, both issues negatively affect older adults’ health and well-being. Therefore, interventions that address both are encouraged.
COVID-19 and Loneliness
Due to the recent pandemic, loneliness and social isolation increased among seniors who were separated from their loved ones for prolonged periods. Patient isolation was a major concern in residential facilities. Senior programming directors had to think of creative ways to help residents feel less isolated and lonely because they couldn’t get their families into the facility. Visitors can now visit from outside or from far away in outdoor locations. Technology such as Skype, FaceTime and Zoom has effectively kept at-risk individuals isolated but socially active. For those most sensitive to the importance of social interaction, it was challenging to rethink how to offer groups with appropriate social distance or organize compassionate visits for patients at the end of their lives.
These challenges can also be faced by older adults who live independently. It is important to ensure that the adult has many opportunities to participate in meaningful social activities. It is important for loved ones who live apart to maintain open communication with their caregivers or elderly relatives to ensure they have access to a wide range of social activities, even if they live alone.
What We Can Do To Help
There are many ways caregivers can reduce social isolation. Family and friends, caregivers and even loved ones can help their loved ones succeed by focusing on this issue and taking proactive steps to plan. Here are some suggestions:
Create a schedule
Even though it can be challenging, creating a structure in your day gives you a sense of stability and purpose. Set the alarm to get your day started at a set time. Start the week by creating a plan with goals and activities that will guide you through each day. You can include a mix of chores and leisure activities, such as shopping, cooking, visiting the doctor, or walking in a park. When planning your schedule, make sure you include something fun and include someone else.
Pets are a joy!
Numerous studies have demonstrated that pet attachment can reduce loneliness and provide companionship and social support for pet owners. Studies confirmed the positive effects of pet attachment and animal-assisted therapy on emotional well-being. The caregiver can assist with pet care and maintenance so that the adult can fully benefit from it.
Find new friends
Another way to reduce isolation is to create opportunities for people to get to know each other. Seniors can enjoy their hobbies with other like-minded people, such as joining a library society or a sports venue. Caregivers can accompany adults to provide escort or companionship while pursuing their hobbies. Local opportunities may exist to meet volunteers keen to make new friends and join existing friendships.
Computers can be loved!
Older adults can feel isolated in a digitally fast-paced world. There are many opportunities for seniors to acquire technology skills, such as email correspondence and social media following. Research has shown that seniors who have completed a 3-week online tutorial and computer training program reported significant reductions in loneliness. Caregivers can continue this new experience.
No matter how you fill your week, we recommend taking a proactive approach to reduce loneliness and minimize its effects. Additional caregiver resources can be found on the website. You can also explore timely topics like medical assistance, personal care and senior companionship.
Contact us today to learn more about our experienced team of personal caregivers, registered nurses, and home health aides who can help families like yours.