We, humans, are social creatures. The thought of living a lonely life scares us. But even then, one-third of all the senior people end up living lonely or socially isolated lives. This is the reality and it affects the health of the ones leading such a life. Many studies surveys have been conducted so far that have shown how loneliness or social isolation can impact the health of elderly people, in fact, their mortality as well.
Being connected and socially active is our need as humans. Because of this, we are able to survive and thrive well at all three levels; physical, mental and spiritual as well. The major impact that social isolation leaves on older people is depression. Social isolation is one of the major causes of depression among the senior generation. Cognitive decline and heart diseases are other problems out of the many that can arise due to social isolation. And people tend to become socially isolated as they age more and more. Here in this article, we will discuss what are the causes of social isolation or loneliness among older people and how can they be helped to overcome it?
What is Social isolation?
Are social isolation and loneliness the same thing or are they different? Let us first define social isolation aptly. Simply, it is when a person has very little or in fact no contact at all with anyone. Also, social isolation is different from loneliness. Loneliness is when a person is not happy or satisfied with the social connections he/she has. Social isolation is like that. In social isolation, the person does not have any social connections. So this implies that a socially isolated person is not always lonely, most importantly when the isolation is voluntary. Another thing to know is that loneliness is temporary whereas social isolation is not. Social isolation is something that can last for weeks and years. Now, let us talk about the cause behind this isolation.
The Root Cause of the Feeling of isolation in Seniors
There can be a large number of reasons behind a person being socially isolated or being lonely. It can be voluntary or it can be involuntary. It can be voluntary to take the example of an eccentric person, he/she would choose to be socially isolated, unlike others. But in a number of cases, the social isolation is involuntary.
Some of the well-known causes of social isolation are physical disabilities and illness. Physical disabilities and deformities can make a person pull himself/herself away from family members and friends. Or they may themselves start to spend less time with the affected person. As with old age usually, a number of people tend to have one or more illnesses and diseases, so this tends to increase their alone time and slowly paves the way for loneliness or social isolation. This happens because physical problems make people less active, they can not go to work or visit other people, many times the deformity is so severe that people can barely move. Also, obesity can also be the cause behind a person being socially isolated, this is because he/she can not move much and might also acquire an inferiority complex.
Deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS leads to voluntary social isolation by people. In short degraded health and mobility are among the major causes behind social isolation and loneliness among elderly people.
Other Factors of Social isolation in Seniors
Some other factors related to health that can cause social isolation among older people are reduced capacity to hear, or vision problems, and muscle impairment. But even then all the causes mentioned till now are not the only ones that can cause social isolation.
One other reason could be older people living in rural areas. Rural areas or the outskirts of the country lack proper resources which are significant for daily needs, such as transportation facilities, proper staff to take care of, etc. Moreover, the design and structure of metropolitan cities, on the other hand, are also not supportive of elderly people. They are designed in accord with the younger generation. So it is difficult for elderly people to live in any of the ones.
Other causes or reasons can be security issues and elder abuse. Let us discuss both of these, one by one. Talking about security, are the old people really safe in today’s society. The thieves and burglars especially do not take into consideration the fact of the impact that they could levy on older people with their vicious acts. Elderly people tend to get filled up with fear and maybe even anxiety. This leads them to not venturing out of their house and communicating less, especially with the people whom they do not well.
Such behaviour, when practiced continuously, leads the person to become socially isolated. The fears that arose in them pushes them away from people even the close ones.
Another cause that we were going to discuss was elder abuse. Most people do not know about this. But the elder abuse does take place in our society. It is often said that as our parents grow old they tend to become and act like children. It is indeed true. Though they are older than us yet after a certain age it is the younger generation that needs to take responsibility. But what happens is that people get irritated by the way their elder ones start to behave as they age. And most of the time some insane ones abuse elderly people. This becomes one of the major reasons for them becoming separated from people. Verbal abuse leaves an everlasting impact on the mind of the people which is hard to overcome and this is what happens with the elderly.
Also, it is equally important to respect and treat them as our elders. This is in regard to the stereotypes that are prevailing in the society when people often use the phrase “you are too old for that”. It is important to acknowledge their skills and likes and dislikes as a person and support them. Some people discriminate against the elderly just like they do on other such unrealistic factors.
Social isolation, loneliness in older people pose Health Risks
Any sort of mental issue is bound to affect the person physically as well. Similarly, social isolation and loneliness among older people can also lead to severe health issues. Now, here we will discuss what are the health risks that the elderly people might suffer from due to social isolation and loneliness.
It has been found that older people can suffer from physical illnesses and diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, cognitive decline, anxiety, obesity, depression, weakening of the immune system, Alzheimer’s disease and can also cause death.
It is quite common in older people who tend to lose their partner, as they are prone to getting depressed and what happens is that they found themselves alone and lonely. Other reasons such as retirement or separation from friends and family can cause a person to become socially isolated slowly. People who lose their mobility are more prone to social isolation as they are the ones who can barely move and it is not possible that all the time someone will be visiting them. In fact, most of the time they found themselves alone and lonely.
Social well being is crucial for a person’s overall health. All three aspects of humans are interrelated and connected to each other. If one of them is not fulfilled properly then the other two degrade as well. Social isolation and loneliness at first affect a person mentally than physically and spiritually as well. So it is important to maintain the balance of all three; physical, mental or social and spiritual.
But the good thing is that a person suffering from social isolation or loneliness can be helped. He/she can be healed. All it would take is that someone in their family or nearby realizes that the elderly are suffering from social isolation and loneliness. Then try to talk to them, help them realize this and assure them that they can be helped and once again live the life they desired, free from any fear and anxiety. But the one who takes care and looks after such a person needs to be patient and calm and hopeful. Being someone close to the elder person will be of great advantage.
And that is why here in this article further we will discuss how to help lonely elderly? What you can do? Also, if you realize that someone is on the verge of it then you will find solutions for preventing social isolation in the elderly as well, below in the article.
Also, people need to realize the importance to help socially isolated people. As only then will the condition improve. Decreasing social isolation in older people will not only result in their well being but also will bring happy times in the family all together.
How to Help Seniors Avoid Isolation
Here we are going to discuss storiicare activity professionals various methods that can help seniors to avoid social isolation:
Promoting a Sense of Purpose
The seniors need a sense of purpose to feel that vibe of keep going. There are many activities and events held for old age people at local centers. They should be encouraged for volunteering in such events so that they can keep themselves busy. A working mind is a healthy mind. If one becomes still in life then that leads to a loss of sense of purpose. The realization that they are required somewhere encourages them and prevents them from feeling socially isolated. You as an adult can encourage them to take part in events that are of their interests or are related to their hobbies. If you have been looking for ideas for helping the elderly than informing them about such events can be one way.
Keeping Neighbours Notified
The old age comes with a set of health-related problems for example dementia. It is advisable to notify some of the trustworthy neighbours regarding the condition of the old person. They can keep a friendly eye on your loved one in case they are found to be in a state of uneasiness. There can also be many other issues that are unexpected for you but might take place and thus it is better to keep others notified regarding the vulnerable adult.
Provide them a personal Transport
A solid infrastructure of transport should be made available for seniors because that promotes their social integration. Most of the senior citizens look forward to the means through which they can visit the desired places and stay independent. You can help them by making them familiar with the ways they can ride through public transports. If possible offer them a hitch-hike in your vehicle. They need a sense of independence and are able to maintain their social interactions. Inadequate travel can lead to serious social isolation. They are able to make more independent choices.
Availability of Adaptive Technologies
There are many technological advancements in the form of devices that can curb the feeling of social isolation of older individuals. The social interaction is now possible with electronic devices. The seniors are not able to use these devices properly and an adult can help them with this issue to help them take proper advantage of such devices. An old citizen might not feel ready to be regarded as old and they rather feel embarrassed about the thought of turning old. Thus it becomes our responsibility to make the old people familiar with the adaptive aids. This is one way you can help the elderly at home. Helping the elderly in your community is possible in many ways.
Identify The Isolated Ones
One can not help any isolated old citizen until and unless we do not recognize that they are isolated. The family members are likely to understand such kind of problem because they are going to witness it. On the other hand, there are some old people who are made to stay alone and this can be managed by public health professionals. These health professionals are able to manage these issues that are faced by their patients or clients. They can arrange some social interventions to help them cope with the social isolation.
Help out the Caregivers
The caregivers of elderly people are likely to get socially isolated themselves. It has been found that those people who take care of old citizens are not able to connect with their social circle well enough. They ignore their sickness and do not visit a doctor when they become sick. They start becoming more concerned for the person they are taking care of and this leads to this kind of habitat. A large fraction of them show symptoms of depression. You are likely to become socially isolated while dealing with an old person every day. It is thus of utmost importance to keep a self-check and to stay mentally stable. If you are familiar with a caregiver in your family or anyone who is close to you then you must try to lower their burden in any which way it is possible for you. They should be able to find some personal time for themselves to enjoy their social interactions.
Extra Support Post any Death of their Dear Ones
The old people are likely to feel most isolated when they lose a family member or their spouse or friend. You should give them additional social and emotional support during such periods. Do not bring flowers to show their condolences but also try to spend some time with the old person during the mourning hours. They might become victims of prolonged depression and you can prevent that from happening by providing them emotional assistance during their grieving hours. It is the most crucial time when they need mandatory support and this is when you can prevent them from entering into the spiral of isolation. Helping the elderly in your community during their hard times can be really beneficial for them especially if they are devoid of any personal support.
Affection through Gestures
A hug can change a lot of things. A gentle touch of support can give the old person a feeling of well being. A hand holding, for example, can reduce their stress because the vibe is platonic in nature. A person who is deprived of touch, on the other hand, might feel a bit unwell. Although there are chances that the elderly citizen you are coming across is not open to touchy gestures can be greeted with a friendly hug during farewells or greetings.
They should have something to take care of
Provide your senior citizens a being they can take care of. By now you must have understood that it can be a pet or a child. If they start spending their time taking care of someone then they would think less about their problems or miseries. This will maintain their mental balance and they will indulge in more social interactions. They will have their own schedule and will not get many chances to feel socially isolated and will rather feel confident about themselves. They start feeling more secure and less lonely. They get something to take care of, something that is lively and shows the right amount of affection which is required all the more at such an age. Browse these alternative therapies.
How to Help the elderly at home
In case the senior citizen is not fond of keeping up and caring for pets then you can choose gardening as another option. You can gift them gardening tools and supplies and they might find nurturing plants an interesting task.
How To Combat Loneliness And Isolation As We Age
We have seen above that there are various methods that can be adopted and promoted for the well-being of senior citizens at a mental level. Here we are going to discuss how the isolation and loneliness barriers can be fought back by the individual:
You have the key to prevent yourself from the feeling of being socially isolated. In today’s time, we cannot expect from our young family members that they give all their time in nurturing us and that is not reasonable at all. In fact, there are many ways in which we can help ourselves best. You stay independent and you stay healthy. It is you who can teach yourself that you are good, you do not need to be insecure and you are strong.
You should stay updated with your health checkups and especially if you are suffering from any major health issue then you should be responsible enough. There are possibilities when your loved ones might not be able to find time to take you to the doctor. You should, therefore, ask someone in advance to accompany you on the day of the appointment. Staying healthy is vital for you because if you are not well form inside then that will affect you from outside as well. Take proper medications and eat on time. You would feel revitalized instantly.
Find Ways and Connect
There are many events happening locally in the city and some are specially arranged for older citizens. Your presence can always make a difference and you can share your knowledge and indulge in social interactions. This will protect you from any feeling of loneliness. Stay connected with your friends and spend quality time with your young friends like your grandchildren or any children from the neighborhood. You can spend some time teaching if you are good at some subjects. Today the world of social media has made everything possible. Show your willingness to learn and there is nothing that will bind you for your age.
You should stay updated with the things happening around you by reading the news every day. You can open your own foundations where you can connect with people and bring a change in society. By staying updated about the world outside you would be able to find many opportunities where you can rise and shine.
In this article, we saw how one can adopt various methods to remove the social isolation from a senior’s life. Some barriers are created by them and some can be mended by others. If you are reading this as a youngster then help senior citizens with the methods we talked about above and if you are a senior citizen then keep your will strong and live your life as a happy person. Keep searching for more ideas for helping the elderly people around you because every problem comes with a solution.