Loneliness and social isolation are unfortunately common experiences for many seniors who live alone, and have become major public health concerns over the years as the global population of elderly people grows.
Research conducted in 2018 suggests 13 per cent of seniors aged 65-69 experience loneliness, with those over 80 more likely to be lonely than any other age group (Relationships Australia, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare).
A study by the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2020 also found higher rates of depression and anxiety were associated with loneliness, while the isolation itself contributed to about a 50 per cent increased risk of dementia.
But it’s not all doom and gloom as you might think – it’s helpful to understand the impact of social isolation on seniors so we can proactively combat the effects on overall health and well-being, and in doing so help seniors feel safer, more connected and valued.
What is elderly social isolation?
Elderly social isolation is defined as the physical separation from other people. Seniors experiencing social isolation may have minimal social contact, relationships and lack a sense of belonging. Loneliness is the subjective feeling associated with being isolated and alone.
There are a number of factors that can contribute to loneliness and social isolation for seniors including:
- Poor physical health, such as illness or disability
- Impaired mobility
- Certain health conditions, like dementia or compromised immunity
- Living alone
- Family live too far away to regularly visit
- Language barriers
- Living in a regional, rural or remote area
- Limited transport choices
- Reduced ways to communicate
These factors are concerning because they can have a detrimental, long-term impact on overall health and well-being if not addressed in a timely manner.
But when we look at ways to improve social isolation among seniors, taking physical, social and lifestyle factors into consideration means you can start to seek the most appropriate help possible – whether that’s from a health professional, a community support worker or simply from other friends and family.
What are the health effects of social isolation and loneliness for seniors?
Like the factors that contribute to elderly social isolation, there are multiple health risks that are increased due to feeling lonely or being alone for a long period of time – and sadly, these can also contribute to the likelihood of premature death.
This includes an increased risk of:
- Heart Disease
- Chronic pain
- High blood pressure
- Depression or anxiety
At any stage of our lives, these are serious health conditions but even more so when we reach our senior years.
That’s why it’s important to consistently see your doctor or specialist for ongoing check-ups on your mental and physical health, especially if you are feeling lonely or isolated.
How to reduce social isolation in elderly
How do you help an elderly person with loneliness?
Australians are living longer with seniors choosing to live independently in their own home rather than in aged care facilities, if their health and well-being permits. During these retirement years, interactive activities should be encouraged as much as possible to support independence, develop friendships and promote positive lifestyle changes.
10 ways to improve social isolation in seniors
- Participate in online or in-person exercise classes
Trying safe exercises for your level of physical fitness has multiple benefits for your body – but speak to a GP before you start so you know what you can and can’t do.
- Feel safer with a personal alarm
A personal alarm can help a senior feel safer at home or in the community, especially if it is monitored by trained professionals. With a MePACS Home Alarm, a trained professional in emergency response is available 24/7 to answer, assess the situation and call for whatever help a senior may need on their behalf.
- Go for regular walks around the neighbourhood
Time spent being active in the fresh air certainly improves your mood. If you want to feel safer while doing so, taking a MePACS Mobile Alarm enables a quick signal for help in the event of a fall or medical emergency.
- Join a support group
Support groups provide an open space for people to talk about common experiences or concerns. Talking to likeminded people can help seniors feel valued and respected.
- Find new hobbies to enjoy
From arts and craft to woodwork and bird watching, there’s plenty of new hobbies to try at home and out in the community. Finding a new talent can also help pass the time seniors spend alone and steer focus away from feelings of sadness or anxiety.
- Make multiple modes of communication available
Our ways to communicate with each other have certainly changed over the years, but the art of conversation remains the same. Making sure a senior who lives alone has access to a phone or computer with internet means they can always stay connected to their loved ones.
- Give a pet to care for
Taking care of an animal can help reduce senior isolation and loneliness in several ways. For seniors who are still physically active, having a dog helps them keep fit regularly and promotes socialisation around the neighbourhood.
- Encourage tests for hearing and vision
When our ability to see and hear start to deteriorate due to age, this can have a big impact on the way we naturally communicate. Ensuring seniors have routine checks on their sight and hearing means treatment and technology such as hearing aids can slow further decline.
- Organise regular catch ups with family, friends or carers
Friendly faces with familiar voices always make us smile. Even if we can’t meet in person every time, a phone or video call can make all the difference for a senior’s well-being and mental health.
- Keep in touch via social media
Tech-savvy seniors may need a few tips to get started, but social media sites like Facebook or Instagram can help us stay connected with friends and family online through instant messaging and photo sharing.
Find out more about MePACS Personal Alarms – call 1800 685 329 today!
How to prevent social isolation in elderly during COVID-19 pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdowns and a heightened risk of infection prevent us from seeing our loved ones, friends and participating in our local communities like we used to. And the physical separation combined with worry about the coronavirus continues to have an ongoing impact on mental health.
Catching up with family or friends virtually improves the mood and helps retain the ability to converse and socialise normally. Checking in to see if they have essential supplies such as groceries or medication can also reduce their anxiety about going out while vulnerable and feel supported to stay safe.
When we can’t check in with our loved ones every day, a welfare check from a service that prioritises senior safety ensures someone is always looking out for them.
At MePACS, our welfare checks for seniors are in the form of a ‘daily call button’.
Our clients are asked to press the daily call button on the MePACS base unit of their home alarm between 6am and 11am each day to let us know they are up and about.
If a client does not press the daily call button during this time, then our friendly team will call their home phone or mobile and try to speak to our clients personally to ensure they are alright.
Why choose MePACS to help a senior feel less socially isolated and safer at home?
MePACS has provided a reliable 24/7 monitored personal alarm service to Australian seniors for over 30 years that is responded to by trained professionals at any time of the day or night. When we receive a signal for help from our personal alarms, we stay on the line until we know help has arrived.
When a senior needs support in a time of distress or pain, knowing that MePACS is there to provide a calming presence has helped many of our clients feel comforted while they wait for emergency assistance.
With over 45,000 clients including people with a disability, chronic health conditions or a compromised immune system, we know how important it is to feel safer, valued, and be treated with respect.