Loneliness and social isolation are as damaging to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and those over 65 are particularly vulnerable [Health Resources & Services Administration, 2019]. Isolation is known to be one of the main risk factors responsible for worsening underlying health conditions, pre-existing conditions and cause significant cognitive decline, depression and heart disease.
These days, it is more common to interact with friends and family members via our online devices than in person, and of course, with the recent pandemic this has been exaggerated even further. Even before the global Coronavirus pandemic, we were moving towards a more digital society as a whole, people chose a quick text over a phone call, and a phone call over a face to face interaction. We, as a society, are lonelier than we have ever been, and the recent pandemic only served to exacerbate this. Many believe that in the coming years, having become accustomed into this type of digitally social existence, we will only become less and less comfortable engaging in face to face social interactions.
In 2018, Cigna conducted a survey which showed that almost half (46%) of 20,000 US adults questioned, reported often, if not always, feeling lonely. Our elderly suffer from isolation more than any other generation in history. Interestingly, although many are excited about the prospect of retiring and having the freedom to be introduced to new hobbies, a large portion of the retired population report a significant decline in their social lives once taking this step, mainly due to the removal of the mandatory interaction on a daily basis with colleagues. What was taken for granted while in the working world, is now terribly missed.
There are many reasons that elderly people feel isolated and lonely, one major factor being their removal as epicenter of the family. Often, when people move from a parental role to a grandparent role, they find themselves distanced from the family unit they are accustomed to, which can have a major impact on morale and self-image. Giving up driving is another huge contributing factor to someone’s self-image and social freedoms; many take great pride in their self-reliance and independence.
One noteworthy element of loneliness in older generations that we need to remember, is that often times people can experience feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression while not physically being alone. These feelings stem from peer separation, and not necessarily from being by themselves. Just as their role in the family has changed, so has their role in their peer circles. Many individuals go from having multiple friends and friendship circles to being surrounded by immediate family only or living alone with their spouse.
According to Mental Health America, more than 2 million Americans aged 65 and older suffer from some form of depression. Furthermore, despite comprising only 13% of the United States population, individuals aged 65 and older account for almost 20% of all suicide deaths (Mojtabai, 2007). Research also shows that actual and perceived social isolation is associated with a 29% increased risk for early mortality among older adults in North America (Holt-Lunstad, 2015).
To this end, we need to encourage the socialization of our older communities and provide more accessible platforms where this is possible. There are many community groups which offer opportunities, such as art programs, book clubs, activity programs, events, movie nights, dance socials and game nights - all of which are fantastic places for our older communities to meet and interact with each other and even make new friends.
Even now, during the current pandemic, there are still many options available for social interaction. Many residential facilities for seniors have begun to re-socialize their residents following a long and scary period of isolation. These group activities can be safely done by placing the participants at an acceptable distance from each other and ensuring a singular direction entry and exit strategy to the group area.
If you have any questions or are looking for some more ideas on how to safely re-socialize your residents without needing any external personnel to enter the facility, feel free to reach out to us and we would be happy to help you discover the perfect program for your residents.
*** Images taken pre-Coronavirus***