Isolation and loneliness can lead to serious health problems for older adults. However, isolation is the reality for many seniors as they age. Knowing what puts an individual at risk for isolation can help prevent it.
How lonely are seniors?
Socialization can decrease as we age due to a number of factors, including retirement, lack of mobility, or friends and family members moving away or dying. Being socially isolated means a person has little contact with adult children, other relatives, or friends. The older we get, the more likely it is that we live alone.
What are the effects of senior isolation?
Feelings of separation and loneliness take a heavy toll on seniors. Here are some of the ways an older adult can be affected by isolation.
Negatively affects mental health
Senior isolation contributes to cognitive decline and the risk of dementia. Depression is often linked to feelings of loneliness and disconnection. In one study, one out of every six participants age 65 and older reported feeling lonely. Of these individuals, nearly half experienced high levels of depression. Additionally, research has shown that if you are older and lonely, chances are your cognitive abilities will decline faster. Isolation in seniors can be a key predictor of the progression of dementia-related diseases.
Increased risk of issues as a result of a fall
Seniors who live in isolation are more likely to experience health concerns from a fall. Falls can result in injury, physical decline, depression, continued isolation, and feelings of helplessness. If a senior is living alone, it may take longer to discover they have fallen. This puts the senior at greater risk for serious injury or death due to the fall. It is important to check on seniors often and ensure that their home has minimum fall risks.
Physical health decline
Senior isolation can lead to damaging physical health effects. Long-term illness and conditions such as chronic lung disease, arthritis, impaired mobility, and high blood pressure are all connected to social isolation. Loneliness can also cause depression and make seniors more likely to engage in unhealthy behavior. One study found that people who are socially isolated are more likely to display risky health behaviors such as lack of physical activity, poor diet, and smoking.
Higher risk of elder abuse
Social isolation makes seniors more vulnerable to elder abuse. Older adults without support systems have a greater chance of experiencing mistreatment on emotional, physical, and financial levels. Elder abuse can be a single or repeated act or lack of action, that occurs when there is an expectation of trust that causes harm or distress to an older person. Individuals who live alone experience elder abuse more often, because they are more likely to fall victim, or as the result of an abuser trying to isolate a senior to reduce the risk of getting caught.
Higher health costs
As a result of the mental and physical effects of social isolation, many seniors experience higher costs associated with health. A recent study found that Medicare spent about $1,600 per year more on older adults who are socially isolated than those who are not. Additionally, socially isolated individuals are one-third more likely to require care in a skilled nursing facility. Hospital stays are more costly because seniors who live alone cannot be discharged as quickly without support at home.
Increased risk of mortality
According to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, social isolation and loneliness are related to a higher risk of mortality in adults, ages 52 and older. People living alone could be at an increased risk of death because there are fewer individuals suggesting medical attention for small or less noticeable symptoms. Health issues may go undetected for a longer amount of time, leading to more serious or progressed conditions.
Helping you through the process
If your parent or loved one needs more help than you can provide, contact Oasis Senior Advisors for assistance. We offer resources for seniors and their families, as well as support and guidance every step of the way so you can feel confident in your senior housing selection. Deciding to make the move to a long-term care community is an emotional, financial, and physically taxing process, and you don’t have to do it alone.