For many seniors across the country, the approaching holiday season will be a lonely one. Although some Americans have begun to include social outings and small gatherings back into their lives, elders are often unable to be included due to the high risk of facing devastating consequences from COVID-19.
Research has shown that feeling lonely seriously impacts physical and mental health and may cause changes in brain chemistry and social behaviors. Recent studies have shown that isolated seniors do not live as long and are more likely to develop long-term illnesses compared to their more social counterparts.
Isolated seniors are also less likely to receive prompt medical attention in the event of an illness or injury, as their caregivers or family are not near them, or not able to visit as frequently. Loneliness is also linked to cognitive decline and an increased risk of developing dementia or depression, as well as the development of unhealthy habits and even addictions.
Perhaps surprisingly, even married couples are at risk for social isolation. Despite common misconceptions, older adults who are married or live with a partner are equally likely to report feeling isolated as those who are not. Couples often find their social lives changing as their children become busy with young families and their friends move or pass away. The cognitive or physical decline of one partner can also greatly impact the life of the other partner as they take on a caregiving role.
Statistics show that seniors who are isolated tend to need more long-term care due to physical and mental decline. A recent study by the AARP Public Policy Institute, Stanford University, and Harvard reported that each year Medicare spends approximately $6.7 billion more on socially isolated older adults. For those without long-term care insurance, ongoing health issues can also take a toll on personal finances.
The holiday season can be a depressing time for seniors, even without a pandemic. Extra effort on behalf of families and friends can go a long way in helping seniors feel included. If group outings are too risky, families can think about taking the senior for a to-go coffee or hot chocolate and a drive to look at holiday lights. Other ideas might be spending an afternoon baking with them or watching a football game together on television. Many seniors love classic holiday traditions such as decorating a small tree for their home, listening to Christmas music or creating small holiday crafts. Teaching older adults to use technology such as Zoom or FaceTime for frequent “virtual visits” has also shown to offer nearly as many uplifting benefits as an in-person visit.
If a senior lives across the country from their family, or if dedicated personal time with family daily or even weekly is not an option, professional care can be a great help. A professional caregiver can provide much-needed human interaction as well as assistance with transportation, errands, and small outings which can alleviate an older adult’s feelings of loneliness. In some cases, state or federal programs may be available to provide in-home assistance. To find out more, call the federal Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116.
If you know of a senior or family struggling with senior isolation, loneliness, depression or self-care, give us a call.