Humans are social beings. Our connection with others is what helps us survive and thrive. However, many of our aging loved ones spend more time alone now than they did when they were younger. Many lose touch with family and friends, others have difficulty getting out of the house due to physical ailments. Over time, this social isolation and loneliness can affect their health and well-being and puts them at a higher risk for related health problems such as cognitive decline, depression and heart disease.
People experiencing social isolation typically have minimal social contact. If you feel that your aging loved one is socially isolated, read on to learn what could potentially be causing their isolation.
Every day, around 75 older adults die as a result of falls. A fear of falling or simply a loss of confidence in stability can cause a senior loved one to make adjustments that will increase their isolation. Hesitance making it down the front steps, or the driveway robs them of the casual exchange with neighbors, letter carriers or other service professionals that is a part of every neighborhood. Your aging loved one may no longer want to leave their home if the fear of falling is particularly strong. This may make it difficult for them to get access to food, engage in social interactions with family and friends, go to medical appointments or engage in other activities that could reduce stress and enhance the quality of their life.
If your loved one’s world is ‘getting smaller’ because they are no longer as confident as they once were in their stability, explore what can be done to restore that confidence. Outside the home fix a wobbly front step, add a handrail, pave a driveway. Inside, look to make the home safer.
Many older couples spend all their time together and don’t find it necessary to expand their social networks. Seniors who experience the loss of a spouse can feel isolated, sad and lonely. Every aspect of their day, including sleeping, is affected by the loss of their lifelong companion. This can extend well beyond a natural period of grieving. The surviving spouse may neglect meals, daily routines and activities like afternoon walks, which can move them past grief and into a cycle of depression.
Transportation plays a key role in your seniors’ life. It shapes their independence, their access to resources and social networks. It can begin with an aversion to driving after dark or in bad weather. While these are smart choices, they increase isolation because activities and interactions that were once part of a senior’s life are now excluded.
Seniors who are widowed, single, or part of a couple with a disabled member may also limit their excursions as they find transportation to be even more challenging. When a spouse dies, a surviving spouse who had not assumed much of the driving responsibilities may have lost confidence in their driving skills, and those who have not learned to drive may be without transportation completely.
If your aging loved one has to depend on pre-arranged van trips with community or volunteer drivers they may feel that going out isn’t worth the hassle.
As they lose their independence to drive or start to resist rides from other people, keep an eye out for changes in their behavior and the effect increases in isolation may be having on them.
While there are several causes and risk factors for social isolation and loneliness, it is important to remember that there are steps you can take to counteract these causes and mitigate the risks. By regularly checking in on your senior loved ones, you can work to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation. Consider giving your loved ones regular calls, visiting them, or helping them get out of the house.
Oasis Senior Advisors is here to help if your aging loved one is in need of companionship, activities, or a senior living community. Call us at 475.619.4123 or 914.356.1901, or fill out this online form to get in touch with us today.