I remember going to visit my great grandmother at the nursing home in 1986. Upon walking in the main entrance, our family was greeted by a line-up of senior citizens in their wheelchairs, eagerly waiting to see who was entering their home. A shy young 12-year-old, I felt uncomfortable. I wasn’t capable of seeing the world through their eyes yet. Perhaps my heart was perceptive enough, though, in recognizing the loneliness they must have felt. They seemed to be longing for human interaction.
Growing older and aging in place is a different experience for everyone. Many older adults are socially active and thrive in their “golden years.” They embrace moving into a community with opportunities to make new friends and enjoy new experiences. A small percentage of others become susceptible to loneliness and isolation, which could lead to depression over time.
Many factors contribute to this feeling . . .distance between family members, living alone, a shrinking social network, physical limitations, poor health, loss of friends, loss of independence, or loss of purpose. Depression is of growing concern with the aging population. Unfortunately, a direct correlation exists between depression and a higher risk of health problems. A few examples are: chronic joint and back pain, fatigue, sleep disturbances, GI issues, changes in appetite, cognitive decline and even heart disease. When social determinants of health present, there are ways to overcome the symptoms.
Addressing depression and isolation with older adults requires an approach that includes social support, mental health interventions and lifestyle modifications. Encouraging social connections, participating in community activities, maintaining regular contact with family and friends, or providing opportunities for engagement can help combat isolation and promote overall well-being. Getting involved in volunteer projects is another way to provide meaningful purpose by helping others.
It is essential for health care providers, caregivers, and family members to be aware of the signs of isolation and take proactive steps when appropriate. Depression is not a normal part of aging. Yet, help is available for those who are experiencing these conditions. If you or someone you care about is struggling with symptoms of loneliness or isolation, please reach out to geriatric health care professionals or other supportive organizations. Or, if you interested in exploring senior living communities that offer a socially supportive environment, contact Oasis Senior Advisors to learn more at (513) 476-7012.