Most of us worry about our aging loved ones in terms of whether they’re taking their medicine, eating right, and whether their homes are modified to decrease falls. But there’s something else that could contribute to their poor health that you might not be aware of: social isolation.
What is social isolation?
A person is considered socially isolated if they live alone, have less than monthly contact with friends or family, and don’t belong to a group (religious congregation, club, work, or volunteer organization, etc.).
There has been a wave of new research suggesting that social isolation puts us at significant health risk. The late John T. Cacioppo, former director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago developed an Evolutionary Theory of Loneliness.
His theory is that lonely and/or isolated people face a higher risk of heart disease, sleep disorders, high blood pressure, and obesity and having a weakened immune system. They are also at a higher risk for cognitive decline and depression.
Signs that a person may be isolated
AARP lists some signs of social isolation as
- General lack of interest and withdrawal.
- Losing interest in personal hygiene.
- Poor eating and nutrition.
- Significant disrepair, clutter and hoarding in the home.
What can you do?
In-home caregivers are in a great position to recognize social isolation and organize interventions. The very presence of home caregivers can reduce loneliness and provide health benefits. Family Directed can help find caregivers that can empower seniors living at home with ways to feel connected.
Also, you should check out connect2affect, which is spearheaded by the AARP Foundation, to get suggestions for helping your aging loved ones get reconnected to the outside world. It offers a searchable directory that provides local access to rides, activities at senior or community centers, and volunteering opportunities.
Senior and community centers can play a very useful role in allowing seniors to build healthy connections and develop friendships. Many community centers offer low-impact exercise classes, social events, wellness programs and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s support groups.
Chronic loneliness is not just about feeling alone; if left unchecked it can put you or a loved one at risk for serious physical and emotional issues. Please don’t hesitate to contact Family Directed if you have questions.