Helping Elders Overcome Isolation and Loneliness

Humans are social beings, relying on each other for everything from food and shelter to companionship and community. But it’s an unfortunate fact of life that as most people get older, they experience more and more life events that can cause them to feel lonely or isolated. Children leave the home; loved ones, friends, and neighbors die or move away. AARP says there is a growing epidemic of isolation affecting more than 8 million older adults aged 50 and older.

“We are profoundly shaped by our social environment and … we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed,” said Matthew Lieberman, professor of psychology at UCLA, in an article in Scientific American. Here are just a few ways older adults can suffer when they are isolated:

  • AARP reports that “the health risks of prolonged isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”
  • One study showed that subjective feelings of loneliness can increase the risk of death by anywhere from 26% to 45%.
  • Effects can be physical as well as psychological. For example, during the COVID-19 quarantines notes LifeCare Advocates’ chief executive officer, Kate Granigan, “Several of our own clients had impacts we had not anticipated, such as weight loss or declines in their cognitive abilities.”

Pandemic or not, social isolation is always a danger for elders. One of our roles at LifeCare Advocates, regardless of where our client lives (at home or in a senior community), is to understand how to engage them in social activities. We encourage our clients to do things like:

  • Join support groups or social groups
  • Volunteer
  • Participate in local activities in their residence or at the library or senior center
  • Even getting a pet, if it works for the person’s lifestyle, can help ease the burden of loneliness

And now, armed with the lessons of the pandemic, we also encourage more people to use technology to improve their connections with others. We can coach elders on how to participate in online meetings (e.g., using Zoom), connect with others via email, and participate in social media. We can also help families evaluate specialized software tools that are becoming available to keep families and elders connected and up to date regardless of where they live.

We encourage families to figure out now what their older loved ones’ interests are and how they can ensure engagement going forward. Get creative. Finding options now is more important than ever before because of the hard lessons we learned with COVID. As always, let us know how we can support you.