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Dangers of Isolation

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Social isolation can result in a decline of mental and physical health for the elderly. Senior citizens who don’t interact with the community regularly are at risk for a decline in overall health. Senior citizens are more likely to live alone than younger people. More and more older adults end up living alone for a variety of reasons. Death of a spouse or partner, not having children, or having children living far away are some of the reasons seniors find themselves alone. While living alone doesn’t always lead to isolation, it is often a factor.

Lack of mobility, deaths of family and friends, illness, and retirement are other factors leading to feelings of isolation. Senior citizens tend to struggle with loneliness as their social circles become smaller. Depression which can be caused by isolation can lead to suicide. People who live alone and don’t interact with other people can be slower to seek a doctor’s care. Not having friends or family to encourage health maintenance lowers the likelihood of making a doctor’s appointment. Not seeking medical care in a timely manner can lead to a decline in health. Elderly people who are suffering from illnesses which cause them to become homebound risk becoming isolated. Many studies suggest that feelings of isolation lead to a decline in cognition as well as dementia. Feelings of loneliness put the elderly at risk for elder abuse. Scam artists prey on the elderly, especially if they are living alone with no support system.

There are interventions to decrease the risk of isolation. If geography is a problem, keep connected with an elderly relative through phone calls. Many senior citizens today are open to social media; having Facebook could provide daily social interaction as well as keeping up with family and friends. There are many community activities that ensure social interaction regularly; look for local senior groups to join. We all know that volunteering can be rewarding as well as giving a senior citizen a sense of purpose. Getting involved in different activities offering a social connection to the outside community will be beneficial for mental health and well-being. Encourage light exercise such as walking. Ensuring appropriate care for our loved ones’ illnesses can help prevent problems leading to loneliness and isolation. If illness is preventing an older person from leaving the home socially, consider hiring a home health aide who can provide companionship as well as assist with personal care and home maintenance.

Remember that every person is different -- for some people, being alone is a choice. Understanding each person’s individual needs regarding social interaction is important in assessing their risk for isolation.

Staff Writer, Deirdre Conboy-Mariotti, RN BSN