Thanks to the advancements and evolution of modern medicine, age expectancy has increased, allowing people to live longer. But while growing old is a positive consequence of contemporary innovations, it also has a few drawbacks. One of the primary ones is the feeling of isolation and loneliness among older people.
Social isolation refers to a lack of connection with friends, family, or acquaintances. Whether it’s a result of conscience behavior or not, it can seriously impact an individual’s mental and physical health.
And although it can occur in people of all ages, studies show that one in every two individuals over 60 is at greater risk of social isolation. Older people start feeling increasingly desolate with time without any interactions to preoccupy them.
Due to a lack of any social connection, they may soon begin feeling lonely and perhaps even abandoned as time goes on. These emotions can quickly manifest into severe psychological, cognitive, or physical consequences like depression, dementia, or even hypertension if left ignored.
If your work requires you to be around older people or have aged relatives, helping reduce their social isolation and loneliness can be wonderful. And so, to provide you with ways to achieve this, here’s a list of seven tips that will work.
1. Raise awareness
Despite its impact on physical and emotional well-being, not many people realize the significance of social isolation on the health of elderlies. To raise awareness, it might be beneficial to monitor health trends and patterns in this age group as individuals grow older.
Advanced degree programs like a Master’s in Public Health can help you learn the skills needed to conduct these studies. However, enrolling in a graduate program isn’t easy, and you might wonder, is an MPH degree worth it?
The answer to this question depends entirely on your interests and how far you’re willing to help older people combat social isolation. It’s no surprise that the more knowledge and information you gain on the subject, the better you’ll be able to alleviate this problem. Additionally, you’ll be able to disseminate your learning to larger groups of people who can work together and decrease the prevalence of these adverse emotions.
2. Identify the highest at-risk groups
The first step towards reducing social isolation in the elderly is identifying groups most at risk of experiencing it. Although these may vary across regions, people from minorities or marginalized communities typically feel more vulnerable than their counterparts. Language barriers, religious differences, or differences in family dynamics can all contribute to triggering social isolation. For example, immigrants may find it more difficult to interact and socialize with neighbors who are natives of that region.
Unlike the younger generation, older people rarely try to step out of their comfort zone and make acquaintances with individuals different from them. Therefore, you must pay extra care to identify these groups of elderly early on.
3. Find an activity they enjoy
One of the leading causes of social isolation and loneliness among older people is the change in routine.
When they retire, they must transition from a set schedule of work, family, and weekend activities—to one where there’s mostly free time. The lack of a designated activity or chore may cause them to feel lost and spiral downward. You can prevent this by allowing them to engage in an activity or hobby they enjoy.
Of course, these can vary among individuals, so you must look for something that works best for the person you’re looking after. For example, some people enjoy gardening, while others might prefer doing something indoors more.
4. Make transportation feasible
Unfortunately, even if older people or senior citizens wish to engage in social activities, the lack of adequate transit systems makes it impossible. Since many don’t drive themselves, they must rely on other conveyance mediums that can bring them back and forth. Often they depend on someone else to either give them a ride or help them get on a public transport vehicle. But this lack of independence and the autonomy to go wherever they want, whenever they want, forces them to stay indoors instead. With time, they stop putting in any effort and quickly start losing ties with the outside world.
Therefore, developing a user-friendly system that can help them regain some of their freedom can be vital in decreasing social isolation and loneliness.
5. Plan social meals
Eating meals together is a common social activity for many people across the globe. After years of having food with friends and family, eating alone can induce strong feelings of loneliness in older people. To fight social isolation at meal times, you can try grouping individuals together and encouraging them to share meals.
Whether it’s breakfast with a neighbor or lunch with a neighbor, any social interaction can prevent negative emotions from arising.
6. Try adaptive technology
With increasing age, it’s typical for the elderly to become weak and lose muscle strength. Health issues and mobility handicaps are the primary cause why social isolation and feelings of loneliness quickly manifest in older people. Fortunately, this digital era of innovation and technology has enabled solutions to overcome these impediments.
Adaptive technology refers to tools, services, or devices that help individuals participate in events they may struggle with attending otherwise. Work with community members to make these devices accessible for larger groups of people, and facilitate social interactions.
Some examples of adaptive or assistive technology devices that may come in handy include:
- wheelchairs with electric motors
- hearing aids
- seat assists
7. Promote a sense of purpose
People with a sense of purpose or something interesting to look forward to are more likely to overcome the adverse impact of social isolation or loneliness. And if it’s a hobby they’re genuinely interested in, the feelings of happiness and accomplishment they get from this can negate any negative emotions.
Additionally, it would help if you let them do whatever household chores or work they’re capable of doing so they don’t feel invalid or futile every day. You can also plan charity events or awareness sessions on various causes and encourage senior citizens to volunteer at these programs. Doing so will distract them from a monotonous routine, improve their interactions with others, and make them feel less isolated and lonely.
Older people often spend the latter part of their lives in isolation. While they might enjoy this solitude sometimes, extreme social isolation and loneliness can also have drastic consequences. If you want to help a loved one or your patient combat this, follow the tips above to address these concerns before they worsen.