Isolation can be problem for seniors


By Carol Marak - Aging Matters



Social isolation occurs when an individual lacks connection and exchange with other people. Isolation is not the same as feeling lonely. When isolated and alone, there can be a higher risk of falls, chronic diseases and depression. Isolation intensifies loneliness. A person socially withdraws by avoiding people and activities.

The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging believes older adults who describe themselves as lonely have a 59 percent greater risk of functional decline and a 45 percent increased risk of death. Our adult population living alone reduces into two categories: One, 29 percent of people age 65-plus live alone, and twice as many women live alone as men. And, two, close to 50 percent of older women age 75-plus live alone.

The federally funded agency says individuals need social connection to thrive and research shows that the negative health consequences of prolonged isolation and loneliness may be especially harmful for older adults.

It’s the reason that the national agency created the “Combat Isolation Program.” The series will focus on creating awareness, teaching individuals how to maintain and strengthen ties to family and friends and expanding social circles and to getting involved in the community.

The factors that put older adults at greater risk

Living alone

Mobility or sensory impairment

Major life transitions or losses

Low income or limited financial resources

Being a caregiver for someone with a serious condition

Psychological or cognitive challenges

Inadequate social support

Rural, unsafe and inaccessible neighborhood

Transportation access challenges

Language barriers

Age, racial, ethnic, sexual orientation and gender identity barriers

Health effects of isolation and loneliness

Chronic conditions

Weakened immune system

Depression and anxiety

Dementia

Higher use of emergency services

Death

I head up the elder orphan Facebook group and hear complaints from members who feel lonely when aging and living alone and I know it’s a significant issue. It’s important for individuals to recognize the signs that tell them when isolation is a grave concern.

Do you leave the house less frequently?

Do you experience a loss or gain in weight?

Has your eating habits changed?

Do you feel depressed and withdrawn?

Do you refuse company?

Have friends or family approached you saying they’re concerned?

Has your cognitive ability declined and are you having sleep disturbances and persistent insomnia, which are reliable indicators of social isolation?

Some people do not socialize as a form of self-preservation after a traumatic event. Or they have not had positive life experiences. Feelings of loneliness are a tremendous challenge for older people.

Signs of isolation are verbal outpouring; prolonged holding of hand/arms; body language, and a defeated demeanor.

By Carol Marak

Aging Matters

Carol Marak, aging advocate, columnist, and editor at SeniorCare.com. She earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from the University of CA, Davis.

Carol Marak, aging advocate, columnist, and editor at SeniorCare.com. She earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from the University of CA, Davis.