Social isolation is a common problem in the elderly. There are many older adults who live alone because their children moved away and their spouse died. They don’t go out much or mingle with others.
Being socially active is essential for numerous reasons.
Some people like to be alone, but the majority can’t be entirely happy without a healthy social life. And it doesn’t affect only our happiness.
A study conducted by Susan Pinker proved that the biggest impact on longevity is close relationships and social integration. Not diet, not clean air or exercising, but our social life.
Thus social isolation negatively affects people’s lives on many levels. There is even a TEDx talk on the isolation of older adults.
As a caregiver, it is important to address social isolation and react properly.
How to Recognize Social Isolation
All people are more-or-less at risk of being socially isolated. However, there are groups that are at a higher risk than others.
The risk of being alone depends on factors, such as:
- health condition
- living location
The older people are, the more likely they feel alone. We don’t contact our friends as frequently as we used to. Our children probably have their own families to take care of. As we get older, our mobility declines, so we spend more time indoors than before.
Women also tend to be more isolated than men. One of the reasons is they have a higher life expectancy. They usually outlive their spouse and stay alone. The loss of a loved one also increases the risk of loneliness.
Seniors with disabilities on average spend less time hanging out with others. Different health conditions also increase the risk of social isolation.
Living far away from your family means rare gatherings. Seniors who live in remote rural areas meet their family members only a few times a year or even less.
Some nations are simply more social than others. Latin Americans are more likely to start a conversation with a stranger than Japanese people are. Also, when you are a foreigner in the country you live in, you are likely to feel lonelier than nationals.
Coping with Social Isolation
Fighting against loneliness is not as difficult as it appears to be.
The key thing is to stay mentally active and exercise regularly.
Join a yoga or fitness class. Walk around the neighborhood every day. Keep your body young and meet others who take care of their health, too. People who exercise are usually more positive.
We’ve mentioned several times on our blog, but here we go once again – volunteer. Ask about NGOs or the Red Cross office in your area. Such organizations always need volunteers, and they will have special respect for an elder contributing to society. Not only you will meet new people, but there is a sense of accomplishment when helping others.
A new hobby is always fun. Find a few people who enjoy the same and make a group activity out of it. Is it reading books, playing table games, or fishing? Doesn’t matter, as long as you enjoy it and can invite others to join.
If your family has moved far away because of work, consider moving closer to them. You are more flexible since you are retired.
Last but not least, adopt a pet. Older adults who have adopted an animal feel less lonely and go out of the house more often.
Loneliness and social isolation are not healthy. If you feel you need more people in your life, reach out to them.
Read more on how to stay socially connected.
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