Whether it’s from the passing of a spouse, little-to-no family members nearby, or lack of desire for human interaction, social isolation in seniors can take a great toll on their physical and mental health. This article will analyze and offer potential solutions to help address the potential problems associated with loneliness in older generations.
The number of health risks associated with social isolation may not be apparent at first since a majority of them are internal ailments — particularly so in senior citizens. Health risks often associated with social isolation include, but are not limited to:
According to the Health Resource and Services Administration, “loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” Other statistics on the loneliness epidemic reported by the HRSA include:
A few factors that can contribute to social isolation in seniors include:
Understanding how to recognize the signs of social isolation can help ensure that preventative measures are taken before it is too late. Those who are often around older populations, such as family members or hospice certified nursing assistants (CNA’s) should be watchful for the following signs of social isolation.
Boredom is one of the many outcomes of social isolation. This can include the complete loss of interest in an activity that an individual was formerly engaged in, finding little to nothing to do around your living space, or losing interest in personal relationships with those once closest to you. Intense boredom could potentially lead to a lack of activity, which may help to decrease your overall mental and physical health.
Boredom can hinder lives by taking a toll on one’s psychological health. For example, an individual may be suffering from an immense fear of the world, resulting in them shutting down and sheltering themselves entirely from what they feel is the unknown.
Seniors experiencing social isolation may exhibit poor hygiene due to the fact that they either aren’t able to take care of themselves or they’re not wanting to get up in fear of falling down. Poor hygiene can consist of foul body odors, dirty, greasy, or dry appearance of the skin, unkempt hair, long finger/toenails, dirty clothes, and more. The impact of poor hygiene is particularly harmful to seniors because it may lead to bacterial/fungal infections, hair/skin/nail infestations, rashes, and other more severe illnesses such as septicemia.
Poor nutrition can be a common side effect in those who experience social isolation. This can partially be because they have no one to grocery shop for them, they aren’t able to shop for themselves, or the assisted living home and staff that cares for them isn’t providing them with the necessary nutrition they need to survive. This can increase the deterioration of their physical and mental health. Poor nutrition may lead to:
Elderly individuals who experience loneliness may demonstrate a lack of care for their home environment. Signs may include increased amounts of clutter, hoarding of old objects, dust build-up, insect infestations, etc. This can be extremely harmful to anyone, even more so, seniors. Having an excess amount of clutter can lead to more in-home accidents like slipping and falling, as well as increases the number of fire hazards.
If the clutter gets to the point of hoarding, it may even lead to health conditions like upper respiratory problems. In fact, hoarding is a common problem afflicting those who tend to live alone, more specifically, senior citizens.
Understanding how to address the senior social isolation epidemic can help to ensure the safety of this population, and what preventative measures to take in the future to prevent these situations from occurring.
It’s important to keep seniors connected whether it’s with their friends, family, others within the retirement community, and even healthcare professionals such as trained CNAs and home health care workers. By coming together they can increase the efforts that are being made to help ensure that the seniors are staying connected, healthy, and happy. Here are ways to keep seniors socially connected:
Luckily there are many resources to help individuals combat senior social isolation, whether for your own use or to help someone you know — here are a few of them:
It may be difficult to adjust to living life alone, especially if you’re older. Luckily there are ways to cope and resources available to help ensure the safety and happiness of those who may find themselves feeling lonely.
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