Social Isolation is reaching epidemic proportions in our nation. With millions of boomers reaching elderly status, the need for community and real-life friendship is pressing. The research and statistics on aging and loneliness are startling. According to HRSA.gov, nearly 43% of seniors reported feeling lonely on a daily basis and the effects of that are akin to smoking 15 cigarettes a day! Indeed, scientific study shows that there is a 45% increase in chance of mortality in seniors who reported feeling lonely. (HRSA.gov) So, what are we to do? How do we combat isolation and loneliness and we age? First of all, it is important to recognize that there are many contributing factors. Friend and family may have moved locations, a new medical diagnosis may have come into play, and even more difficult, close friends or spouses may have passed away. Once you are aware of the underlying issue, you can begin to address it and take specific steps to combat social isolation.
Search for Special Interest Groups
There are so many groups and associations out there that bring people together around a common interest. If you are looking for people who share the same passion and are similar in age, you can try perusing the site Meetup.com or reach out to your local community center to see what they offer. Meetup.com offers everything from healthy aging groups to birdwatching enthusiast meetups! One gentleman we know is actively involved in a group for those who are vision impaired. The connection and participation that comes from being involved in a group can give a profound purpose and sense of shared joy. For support groups concerning a specific disease, such as Dementia or Parkinson’s, a simple website search yields many results.
Encourage Elderly Friends and Family to Get Regular Vision and Hearing Tests
Sometimes elderly persons will avoid getting their hearing checked because of the stigma around wearing assistive devices. Unfortunately, that means that they are often left out of conversations because they cannot hear the other people involved. This leaves them feeling even more frustrated and isolated. Moreover, vision issues can also leave a person feeling alone. If they are not comfortable driving or can no longer participate in hobbies they used to enjoy because of their vision, take action. If you have the opportunity, encourage your loved ones to have regular visits with their PCP to talk about hearing and seeing. Assistive devices, like hearing aids, have evolved so much in recent years that they are hardly noticeable and there are many different treatments for vision impairments.
Offer Support for Spousal Caregivers
Caring for an ailing or declining spouse is a full-time job. Often it is difficult for family caregivers to get a chance to go to the grocery store, let alone to spend time socializing. If you are the friend or family member of a full-time caregiver, you can provide support by offering to spend time with their significant other so that they can go out. Or, you can be the friend and come to them! Offer to bring a meal, so that your friend or family member does not feel the added pressure to prepare everything for your arrival.
Make Transportation More Readily Available.
If the obstacle to going out and having fun with friends is that your loved one can no longer drive, then it is time to explore different transportation options. At first it can seem a bit daunting to organize transportation, especially when the person in question used to be able to simply hop in your car and drive away. However, with all the current options that are out there, you will find that there is always a way! Uber and Lyft are great options for the senior who is otherwise capable of getting around and there are community vans available for those who need added support. You can even arrange a carpool, if you have friends who are still driving. For seniors who are nervous or on the fence about continuing driving, you can suggest they have a driver evaluation, like the one CHC Services offers.
Go for Quality not Quantity
Often when family members and friends are concerned about an aging person, they will look to community living options as the best way forward, but it’s often not that simple. A study by Dr. Carla Perissinotto, associate chief of clinical programs in geriatrics at the University of California, found that feelings of isolation could actually go up in large group settings. This is because it is not simply a matter of being “around more people” that fights loneliness and isolation, it is the quality of the relationships themselves and what those relationships offered. What Perissinotto discovered was that really digging into the underlying cause of the loneliness is what mattered most. Are a person’s feelings of loneliness because of the death of a spouse? Or are they feeling left out because of a new medical diagnosis? Whatever the reason, finding the right relationships and key people to be a part of your life is important. When friendship was coupled with an understanding of why a person was hurting, feelings of loneliness were effectively combated.