Unless you have a reason to notice, you may not recognize the startling reality of the aging adult population who are plagued by loneliness and isolation. There isn’t a simple factor contributing to this growing concern, but a number of complex reasons that over the past 10 years, the AARP Foundation is reporting a significant increase (a total of about 5 million people) over the age of 45 report feeling lonely.
We often attribute senior loneliness to a lack of family and socializing which is true, but it gets much more complex than this. The AARP has reported that a contributing factor is the growing number of adults who do not have children to care for them as they age. Of course, living alone doesn’t necessarily mean that a senior will suffer from loneliness. Regular involvement in social activities can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation, but as seniors age social contacts often dissipate as seniors deal with the loss of friends, retirement, health issues and mobility restriction.
Seniors who experience loneliness and isolation are more likely to suffer from depression and engage in destructive behaviors like poor dieting and lack of exercise. Many of these adults become accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle – basically inactivity which creates more health concerns. An article published by the NCBI’s US National Library of Medicine concluded that research data regarding associations between social isolation, loneliness, and physical activity suggests that social isolation in seniors is greater with “reduced objective physical activity and greater sedentary over time.”
Health is already a concern for seniors who struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation. This population is at a higher risk for depression, high blood pressure, dementia and other cognitive problems, and a lower overall quality of life. Adding sedentary into the mix only causes more health concerns as these three factors seem to intensify each other.
Combating Loneliness, Isolation and Sedentary Behavior
Social connections and interactions increase both psychological and emotional well-being and plays a significant positive role in physical health. Caregivers, caregiving facilities and even communities are starting to acknowledge how much social involvement and companionship contribute to the well-being of seniors and are taking active measures to help reduce the risks of isolation and loneliness. Here are a few steps you can take to help improve the overall health and well-being of a loved one who may be at risk.
- Encourage social involvement. It can be difficult to get a loved one out of the house or even in the mood to enjoy social activities but be creative. Keep in mind their interests and hobbies and participate with them.
- Exercise does not have to be exertive. It isn’t necessary to go jogging or hiking to get good exercise. Seniors can get great exercise from taking a dance class, gardening, or swimming at the community pool. It doesn’t have to be intense, just active.
- Hire a companion. If you have trouble finding a lot of time to stay involved, hire an in-home aide who can provide conversation and companionship. In-home aides are great at helping out around the house, transporting seniors and helping with daily living tasks – but they also make great friends.
The ultimate goal is good health. Loneliness, isolation and a sedentary lifestyle can quickly work against each other so it is important to take action and encourage involvement and exercise early.