As people age, their need for others grows, and isolation can make a meaningful difference in the health and well-being of an older person. Lack of social interaction has been demonstrated to be a direct and indirect risk.
Understanding these Health Challenges Associated with Isolation
According to the National Institute on Aging (part of the National Institutes of Health), loneliness and social isolation have been found to impact older people in several ways, including:
• High blood pressure
• Heart disease
• Weakened immune function • Anxiety
• Cognitive decline
• Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease
Aside from the statistics showing a correlation between medical conditions and loneliness, older people have factors exacerbated by isolation. For example, managing medication can be difficult for an older person with arthritis trying to open child-proof bottles. A person experiencing cognitive decline may not even remember to take their medication at all. In addition, living alone increases the risk of hospitalization due to a fall or an illness that goes undetected or treated until it has become severe.
The Benefits of Social Interaction
If loneliness and isolation have a negative effect on health, the benefits to seniors of social interaction are equally known and apparent. Whether living alone or in a senior community, older adults see slower decline and even improved health when they engage in regular social interaction.
1. Mental Health and Cognitive Function: Socializing with friends and family helps seniors stay mentally sharp and engaged. Conversations, puzzles, and games stimulate cognitive function, reducing the risk of cognitive decline and conditions like dementia.
2. Emotional Well-Being: Social connections provide emotional support, reducing feelings of loneliness and depression. Seniors with a robust support system are better equipped to cope with life’s challenges and maintain a positive outlook.
3. Physical Health: Regular social activities can encourage seniors to stay physically active. Engaging in group activities, like dancing or walking clubs, can help maintain physical fitness, flexibility, and balance. Moreover, seniors are more likely to keep up with their healthcare appointments when they have a solid social network, ensuring they receive timely medical care.
4. Sense of Purpose and Routine: Social interactions often provide a sense of purpose and routine. Regular gatherings, volunteering, or participating in group hobbies can give seniors a reason to get up in the morning, which is essential for mental and emotional well-being.
5. Reduced Stress and Better Sleep: Interacting with loved ones and friends can reduce stress and anxiety. Reduced stress levels can, in turn, lead to improved sleep, which is crucial for overall health. Social connections provide a sense of security and comfort, promoting better sleep patterns.
6. Better Health Monitoring: Seniors have or develop health issues that they may not notice or may dismiss. Regular social interaction with others allows them to notice subtle or significant changes that indicate it is time to seek medical help for an issue.
The Incremental Effect of Social Interaction
For seniors who live alone, some measure of isolation is inevitable, and for older people who lose loved ones to age and disease, loneliness is to be expected. However, the benefits of regular social interaction can make a huge difference. A weekly visit to help manage medications, a home safety assessment with adjustments to risk areas, assistance with transportation to medical visits, and social activities are all minimal. Still, each interaction can have a critical impact on the older person. These interactions allow for observation of signs that the older person has increased needs while also offering an essential connection to the outer world.
SmithLife Homecare offers a range of services that involve regular interaction with the client in their home. This can be a lifeline in terms of connection, observation, and maintenance for the senior living alone. As a part of the circle that cares for an older person, our providers can make an essential contribution to their health and well-being. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.