Monday, May 1, 2017

Social Isolation of Seniors Part 2

Social isolation is: “less social contact than someone wishes, causing loneliness or other emotional distress” In “normal” ageing, a senior’s social circle may grow smaller due to:
         Illness or disability
         Loss of spouse or friends – more than 6% of Canadians over the age of 65 reported not having any friends
         Caregiver responsibilities
         Lack of personal hygiene

However, senior isolation is serious. 
1.     Senior isolation increases the risk of mortality. According to a 2012 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, both social isolation and loneliness are associated with a higher risk of mortality in adults aged 52 and older.
2.     Feelings of loneliness can negatively affect both physical and mental health. Regardless of the facts of a person’s isolation, seniors who feel lonely and isolated are more likely to report also having poor physical and/or mental health, as reported in a 2009 study using data from the National Social Life.
3.     Perceived loneliness contributes to cognitive decline and risk of dementia. We evolved to be a social species it’s hard-wired into our brains, and when we don’t meet that need, it can have physical and neurological effects.
4.     Social isolation makes seniors more vulnerable to elder abuse.  Many studies show a connection between social isolation and higher rates of elder abuse, reports the National Center on Elder Abuse. Whether this is because isolated adults are more likely to fall victim to abuse, or a result of abusers attempting to isolate the elders from others to minimise the risk of discovery, researchers aren’t certain.
5.     LGBT seniors are much more likely to be socially isolated. LGBT seniors are twice as likely to live alone, according to SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders); they are more likely to be single and they are less likely to have children and they are more likely to be estranged from their biological families.
6.     Social isolation in seniors is linked to long-term illness. In the PNAS study mentioned above, illnesses and conditions such as chronic lung disease, arthritis, impaired mobility, and depression were associated with social isolation.
7.     Loneliness in seniors is a major risk factor for depression. Numerous studies over the past decade have shown that feeling loneliness is associated with more depressive symptoms in both middle-aged and older adults
8.     Loneliness causes high blood pressure. A 2010 study in Psychology and Aging indicated a direct relationship between loneliness in older adults and increases in systolic blood pressure over a 4-year period. These increases were independent of race, ethnicity, gender, and other possible contributing factors.
9.     Socially isolated seniors are more pessimistic about the future. According to the National Council on Aging, socially isolated seniors are more likely to predict their quality of life will get worse over the next 5-10 years, are more concerned about needing help from community programs as they get older, and are more likely to express concerns about ageing in place.
10. Physical and geographic isolation often leads to social isolation. “One in six seniors living alone in the United States faces physical, cultural, and/or geographical barriers that isolate them from their peers and communities,” reports the National Council on Aging. “This isolation can prevent them from receiving benefits and services that can improve their economic security and their ability to live healthy, independent lives.”
11. Isolated seniors are more likely to need long-term care. Loneliness and social isolation are major predictors of seniors utilizing home care, as well as entering nursing homes, according to a 2004 report from the Children’s, Women’s and Seniors Health Branch, British Columbia Ministry of Health.
12. Loss of a spouse is a major risk factor for loneliness and isolation. Losing a spouse, an event which becomes more common as people enter older age, has been shown by numerous studies to increase seniors’ vulnerability to emotional and social isolation, says the same report from the British Columbia Ministry of Health. Besides the loneliness brought on by bereavement, the loss of a partner may also mean the loss of social interactions that were facilitated by being part of a couple.
13. Transportation challenges can lead to social isolation. According to the AARP, “life expectancy exceeds safe driving expectancy after age 70 by about six years for men and 10 years for women.” Yet, 41% of seniors do not feel that the transportation support in their community is adequate, says the NCOA.
14. Caregivers of the elderly are also at risk for social isolation. Being a family caregiver is an enormous responsibility, whether you are caring for a parent, spouse, or another relative. When that person has Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or a physical impairment, the caregiver may feel even less able to set aside his or her caregiving duties to attend to social relationships they previously enjoyed. This can trigger loneliness and depression.
15. Loneliness can be contagious. Studies have found that loneliness has a tendency to spread from person to person, due to negative social interactions and other factors. In other words, when one person is lonely, that loneliness is more likely to spread to friends or contacts of the lonely individual. Making things even worse, people have a tendency to further isolate people who are lonely.
16. Lonely people are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviour. A 2011 study using data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) found that people who are socially isolated or lonely are also more likely to report risky health behaviours such as poor diet, lack of physical activity, and smoking.
17. Volunteering can reduce social isolation and loneliness in seniors. We all know that volunteering is a rewarding activity, and seniors have a unique skill set and oodles of life experience to contribute to their communities. It can also boost longevity and contribute to mental health and wellbeing, and it ensures that seniors have a source of social connection.
18. Feeling isolated? Take a class. A review of studies looking at various types of interventions on senior loneliness found that the most effective programs for combating isolation had an educational or training component: for instance, classes on health-related topics, computer training, or exercise classes.
19. Technology can help senior isolation – but not always. Even though modern technology provides us with more opportunities than ever for keeping in touch, sometimes the result is that we feel lonelier than ever. The key to finding technological interventions that really do help, says Health Quality Ontario, is matching those interventions to the specific needs of individual seniors.
20. Physical activity reduces senior isolation. Group exercise programs, it turns out, are a wonderfully effective way to reduce isolation and loneliness in seniors and of course, they have the added benefit of being great for physical and mental health. In one study, discussed by Health Quality Ontario, seniors reported greater well-being regardless of whether the activity was aerobic or lower impact, like stretching.

Senior isolation is neither inevitable nor irreversible. Getting the facts can help us prevent loneliness in our senior loved ones as they face the life changes of ageing.

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