Loneliness in the elderly isn’t just a feeling—social isolation in seniors can contribute to health problems, such as a heightened risk of dementia and premature death.
During 2020 and many parts of 2021, nearly everyone was practicing social distancing, mask-wearing, and following the ever-changing strict COVID-19 guidelines. In 2023 and 2024, COVID-19 still exists, but much of the population doesn’t practice social distancing as much anymore. The guidelines of 2020 seem like a distant memory.
However, many seniors and older adults, the highest-risk age group, are still taking social distancing measures or trying to become accustomed to the fact that the world has changed in a post-COVID world. There are not as many events, social situations can be few and far between, and loneliness in the elderly is as big of a problem as it was at the height of the pandemic.
If you’re wondering how to reduce loneliness in your elderly parents, there are a few things to consider. Read on to learn more about aging and loneliness, the effects of social isolation on the elderly, and how to combat isolation in the elderly.
Loneliness in the Elderly: What Are the Mental Health Risks?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported that one out of three adults aged 45 and over feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults 65 and over are elderly and living alone with isolation. The CDC reports that there are many health risks associated with social isolation and the elderly that affect not only mental health but physical health as well. The effects of loneliness in the elderly can lead to
- Substance abuse
- Risk of premature death
- Higher rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Risk of premature death
- Increased hypertension risk (heart disease, stroke)
- Higher depression and suicide rates
Unfortunately, even years later, many seniors are considered “at-risk” for COVID-19 and may be unable to participate in the social activities they once enjoyed, such as activities at the local senior center. Combating loneliness in seniors is important not only for mental health but for physical health as well. Because loneliness in the elderly can be a huge problem, it’s important to check on your parents or loved ones regularly. Helping lonely seniors get social can be an important piece of a person’s quality of life.
How does loneliness affect health? Regarding social isolation and loneliness in older adults, loneliness can act like a breeding ground for other medical problems, breaking down immunity and leaving the door open for other health concerns. But, how can it help the lonely elderly, particularly when they’re still practicing social distancing measures?
Loneliness in the Elderly: Helping Lonely Seniors
There are a few activities and things you can do, even with social distancing measures in place, that can offer elderly loneliness solutions. These events can occur virtually and in person, which helps isolated elderly parents keep in touch, while also keeping them mentally stimulated. Some ideas include
- Social media. You may have to write out a step-by-step checklist to get mom or dad on Facebook, Instagram, or Messenger, but social media is a great way to combat loneliness in old age.
- FaceTime. If your relatives have an iOS device, FaceTime is a good way to help combat loneliness in the elderly. Similarly, if they have a computer or Android, Zoom or Google Hangouts works too. You can also place video calls through Snapchat.
- Playing games online. Get rid of feelings of loneliness in elderly parents by challenging mom or dad to a game of poker, spades, or another game they may like to play online.
- Meeting safely in person. If you’ve been vaccinated, it’s typically safe to visit mom or dad while wearing a mask if they are high-risk. If they are extremely high-risk, take a quick PCR test before the visit to ensure you’re not infected.
- Email. If mom and dad are wary of meeting in person and don’t understand social media’s complexities, old-fashioned letters or email is a good way to stay in touch and combat social isolation. Because the internet has been around for a few decades, many seniors are familiar with how to use email.
- Meetups. Look around in your area for upcoming groups or activities at local senior centers, libraries, and community centers. It depends on your parents’ level of risk, but many communities have fully returned to in-person gatherings.
There are definite pros and cons to seniors aging in place, and the risk of loneliness in the elderly can be high. Also, a few things to consider about the elderly and loneliness:
- What causes loneliness in the elderly?
There are many factors that can contribute to loneliness other than social distancing. An empty nest feeling, becoming weaker with age, retirement, and the death of a spouse or friend can all lead to loneliness.
- How do you deal with loneliness in old age?
It’s best to try to stay active with others, even if it’s virtual. Social media is a viable option if your parents can’t get out.
- How common is loneliness in the elderly?
According to the National Poll on Healthy Aging, 37 percent, or more than one in three older adults, considered themselves to be lonely.
For more tips on combatting loneliness in the elderly, or for information on life-changing mobility products, such as wheelchair ramps and stair lifts, which can help elderly patients become more mobile, contact Williams Lift Co. today. We want both patients and their caregivers to live their best lives.