With approximately 27% of older adults living on their own, social isolation is a widespread and common issue. The situation heightened when the coronavirus emerged in March 2020, and the CDC recommended that older adults—a group at a higher risk of contracting the illness—stay home. These guidelines led to nearly 15 million seniors remaining at home and interacting with very few, if any, people. Since there are several adverse effects of isolation, individuals need to recognize what isolation looks like and know steps to take to minimize the consequences of being isolated.
WellAge Senior Living knows how crucial social interaction is. Our senior living communities in Colorado, Nevada, and Oklahoma work hard to ensure residents are fulfilled, engaged, and connected. We’re taking a look at the risks of isolation and how you can avoid the side effects.
What is Isolation?
Note: Isolation has been a hot topic lately during the COVID-19 pandemic, referring to the importance of staying away from others if you have been exposed to the virus. However, there is a difference between isolation for health purposes and social isolation. In the context of this article, when we reference isolation, we are referring to social isolation.
Social isolation occurs when a person lacks social contacts or people to interact with. Often, individuals may find themselves unexpectedly isolated after a move, the loss of a spouse, or retirement. Now, adults find themselves more isolated than ever due to the same restrictions that are designed to protect them.
Comparing Isolation and Loneliness
Many people think of isolation and loneliness being the same thing, but there are some critical distinctions. Loneliness is a state of mind in which a person feels alone or feels like they don’t have as many social connections as they desire. Isolation is the objective state of lacking social contacts or people to interact with. While the two are associated, they are not always connected. For example, a person can feel lonely without being physically isolated, and a person can be isolated and not necessarily feel lonely.
The Dangers of Isolation
It may come as a surprise to you that social isolation can be as dangerous to our health as smoking or obesity. While it is difficult to measure the amount and degree of isolation, strong evidence links the type of isolation common in older adults to physical and mental health concerns. Research has found that social isolation is linked to:
-Various health conditions like an increased risk of heart disease and stroke
-A weakened immune system
-Higher rates of depression, stress, and anxiety
-Accelerated cognitive decline, including a 50% increased risk of dementia
-An increase in unhealthy habits, such as tobacco and alcohol use and a sedentary lifestyle
-Increased risk of hospitalizations and emergency department visits
Knowing If You’re Isolated
While you may think it’s obvious to tell if you’re isolated or not, sometimes, it’s much harder than it seems. If you’re an ordinarily extroverted person, you may struggle to be alone for even a brief period of time, so it might be more evident if you begin to feel the side effects of isolation. If you’re introverted, though, you already enjoy spending time alone, so you may not even notice when it becomes a danger to your health and well-being.
Whether you’re introverted or extroverted, there are a few warning signs to look out for:
-Feeling chronically bored or having a lack of motivation
-Losing interest in hobbies and activities that you used to enjoy
-Poor eating and nutrition habits, including not eating enough or binge eating
-Lacking interest or motivation to care for personal hygiene
If it’s still difficult for you to realistically determine how isolated you may be, there are objective resources to help you, like this survey developed by UCLA. The questionnaire asks 20 simple questions that may give you a better understanding of how much social isolation is impacting you.
What You Can Do About Social Isolation
At the beginning of the pandemic and quarantine orders, there was a surge in activities and events to participate in from home—from digital happy hours to virtual museum tours. After a while, though, the momentum for these has receded, leaving individuals, especially older adults, at risk for isolation again. If you have found yourself feeling isolated and lonely, here are some ways to stay socially connected.
Join social media. Social media is a great way to stay connected with friends, family members, and even childhood classmates! You can share photos, write messages, or even watch funny videos.
Video chat opportunities. Set up a weekly call with friends, take a tour of your sister’s new house, or read a bedtime story to your grandchild. Utilizing these technologies is a great and easy way to stay socially connected.
Consider senior living. If you live alone and have felt isolated even before the pandemic, it could be time to consider moving to a senior living community. Communities, like WellAge Senior Living, are designed to create an atmosphere of socialization and engagement among peers and neighbors—all in an easily accessible setting.
Live Well at WellAge
WellAge Senior Living has engaging and inviting communities in Nevada, Oklahoma, and throughout Colorado. Our senior living communities are lively and active places where adults can try a variety of programs and activities and build relationships with others. We are currently hosting activities in a safe and socially distant manner to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
If you feel that you would thrive in a social senior living community like WellAge, we encourage you to contact us today!