Approximately 28 percent of seniors in the United States lived alone in 2010. As the senior population grows, this percentage is only expected to increase. Living alone may contribute to social isolation for many seniors, which has been linked to various damaging consequences.
Seniors that live alone have been found to engage in more unhealthy habits than seniors that live with others. Seniors may be more likely to smoke and drink to excess when there are no family members or friends around to comment on the behaviors. Studies have shown that many seniors are less likely to exercise and more likely to eat an unhealthy diet when living alone.
Emotional Effects of Loneliness
Loneliness has been found to contribute to depression, pessimism about the future, and eventual cognitive decline in some seniors. These emotional effects may cause seniors to further withdraw from family and friends. Once loneliness has begun to set in, it can be difficult for seniors to engage in positive interactions. Instead of easing loneliness, interaction may cause others to develop feeling of loneliness and depression.
Physical Effects of Isolation
Continuous isolation and loneliness may cause seniors to develop high blood pressure from the constant stress. Unhealthy habits and a lack of exercise may also contribute to health risks. Seniors that are isolated are much more likely to develop long-term illnesses and conditions than seniors that socialize frequently. Mortality rates are also higher for seniors that report feeling lonely and isolated. In addition to these health risks, seniors that live alone are also much more vulnerable to elder abuse.
Mitigating Senior Isolation
There are many ways that senior isolation can be combated. Family members can stop by frequently and communicate with their loved one to make sure that loneliness is not setting in. If seniors seem to be getting lonely, family members can stop by more often or can look into beginning senior in-home care. Technology may also help seniors to feel more connected.
Technology and Connection
Social media, online games against opponents, and video chat functions may help seniors to feel less isolated. Caregivers or family members can help seniors get these programs set up. Connecting through technology has shown to have some effect on helping seniors to feel less isolated, but cannot substitute human interaction.
Receiving in-home care can help seniors to avoid isolation and feelings of loneliness. Caregivers will play games, communicate, and enjoy outings with seniors. This may take some of the pressure off of family members, and in some cases allow for more positive interactions with loved ones. Caregivers will also help seniors to participate in activities that encourage social interaction, such as senior events in the area.