Senior Health Risk: Loneliness

A whopping one-third of senior adults report feeling lonely regularly, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

By the year 2060, a full 23 percent of adults in the United States will be 65 years of age or older.

To this point, the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) further highlights how life expectancy continues to increase. In 1950, the average life expectancy was 68 years. Today, it is 78.6 years!

What does this data tell us about loneliness in older adults?

First, it tells us that every day, more people in the later years of life fall prey to loneliness. Second, it tells us that we, too, have a high risk of feeling lonely later in our own lives even if we don’t feel that way now.

In this article, you will learn positive, immediately impactful ways to combat the senior health risk of loneliness.

Want to Live Longer? Break the Bonds of Isolation

Can you think of anything that could be worse for your health than smoking a pack of cigarettes every day or eating yourself into obesity?

New research says there is something much worse: social isolation. Loneliness is now considered to be a more reliable predictor of human mortality than smoking, alcohol abuse or obesity.

Add more meaningful social connections to an elderly loved one’s life and risk of mortality drops by 50 percent. Loneliness has a positive correlation with heart disease, depression, suicide risk and cognitive impairment.

Add to it that many senior adults today feel nearly invisible – leading one research study participant to label elderly members of society “glass people.”

This is why it is so vital to break the bonds of isolation, whether for yourself or an aging loved one.

Senior Adults Increasingly Want to Age in Place Independently

As a further barrier to social connection, there is an emerging trend among aging adults to remain independent and age in place.

Even if moving to an assisted living facility or a retirement community might provide the much-needed social interactions along with a menu of other helpful services, the data shows most seniors would still prefer to stay in their own homes.

In fact, a full 85 percent of seniors age 65 and older say they want to age in place and remain in the comfort of their own homes.

29 percent of older adults living alone and 90 percent state they value their independence above all.

Two Pathways to Increase Social Connection for Seniors

In light of the data we have been discussing, it is clear that two viable pathways exist to increase social connection for elderly loved ones.

The first is to find ways to help older adults who are able to age in place venture out of their homes to make new connections.

The second is to bring the much-needed social connection to seniors who choose to live at home but are increasingly lonely and isolated because of it.

Support Seniors to Go Out and Make New Social Connections

Many local communities are now beginning to offer social support to aging adults. These services may come in the form of nearby community centers that offer senior-appropriate activities and events.

Community centers.

With the rise of more affordable app-based car services (Uber, Lyft), even a senior who can no longer drive has the option to leave home regularly to participate in fun activities with like-minded peers.

Volunteering.

Another way to stay active and find meaning and purpose in life is to begin volunteering locally. This is also a great avenue for an older adult to use valuable skills learned through a previous career to help the next generation or a favorite nonprofit.

Bring Social Connection Into the Home of a Lonely Senior

The second avenue is to bring social connection to a senior adult who chooses to remain in their home.

This can be especially beneficial for older adults who may not feel safe or comfortable leaving their homes due to medical or health issues.

Pets.

Pets are not a panacea for the aches and pains and unavoidable changes that frequently come with aging. But they can certainly make it less lonely!

Multiple research studiessuch as this one highlight the positive impact a pet can have in the life of a lonely senior.

Even for seniors who may not be able to commit to the long-term care of an animal, more local communities are launching senior-to-senior fostering programs for short-term animal companionship.

Facilitated friendship.

Organizations like Friend to Friend America are now providing seniors with an innovative new option for friendship – volunteers who schedule visits up to twice per month just for the purpose of socializing.

In addition to such nationwide nonprofits, many local organizations are now offering similar services, even including matching seniors who live near one another and might enjoy taking outings together.

Using neighborhood apps like Next Door and Meetup is another great way to begin socializing with other seniors who live close to one another – even within walking distance.

Not only is it fun to meet neighbors with similar interests, but this option rules out the need for driving assistance and makes socializing easier and safer.

In-home care services.

While in-home care is not the same as simple social interaction, for a lonely senior, every friendly face certainly counts.

Scheduling services such as Meals on Wheels (or your local equivalent), help with chores or shopping, in-home physical therapy and other valuable services is just one more way to add more social connection to a senior adult’s daily life.

Easing loneliness during the senior years will necessarily look different for each person depending on their unique health challenges and living situation.

However, as the number and variety of offerings continues to increase nationwide to support our changing demographic, more service options are becoming available to help seniors stay connected, supported and leading happy, healthy lives.