The ability to connect with others is crucial. When a person is aging in place, he remains in his home for as long as possible which, depending on various circumstances, could lead to social isolation and depression. There are ways seniors can avoid isolation and caregivers can encourage social interaction to prevent this from happening.
Twenty-eight percent of Americans over the age of 65 live alone. It is important for seniors and caregivers to be aware of potential social isolation. Social isolation is an issue that should be considered by anyone who is considering remaining in their home as they age (Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging, Research Review, March 2007).
Cause of social isolation
Social isolation can develop when living at home causes a lack of communication with others. This results in the senior feeling lonely due to the loss of contact or companionship, as well as a deficit of close and genuine communication with others. It also can be the self-perception of being alone even when one is in the company of other people.
There are many causes of social isolation. Retirement, death of a spouse or significant other, health problems and even reduced income can create situations where one becomes separated from social contacts. The key, however, is how seniors and caregivers choose to respond to these changes because the responses can make the difference in creating a positive or negative result.
Take to heart the statement, “Social integration, the opposite of social isolation, has been found to be generally beneficial to health across adulthood into old age” (Cornell Institute for Translational Research on Aging, Research Review, March 2007). Social integration is participation in a wide range of relationships and activities. While it may not seem that your grandmother is doing anything other than playing Bingo, in reality, she is making valuable social connections that, in the long run, will help keep her mentally (and physically) healthy. She talks to others about herself, her community, her family and other things that are important to her; and the people she talks to listen to her.
How to combat social isolation
Older adults who volunteer their time, actively participate in family experiences, make new friends and retain old friendships are far less likely to experience depression, develop health problems and will most likely practice good mental and physical health habits because of the interaction with others. It doesn’t matter if you retire, have health issues, experience the loss of a loved one or even have to live with less income having the ability to connect with others is crucial to avoiding any type of isolation. Here are some ideas for seniors to keep connected.
- Volunteer your time. There are opportunities to volunteer everywhere. Contact schools, hospitals, libraries, soup kitchens, churches and local charities for available opportunities.
- Find a hobby. Whether playing cards, scrapbooking, knitting, playing Bingo or fishing, make it a point to meet with friends regularly to enjoy a hobby together.
- Schedule a regular weekly time to meet with friends. A morning cup of coffee, lunch, tea or sitting at the park, make an excuse to have a regular meeting with friends each week.
- Schedule family time. Call your family regularly to touch base, laugh and share stories.
- Attend church. Even if you haven’t before, now is a great time to get involved. Church will get you out of the house and may open more doors for volunteering, hobbies and friends.
There are socializing challenges when you live alone. A complication that many seniors may face is transportation. If you do not live in a residence that offers activities and transportation and you are unable to drive, socializing can become a burden. Look into public and private transportation options or ask friends or family members. Ensuring seniors have transportation is a key to keeping social connections.
Avoiding social isolation should be at the top of everyone’s list of “important things to consider” when planning ahead to age in place. A good plan, creativity and a willingness to seek out opportunities will help ensure good mental health and a social connection for seniors who are aging in place.
About Dr. Jill M. Berke
Dr. Jill M. Berke is a health care physician and Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS). She is the founder of Aging in Place with Grace, providing services to help seniors stay safe in their homes for longer, and owner of Cut The Clutter Company, providing de-cluttering, organization and residence transition services.
Aging in Place with Grace
P.O. Box 172
Davenport, IA 52801
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