How Social Lives Affect Senior Health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have said that loneliness is linked to serious health conditions. What’s most surprising is how much these issues affect older adults.

In fact, a recent study found that more than one-fourth of adults aged 65 or older are socially isolated.1 That’s because they commonly find themselves living alone after their children and other family members move.

The difference between loneliness and social isolation

Social isolation is defined as the lack of social connections – through family, friends, their community, etc. People who are socially isolated find it difficult to form new friendships. Loneliness is defined by feeling alone, regardless of the number of social connections one may have.

One does not necessarily cause the other. It’s possible to feel lonely even if you’re not socially isolated. And it’s possible to be socially isolated without feeling lonely.

How loneliness affects health

Although loneliness is hard to measure, the CDC wants people to be aware of potential health risks that may be associated with loneliness. Different studies have shown that people with poor social relationships or feelings of loneliness have:

  • A 29% increased risk of heart disease
  • A 32% increased risk of stroke
  • 50% increased risk of dementia
  • A higher risk of depression, anxiety, and suicide
  • A higher risk of premature death from all causes

How to combat loneliness

Even if you know lots of people and have a calendar full of activities, you can still feel lonely. Perhaps your family lives separate from you, you’re no longer married, or you choose to keep your social circle as acquaintances. Even though you feel lonely, you’re not alone! Many older adults report feelings of loneliness.

While it can be scary to “put yourself out there”, there are plenty of benefits in trying. Opening up to others can deepen your relationships and you may be surprised at how many others have similar experiences to you.

Both chronic illness and hearing loss are shown to increase isolation and loneliness. Don’t feel discouraged! If establishing deeper friendships is difficult, you may consider seeing a mental health professional who can provide a supportive ear for you. They can also help you discover new ways to work through bouts of loneliness or simply be a sounding board when you need it.

How to combat social isolation

If you’re feeling lonely because of social isolation, there are a few things you can do. You can put a renewed energy into old friendships or family relationships. Many friendships simply fade with time, not because of a specific event. That’s good, because it means they can be rekindled with a little effort! Try reaching out to an old friend through social media and see if you can get their email address or phone number for a more personal chat. Take the time to send a card or handwritten note in the mail. Even a small gesture can be warmly received.

Try a new hobby or reach out to people who enjoy similar activities to you. Are you a gardener? See if there is a community garden where you can volunteer with others. Learned to knit? Look for knitting groups in your area, or donate your handmade goods to a local charity. Get involved with your church or a local animal shelter. The simple act of engaging with your community can do a lot to combat feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

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