According to the Center for Disease Control, more than one third of adults age 45 and older report feeling lonely, and about 25% of this population is socially isolated. Beyond the mental and emotional toll feelings of loneliness and the experience of isolation can be, risk for premature death and physical impairment drastically increase with isolation. Those who are socially isolated are 50% more likely to suffer with dementia; 29% more likely to experience heart disease; and are at a 32% increased risk of stroke. These risks are even greater for marginalized groups, such as immigrants, LGBTQ people, and people of color, largely due to the stigmas and barriers to care these individuals face.
It’s important to understand loneliness and social isolation do not always go hand in hand. While social isolation is the objective experience of spending a majority of time alone, loneliness is the subjective feeling of having fewer, strong social connections than desired. With this in mind, it is important to check in on and discuss social needs with all of your close friends and family members to make sure their distinctly human need for connection is being met. While some individuals may be happy to be relatively isolated and spend much time alone; others may appear to have many people present in their lives, but still be experiencing loneliness and its adverse effects.
With 75% of adults over the age of 50 hoping to age in place, ensuring access to community and social connection is essential. Below are some ways to help you or your loved ones remain connected while aging at home:
- Make sure you have access to a reliable means of transportation. This could be public transit, a volunteer, friend or neighbor willing to drive to a place of worship, club meetings, restaurant, or wherever your community is found.
- Look on your town or city’s website to see if there’s a community bulletin with activities, and try to get involved in anything that interests you.
- Schedule regular phone calls with those loved ones who are far away. Consider setting a reminder in your phone or calendar to call someone you care for!
- Consider a pet, real or robotic. See if a local animal shelter has discounted or waived fees for senior pets adopted to senior people; or, look into robotic pets from companies like Hasbro and Joy for All!
- Check out resources through organizations such as Wellthy, AARP, and Eldercare Locator, which have resources to help you find community events and transportation.
As you age in the home, remember social isolation and loneliness can pose serious health risks, but with support from loved ones and some effort to remain socially connected, these risks can be avoided.