This week I wanted to re-visit one of our original blog posts on social isolation. Too often, I hear of older adults living on their own without the proper social supports to keep them company.
Social isolation is a very real and serious dilemma for our aging seniors in their home, and it is so important to plan for social supports as we get older just as we plan for our future housing and healthcare needs.
Why we need to incorporate the community into our definition of aging in place.
So much of our lives involve being with or being around other people. Almost all of us will engage with others on a daily basis whether it is with our families, our friends, or our community. Socializing becomes almost second nature, and often we don’t have to think about it or plan for it, we are just able.
But what happens when it’s no longer just as simple as hopping in the car and going? When once simple tasks become obstacles? It may not be until our body begins to change that we even notice how many steps we have to go up and down just to get out our front door. Or how cumbersome and tiring are going to the grocery store and carrying all of those bags can be.
We live in an active and yet independent society. We are engaged as long as we initiate, and are independent as long as we can actively participate. And it isn’t until we are no longer able to go to the grocery store or drive over to a friend’s house that we may even realize how vulnerable we all really can be.
We all feel the need to be apart of the community, which is why it is so important that we incorporate the community into our definition of aging in place. We want to live in our homes even as we are no longer able to independently to do so by ourselves. We may have in-home care providers to talk to while they provide care, but we are all more than just a medical routine. Just as accessible as in-home care has become means there is a need to make socializing just as available to those who can no longer go out and actively pursue it themselves.
Older adults living alone at home are at the greatest risk of social isolation
Socializing as a primary need for seniors is not a new concept. Long-term care facilities have incorporated social wellbeing in residents care for years. And for a good reason! Isolation has several known negative impacts on both health and cognitive functions and will even increase our risk of mortality.
The Campaign to end loneliness reports:
Loneliness and physical health
- The effect of loneliness and isolation on mortality exceeds the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity and has a similar influence as cigarette smoking (Holt-Lunstad, 2010)
- Loneliness increases the risk of high blood pressure (Hawkley et al., 2010)
- Lonely individuals are also at higher risk of the onset of disability (Lund et al., 2010)
Loneliness and mental health
- Loneliness puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline (James et al., 2011)
- One study concludes lonely people have a 64% increased chance of developing clinical dementia (Holwerda et al., 2012)
- Lonely individuals are more prone to depression (Cacioppo et al., 2006) (Green et al., 1992)
- Loneliness and low social interaction are predictive of suicide in older age (O’Connell et al., 2004)
Such severe consequences deserve our attention! We should plan for our future welfare just as we plan for our medical needs.
For more on the dangers of social isolation read: 8 dangers of loneliness social isolation is deadlier than obesity
Planning for socialization as we plan for our future
Establishing routines with friends and family is one of the most important actions we can take in preventing our isolation. And if we are no longer able to hop in the car and go, we can trust that we have a reliable support system by our side.
Staying in our community and joining clubs/social groups are two great ways to start isolation prevention after retirement. We may have led active lifestyles before retirement, but never are we more able to invest the time and attention to our friends than after retirement. Always a great place to start is at our local senior center. They will often have calendars of events and a variety of groups to suit any interest. Or go online! Websites like www.meetup.com offer a variety of meetup topic groups that pop up all over the country and world!
As previously mentioned, advocates like AARP are working tiredly to bring our communities up to par as age-friendly. But, we have control in this too, and if we want to age in place, we should do everything in our power to provide ourselves with the happiest and healthiest aging experience.